British Prime Minister David Cameron killed the last ray of hope Syria’s armed opposition had of receiving military aid when he told the BBC that the UK does not plan to arm the Syrian opposition. He conceded that Syrian President, Bashar Al Assad, had become “stronger” and that he faced an opposition that included elements the UK considers “bad guys”.
A senior US intelligence official, too, said recently that the Islamist threat in Syria was on the rise and that the situation in the country would deteriorate if Al Assad fell from power.
Even Congress’ most prominent hawk, John McCain, who visited armed rebels inside Syria on a solidarity trip recently, and pushed for military aid to the rebels, has said that prospects of a popular new government replacing Al Assad’s regime were fading. Western states may have matured in their dealings with the situation in Syria, realising that it is more complex than once imagined, but this realisation has come two years into the civil war that has killed 100,000 people and left large parts of the country in rubble. Western policy on the Syrian situation was unfortunately dominated by rhetoric and “red lines”, but little action. It must be asked how much of that rhetoric was aimed at Syria’s backers, namely Iran, Russia and China, whom the US sees as adversaries or rivals, than at solving the plight of the Syrian people and relieve them of the tyrant that rules them.
Perhaps the realisation should serve as a wake-up call that will lead western states to direct their diplomatic efforts at finding a non-military political solution to the crisis by working with the Russians to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table. If the realisation that the West cannot impose a military solution had come earlier, not only could Syria have been saved from a significant amount of death and destruction, but the opposition may have entered negotiations from a position of relative strength. For the international community to have taken this long to realise that a diplomatic solution is the only viable option meant that Al Assad had enough time to sweep the country and dictate terms to a significantly weakened opposition. The opposition, therefore, cannot be blamed for wanting to take no part in such talks, which, in the mean time, will mean even more violence and bloodshed.