Bashar al-Assad is one hell of a despot. When Syrians began to protest his regime, he responded with violence, using live ammunition to fire on protesters. That violence sparked greater protest, which has escalated to the point of al-Assad holding a city, Homs, under siege.
Late last week the crackdowns grew worse, with a major military offensive on the city claiming some 200 lives. The violence has not let up this week, but the world has started to take notice. There are protests going on outside of Syrian embassies. The United States suspended operations at their embassy in Syria. The Arab League has issued warnings to al-Assad. The United Nations Security Council even took a vote to intervene.
But China and Russia both vetoed the UNSC resolution on Syria. The two countries are both permanent members of the UNSC, so they need to vote for a decision to be made. The bureaucratic limbo that both countries have put the UNSC in is not going to change unless the al-Assad regime kills many more Syrians and protecting the regime becomes unbearably bad PR for Russia and China.
The NATO air strikes and no fly zone were crucial in overthrowing the Qaddafi regime in Libya. A similar sort of collaborative effort could pack the same punch in Syria. Something needs to be done quickly in order to save Syrian lives, and coordinating through NATO would be much more effective than simply continuing economic sanctions.
With the dust from the Arab Spring still settling, it would be smart to reach out to surrounding countries. Having good allies close to Iran, Yemen and Pakistan would be important in the long run. Coordinating military action through NATO, with the opportunity for local, non-NATO support would also be a way to intervene in Syria without military action that is reminiscent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If putting an end to a murderous tyrant is not enough of a reason for military action in Syria, and it really should be, then consider what helping overthrow another murderous tyrant would do to reconstruct the U.S. standing in the eyes of people in the Middle East. The botched war in Iraq and lack of focus in Afghanistan did much to harm America’s image in the region, which made the rhetoric of extremist Muslim groups more effective. Fixing this image in the eyes of the general public would take some wind out of the extremist sail.
The Syrian government has focused almost exclusively on protests in Homs, but an uprising throughout the country will spark if any opportunity arises. After violence on such a scale, how could it not? NATO is an organization designed specifically for such intervention and it is in our interest to support regime change. The U.S. should forget about the UNSC and pursue action through NATO.