15 things you need to know about Syria

Since Bosnia and Rwanda, it's been clear that the international community disgraces itself when it stands by and let's blood flow at the hands of murderous state thugs. Here are the arguments for and against intervention in Syria. You decide.

Anyone who thinks that stopping genocide and mass killings is nothing to do with New Zealand  is saying we should rip up our membership of the ‘international community’ now. 

 Here are the arguments for and against.

 Anti intervention

1. President Obama is understandably reluctant to commit America after the Iraq quagmire. He says the US  can’t intervene in every civil war:  “How do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?’’

2. Military intervention can have unintended consequences. Arming jihadists who have made themselves part of the protest movement in Syria is one example. The radical jihadists of al Nusra could get hold of chemical weapons if the rebels became government.

3. We don’t need another Iraq, or to enter a war we can neither control nor predict its end.

4. It’s a neo-conservative position, says blogger Andrew Sullivan, to talk about ‘creating pro-Western elements’ in the rebel forces to counteract the jihadists, and we should have nothing to do with it.

5. This is not our war. It’s a civil war, and we shouldn’t intervene in civil wars. 

6. Syria is ‘complicated’. We can’t fix ethnic and religious divisions going back centuries. Sunni account for 74% of the population, while 13% are Shia  (Alawite, Twelvers, and Ismailis combined) and 10% are Christian. Assad is Alawite. 

7. If we intervene on the side of the rebels we’ll be allowing a bloodbath against Shias and Alawites in particular.

8. There’s nothing to be gained politically from intervening. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton stood aloof while 800,000 people were massacred in Rwanda, and didn’t lose votes back home. When he did the right thing and intervened to stop genocide in Bosnia, he didn’t gain any votes either. If Obama fails to take action once the ‘red line’ has been crossed (the use of chemical weapons) it’ll be one news cycle. But years of bloody war in Syria will dominate headlines for years, says Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch.


Pro intervention

9. QC Geoffrey Robertson, expert on international law says that the disastrous Iraq invasion  ‘should not be allowed to affect the principles of humanitarian intervention, other than to illustrate the risks of ignoring them. “Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who mass murdered some 300,000 of his people; his regime should have been ousted when he began to use poison gas against the Kurds...”

10. Military intervention has worked in other countries, despite the failure of Iraq, says development economist, Paul Collier. Timor, Uganda and Sierra Leone are all examples of effective military intervention, combined with long term commitments to provide aid and economic development . 

11. When is a civil war not a civil war? Lethal force to disperse a one-off demonstration like Bloody Sunday in Ireland is not a crime against humanity. A month of Bloody Sundays is, says Geoffrey Robertson. The repeated use of tanks, machine guns, and worse, on unarmed civilians looks like a crime against humanity.  

12. “Modern civil wars are horrific and we should intervene. They overwhelmingly affect civilians in the poorest and most desperate environments on Earth. Rich nations don’t fall victim to political violence, but do bear some of its costs. After all, broken societies are havens for illegality, whether drug trafficking or training of terrorists,” says Paul Collier.

13. If the international community had acted earlier, as they did in Libya, there could have been a fledging democracy by now. This is no excuse not to act now. A no fly zone in Syria should be the first step.

14. Being ‘complicated’ is no excuse for inaction.  Most civil wars today are caused by events in the recent past not something too hard to unravel that happened in the 14th century, says Paul Collier. The causes are much simpler than they seem; economic stagnation, too many young men with no jobs and lots of guns, and a small ruling elite who do very well out of oil or diamonds while everyone else lives in poverty.

15. Even if it makes re-election tougher for political leaders, they must do the right thing and act. Multilateral intervention, similar to the response to Gaddafi in Libya must begin now, in the name of defending human rights everywhere.