What it Will Take to Intervene in Syria

First Get the Opposition to Work Together

A girl in Homs holds a sign: "The People Want a No-Fly Zone." (Courtesy Reuters)

As the nine-month-old revolt in Syria has become increasingly bloody -- some 6,000, mostly civilians, have been killed -- calls for outside action have raised the possibility of military intervention. Late last November, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe made a case for deploying military forces to create a “humanitarian corridor” for importing food, medicine, and aid into Syria. On December 2, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council, which has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of crimes against humanity, that the “international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people.” Turkey, meanwhile, has been threatening to impose a “buffer zone” inside the country since mid-June, when it became the triage center for 10,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the massacre under way in their country’s northwest.

And Washington, though it has expressed reservations about intervention, is now considering how it might aid the opposition, by either sending medical assistance or helping to create a “safe zone” -- a martially cordoned-off area within the country to protect the civilian population close to the Syrian-Turkish border. In testimony before Congress last December, the State Department official Frederic Hof called Assad a “dead man walking,” implying that the United States is already envisioning a post-Assad Syria.

Yet despite the humanitarian catastrophe, intervention at this moment would be premature, because Syria’s various opposition groups have yet to coalesce into a unified political force worth backing. That said, calls for intervention are more than just wishful thinking. Should the various political and armed elements challenging Damascus align their interests, Turkey and the West could use force to create a safe area in Syria that would save lives and serve as an outpost to battle the Assad regime.

Unlike the Transitional National Council in Libya, which came together and gained formal international recognition quickly, the Syrian National Council (SNC) took seven

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