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September 24, 2017

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Syria spirals out of control as citizen casualties pile up

UNITED NATIONS -- As the carnage against civilians continues across Syria, there' a compelling humanitarian case for international intervention to stop the violence which has killed more than 10,000 civilians. Yet, what started as a political uprising against the authoritarian rule of Bashar al-Assad 16 months ago has morphed into a complex conflict which borders on civil war but now threatens to involve regional states.

Predictably with the conflict at boiling point, there are calls for foreign intervention especially as media images of civilian massacres by the regime fuel a drumbeat of righteous indignation presented alongside the usual tableaux of a "we must do something." So is there a case for American military involvement?

First, a quick overview. Syria has been ruled by the Assad Family dictatorship since the 1960's Under their tenure, the country became one of the former Soviet Union's staunchest Arab allies, supported the "rejectionist front" Palestinians to oppose any peace deal with Israel, provided a home address for the Abu Nidal terrorist group, and until five years ago, occupied neighboring Lebanon. Because the Assads belong to the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam, the Damascus rulers have been politically close with their co-religionists in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

But largely because of Syria's complex religious and ethnic quilt among its 22 million people, the regime has wisely maintained a secular state. There's a sizable and prosperous Christian minority. Moreover and ironically, Syria hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world and provides shelter for one million Iraqi refugees.

As the political sandstorm of the Arab Spring started last year in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, inevitably the winds reached Damascus. When they did, and protests started, Assad cracked down the old fashioned way; arrests, intimidation, and shootings.

As violence intensified, the "international community" expressed shock and dismay but repeated attempts to censure Syria in the U.N. Security Council were stopped cold by the dramatic double-vetoes of Russia and China.

As this column has oft stated, despite growing international indignation over the violence in Syria, both Moscow and Beijing have provided Damascus with the diplomatic cover fire to get away with murder. What small steps the U.N. has achieved on the political front, such as the Kofi Annan cease-fire plan with the 300 U.N. observers across Syria has largely become moribund, suspending operations, as all parties to the conflict refuse to stop.

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