This is what a perfect conundrum looks like. Turkey, the most powerful state in the region critical of Syrian regime, unable to act except harboring Free Syrian Army leadership in southern Turkey, bordering with its former ally Syria. Arab states, worried over Iran’s rising influence in Syria and possible instability spilling over their countries, are uncertain whether or not to arm opposition fighters. The West, without any major stakes in Syria, understands the necessity to act to stop the violence in the country but doesn’t know how this could be realized. While Turkey, Arab nations and the West were counting Assad’s days of tenure last year, they have already abandoned the idea of post-Assad era anytime soon.
No need to blame Russia or China for blocking UN resolutions on Syria in the UN Security Council. Time will show that their malicious act in fact would benefit both Syria and its neighbors.
The chief culprit in this deadlock are states who misread the situation on the ground, underestimated Assad’s power and gave false hopes to the embattled Syrian opposition.
It was clear from the beginning that Assad will wield its army, one of the most powerful one in the region, to crush the uprising. Defeating Syrian army is virtually impossible no matter how well-armed Syrian rebels are and it could only be possible either through foreign military intervention or mass defections from the army. Defections happen when prospective defecting soldiers believe that they will be harbored and supported. But what they faced was undelivered promises and Syria’s killing machine that was turning more merciless every day.
States then claimed Assad’s days are numbered, building on a hope that defections will continue and he will resign under the heat of growing pressure. They definitely could not recall neighboring Iraq’s experience with Saddam. No neighbor, including Iran, gave hand to Saddam’s Iraq and he was defiant until his death. Why would not this be the case in Syria when there are countries ready to help it survive such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Russia?
Turkey was the most important actor that could help Syria handle the situation but failed to do so. Turkey blames Assad for not living up to his promises of withdrawing troops from cities. But Assad and Turkey never agreed that he will withdraw troops and end violence. He told Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who spent 6 hours with him on Aug. 9 last year, that he will end military operations once the security in cities are restored. Davutoğlu balked at this idea and said reforms and maintaining security must go hand in hand. Turkey then realized that Assad’s killing machine continued despite 6-hour marathon talks and Turkish leaders were felt betrayed. Turkey behaved prematurely in swiftly abandoning Assad and lost its most important leverage.
Another unfair accusation was when Turkey and Western nations accused Assad of being slow in reforms. But this was not the issue; the discussion should have centered on how to deal with the situation while the killings continue on both sides. Turkey is unable to change its coup-era constitution for almost 30 years and it could only this week bring coup leaders before court. Reforms take time and in the face of violence across the country, it is naivete to expect them to yield any tangible results. And let’s be honest, Assad made many reforms.
Instead of tantalizing armed opposition against Assad, Turkey and world powers could have drafted a road map for Syria and ensure Assad that they will help Syria in its peaceful transition to democracy. By encouraging Syria’s armed opposition, world made a strategic error and basically sent a lamb to fight against a wolf while it repeatedly said it won't intervene.
But what to do now?
Syria is now under Iran’s influence. This is not because it is an evil regime but because only Iran is backing the Assad regime. Staying engaged with Assad throughout the entire process could have made Syria more cooperative and put it out of Iran’s orbit.
There is still an ample opportunity today to stop violence and push Assad to make sweeping reforms, implement them immediately with real, tangible steps and avoid raging fighting across the country that sits atop sectarian fault lines. UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s plan is promising. If Syria lives up to its promise to cease fighting by April 12, states must rush to Syria’s help in securing peaceful transition to a different political era that will benefit both Syrian authorities and the opposition.
Military intervention should be shelved permanently. Intervening into a country to stop possible civil war is damaging more. War’s death toll is usually more than most of civil wars. Diplomacy is the only viable path to peace in Syria -- and it doesn't include arming rebels or encouraging them to display "brave fighting for dignity." If peace is ever possible in Syria, it will be through talking to Assad not demanding his departure.