Who Will Save Syria?
Monday, Mar. 12, 2012
**The Debate over Syria**
By Shadi Hamid

A rising death toll raises the question: To intervene or not?
Why We Must Fight Alongside the Rebels

The Syrian uprising began nearly a year ago, and despite renewed international efforts, the regime has intensified the killing. The death toll--approaching 8,000--is now five times what it was in Libya on the eve of the NATO intervention there. These are "crimes against humanity," a U.N. panel concluded recently.

Those of us who supported military action in Libya hoped that it might set a precedent, so that the next time, the U.S. and Europe would act quickly and decisively to protect civilian populations in the event of mass slaughter during the Arab Spring. The Syrian opposition has issued unambiguous calls for foreign military intervention. This is no Western imposition. It is Syrians--like Libyans before them--who are pleading that the West do more, not less.

Already, military intervention enjoys considerable Arab and Muslim legitimacy. The Turks, Qataris, Tunisians and Saudis have all called for various degrees of intervention, whether through safe zones, peacekeeping forces or arms for the Syrian rebels. But these countries cannot do it on their own. They are waiting for the U.S. to lead efforts to assemble a coalition that can intervene effectively and then help stabilize Syria after hostilities cease.

No doubt the risks of intervention are considerable. But so too are the risks of not intervening. Opponents of intervention have warned of militarization, civil war, Iranian meddling and an exodus of refugees. Well, all these things have already come to pass. Syria today is in danger of becoming a failed state. The regime has lost control over large swaths of territory. Al-Qaeda and other extremists are hoping to take advantage of the growing power vacuum. Can the world afford a failing state and protracted civil war in such a vital region?

If the objective of intervention is to protect civilian populations, then the first step is for the U.S. to help other countries provide Syrian rebel forces with both light arms and more-advanced antitank and antiaircraft weaponry. The right to self-defense is a right guaranteed by international law. The second step would be the designation of liberated zones--particularly those along the border with Turkey--as safe havens, as was done in Bosnia during the 1990s. To protect these areas, airpower and some special forces, preferably soldiers from Arab nations or Turkey, would be needed. The goal would not necessarily be to change the regime but rather to demonstrate international resolve, encourage regime defections and compel the Syrian government to alter its calculations about the use of force.

Currently, President Bashar Assad believes he can outlast the opposition and ultimately obliterate it through sheer force and brutality. Helping the rebels peel off large pieces of territory would demonstrate to Assad that he cannot win militarily, which would breathe new life into diplomatic efforts or--at the very least--secure cease-fire agreements around key population centers. Such efforts could be accompanied by a naval blockade and an air campaign against key government and military positions and installations--as in Bosnia, Kosovo and, more recently, Libya. In Bosnia, NATO power forced the Serbs to the negotiating table, eventually leading to the Dayton Accords and the introduction of multinational peacekeeping forces. The Gaddafi regime in Libya showed more interest in negotiating with the opposition after, rather than before, military intervention. Within a few weeks of the start of the NATO operation, Gaddafi envoys were engaging in cease-fire talks. In late May, an increasingly desperate Libyan regime went further, offering to negotiate with rebels and institute constitutional reforms. Intervention and diplomatic efforts need not be mutually exclusive. They should proceed in parallel.

None of this, though, will be possible without U.S. support and leadership. Despite budgetary constraints, this is not the time for the Obama Administration to shrink from the challenge at hand. Even if the U.S. insists on leading from behind, it still needs to lead.

Hamid is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution

Intervening Will Only Help Assad
By Marc Lynch

The escalating bloodshed in Syria has shocked the world and prompted calls for military intervention. Dozens of Syrians are being killed every day by the forces of President Bashar Assad, spiraling violence threatens to drag the country into a regional proxy war, and increasing numbers of Syrians are begging for help.

The Obama Administration clearly wants, as it should, to help protect the Syrian people. But it also should understand that military intervention is not the way to help civilians or hasten a political transition in Syria. Arming the opposition or using Western airpower against Syrian territory will likely only play into Assad's hands.

The only hope for avoiding an escalation of the slaughter in Syria is to persuade the undecided middle ground of Syrians, many of whom continue to support Assad out of fear for the future, to abandon the regime. That means helping the divided opposition unify and develop a convincing transition plan to reassure minorities and other uncommitted communities of their place in a post-Assad Syria. And it means rebutting the regime's narrative that the uprising is the work of foreign powers and armed gangs.

The appeal of intervention is clear. Why should Western bombers not come to the rescue of the Syrian people? Who could in good conscience deny opposition forces the means to defend themselves?

But establishing safe areas would require massive bombing to destroy Syria's antiaircraft capability and ensure the safety of allied planes. Declaring a safe area is meaningless if there is no military means or will to defend it, as we discovered to our horror in Bosnia. And by funneling arms to the rebels in the absence of any unified leadership, we could not hope to even the military balance of power.

These measures would also likely fuel the fighting while foreclosing any chance of a political solution. The crisis would not end the first day the bombs fell--it would only shift to a more extreme level, challenging the U.S. and its allies to escalate their commitment. Is the West willing to engage in another Iraq-style occupation if that is what it takes?

Fortunately, military intervention is not the only way for the U.S. and its allies to help the Syrians. Instead, those who hope to help the Syrian people should focus on helping unify the opposition, increasing pressure on the Assad regime from the outside and accelerating the process of defections.

The necessity of unifying the opposition is obvious. Even those who back military intervention or the arming of opposition forces like the Free Syrian Army acknowledge that doing so is impossible with the current divided and ineffective independence groups. The Syrian rebels may think they most need weapons, but what they really need is a political strategy. All factions of the opposition should focus less on asking for guns and more on laying out a clear, compelling political vision--which should in turn be backed by international guarantees of economic and political assistance.

The U.S. and its allies can also do more to increase pressure on Assad and his regime. There is already an impressive coalition, supported by a broad international consensus manifested in the 137-to-22 vote in the U.N. General Assembly in support of a transition plan. The E.U., Turkey, the Arabs and the U.S. have all imposed meaningful sanctions, which have isolated regime figures and contributed to the collapse of the Syrian economy. More should be done to bring Syrian officials to international justice and to shame the regime's remaining backers like Russia. China, in particular, should be targeted by the oil-producing Gulf states on which its economy so heavily depends.

The goal should not be simply overthrowing Assad but rather creating the conditions for a relatively smooth transition after he falls. The U.S. and its allies must continue to pursue a prudent, tough strategy of mobilizing international consensus while helping unify the Syrian opposition and carve out the space for a real political transition. That may not be as morally satisfying a battle cry as a demand for military action, but it is far more likely to help Syrian civilians in the long run.

Lynch is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University and the author of The Arab Uprising: The Incomplete Revolutions of the New Middle East, to be published this month by PublicAffairs.

Who Will Save Syria?
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Escape from Syria
Monday, Mar. 19, 2012
By Vivienne Walt

A photographer emerges from the rebel district of Homs to bear witness to the carnage.

In a war zone, some buildings are obvious targets--command centers, weapons depots, enemy hideouts--and some are not, like schools, hospitals, media centers. But in the battle for Syria, where rules of war do not apply and where civilians are facing a savage massacre, the house that served as a makeshift press center in the rebel district of Bab Amr is ground zero.

Destroying that target would go a long way toward allowing the regime of Bashar Assad to flatten the entire enclave without the whole world watching.

And so, at 8:22 in the morning on Feb. 22, the rockets fell, three of them hitting near the house with a fourth on the way. "You have to get out!" someone yelled, and two journalists ran toward the front door to grab their shoes, which had been left there in accordance with local tradition. Another, French photographer William Daniels, who was on assignment for TIME, threw himself against a wall, bracing for the impact of the approaching rocket. It exploded directly outside the building, rattling the walls, filling the room with dust and debris but leaving him unharmed.

His friends were not as lucky. "William, William! I can't move," came a cry from the rubble. It was Edith Bouvier, 31, a reporter for the French daily Le Figaro and one of the five foreign journalists who, along with Daniels, 35, had sneaked across the border from Lebanon into Syria over the previous two days. Bouvier was bleeding heavily, her left femur badly broken. He pulled her out, then headed toward the door to find help.

That was when the Frenchman saw his friends. The front of the house and its doorway had taken the full force of the explosion. Freelance photographer Rmi Ochlik, 28, lay at the entrance. Daniels tapped him gently on the head three times: "Rmi. Rmi. Rmi?" Nothing.

"Edith," Daniels gasped, "Rmi is not with us anymore."

On the ground near Ochlik was Marie Colvin, 56, an American correspondent for the Sunday Times of Britain, who had worn a black eye patch ever since she lost an eye in the civil war in Sri Lanka. She was legendary for being the first reporter into any war zone--and the last one out. This would be her final battle. The explosion had killed them both instantly.

Elsewhere in the house, Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy was badly injured in the abdomen and leg. A Spanish reporter, Javier Espinosa, 47, was unscathed. The survivors, bleeding and shaken, huddled for 10 minutes with their Syrian hosts, in the most solid spot in the house: the bathroom. Then a car sped to the entrance to take them away.

The anti-Assad activists raced the foreigners to a makeshift clinic in the neighborhood. Bouvier needed an operation for two fractures in her femur, the doctor said, a procedure that could not be performed in Bab Amr. He gave her morphine to dull the pain, and eventually the nurses--activists with some first-aid training--taught Daniels how to administer injections. Meanwhile, the Syrian army was moving closer to Bab Amr, a tiny district in the city of Homs. "I kept having three thoughts," Daniels recalls. "Save Edith's leg. Get some of Rmi's things home. Get out of there."

Bloody Anniversary

A year ago, on March 6, a group of teenagers in the Syrian town of Dara'a scribbled graffiti on a wall: THE PEOPLE WANT THE REGIME TO FALL--a verbatim echo of the chant that had recently shaken Tunisia and Egypt and led to the demise of ingrown tyrannies. The boys were thrown into jail, an overreaction on the part of the Assad regime that only ensured that the Arab Spring would blow into Syria. Incensed local residents began staging huge and brave protests against the dynasty that has ruled the country since 1970. Demonstrations spread to other cities and were met with vicious reprisals: arrests, torture and killing. The crackdown encouraged a series of military mutinies and defections. Civil disobedience turned into armed struggle. Cities were besieged; the country slipped into war. The U.N. estimates that 7,500 people have been killed so far.

Syria has a particular tradition of keeping massacres private. In 1982 the city of Hama staged an uprising against the government, then ruled by the father of the current President. It was ruthlessly put down with hardly anyone to bear witness to what took place. The consensus is that at least 10,000 died, though some estimates are twice that. It has been hard to know the truth on the ground in Syria even in good times; in bad times it is impossible--and dangerous. Residents of Hama told a TIME reporter on a clandestine visit in August that they know where the bodies are buried but do not dare pray over the grave sites because the regime continues to watch and to punish. To Damascus, mourning--even generations after--is dissent.

But the Arab Spring proved that sunlight can be a revolutionary weapon; government brutality, when filmed and tweeted and posted on Facebook, shames the world into paying attention. Geopolitics also puts Syria in the spotlight: the country sits at the strategic nexus in the fight between the Shi'ite theocracy in Iran and the region's Sunni powers, led by Saudi Arabia. The 21 other members of the Arab League have called on Assad to step down and pressed China and Russia to cut their ties with his regime. Syrian dissidents smuggled Daniels and his colleagues into Homs to make sure the story stayed in the headlines and to try to save the city from Hama's fate. "These journalists are witnesses to this gigantic crime," says Ricken Patel, director of Avaaz, a New York City--based organization that has helped journalists get into Homs. The Syrian dissidents are "really are grateful for their bravery."

The journey into Bab Amr was harrowing. The Westerners had been led in by activists through an old 2-mile (4 km) water pipeline. At 5 ft. 4 in. (160 cm) high, it did not have quite enough room for adults to stand. (Daniels is nearly 6 feet tall.) It also ran under the Syrian army's firing positions. Abandoned by the regime, the tunnel was used by dissidents to transport supplies to the besieged residents of Bab Amr. Couriers crouched on motorbikes would carry medicine and food and perhaps weapons in and wounded Syrians out. But could it be used to transport injured journalists to safety as well? Daniels and Bouvier did not want to try, since the doctor had warned that she could die of a blood clot if she was not moved carefully.

The four survivors were ushered into a new hideout: a single room with one small window, surrounded by taller houses and hidden from the street. For the next four days, Daniels, Bouvier, Espinosa and Conroy were trapped there, listening to rockets and shells exploding from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and sometimes during the night. "Some days there were 300 bombs," Daniels says. "You cannot imagine what it was like." Noon prayers provided the only daytime lull. It was nearly impossible to communicate with the outside world. In fact, doing so was a huge risk. Phones could help the military pinpoint the journalists' location. And then there was that sound. "A drone overhead," Daniels recalls. "It made us crazy. We could hear it above, all the time, all the time."

With the media center destroyed, the closest Internet connection to the new hideout was a hazardous 10-minute walk through Bab Amr, which was ringed with government snipers. The journalists recorded a video and handed it to activists who braved the route and uploaded it to YouTube. Seen throughout the world, the video showed Daniels, Conroy and Bouvier appealing to French authorities and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate them. Terrified that Assad's forces would find them, they lied about their location, saying in the video that they were far from the hospital. And they appeared curiously upbeat in spite of their injuries. "Edith looked radiant," says Daniels, "because that is her personality and because we were determined to let her family know that her morale was O.K."

Their living conditions, however, were growing worse. The Syrian army had bombed rooftop water tanks, so the taps were running dry. The only light in the evenings came from candles and a gas lamp. Food grew scarce. One day, all the journalists had to eat was a bowl of rice each. The residents of Bab Amr, however, were heartbreakingly kind, offering the visitors candy and cigarettes, at one point even hunting down imported Winstons. They also supplied blankets and an oil heater for the bitterly cold nights. Two activists were assigned to care for Bouvier and Conroy in 12-hour shifts. Most residents of Bab Amr, says Daniels, "had someone in their family, [maybe] several people, who had been killed. We felt very bad saying 'Please help us get out of here. We have lost our friends.' We couldn't say that, because they had lost everything."

A two-hour truce on Friday, Feb. 24, allowed Daniels to shoot photos of the destruction and collect Ochlik's things: a camera so battered it looked like a cauliflower, a computer, a ski cap, a passport--plus a couple of energy bars for the survivors to share. Also in Ochlik's bag was a pocket-size black notebook in which he had written key Arabic-French translations for words including run and escape. Daniels and Espinosa were then driven over to the makeshift morgue in a nearby apartment where Ochlik and Colvin lay. The shrouds had been simply marked in Arabic: WOMAN and MAN. Daniels wrote out their names in block letters, so they could be identified in case the bodies were scattered in the turmoil.

As the cease-fire drew to a close, Daniels and Espinosa returned to the building where they were hiding and found five ambulances from the Syria Arab Red Crescent (SARC) parked outside. "We aren't here for you," one driver told the journalists. He offered to take them to the ICRC convoy, but SARC would first need to hand the group over to the regime forces, something the journalists believed could endanger them. "We are here to get wounded Syrians out. The ICRC is just outside Bab Amr, 500 meters away. You can talk to them."

Daniels borrowed the ambulance's radio set and raised the ICRC head in Syria, Marianne Gasser. She told him, "We're negotiating to go into Bab Amr. It should be fine."

Minutes passed. On the radio, Gasser told Daniels, "Good news. One ambulance will stay, and I will come to you with two other ambulances." But then one of the paramedics with Daniels suddenly said, "We have been ordered to leave now."

That sent Daniels into a panic. "You can't leave us! One ambulance is supposed to stay."

"We'll pick you up later" was the response as the SARC drove off.

That night the government unleashed several rockets, seemingly aimed at the journalists' hideout. Daniels suspects the presence of the ambulances tipped off the regime to the journalists' whereabouts. The attack continued through the night and into the morning. "We were really scared," says Daniels. Word had reached them from the French government that it was imperative that they leave Bab Amr. "We decided the very next ambulance that came, we had to go with them."

But none came.

Making a Break for the Border

"We were going crazy," Daniels recalls. "we knew that security forces were closing in on Bab Amr. They were trying to enter close to our house. We knew from the sound of the tank shelling--the level was low, there were booms--that they were very close. We learned that the ambulance was supposed to come on Monday at noon. But they had not come Saturday or Sunday, so we no longer trusted them."

By the evening of Sunday, Feb. 26, the four colleagues made a decision: they would escape the way they came, through the tunnel. They taped Bouvier to a stretcher and four Syrians took turns carrying her, two at a time, with Daniels beside them. They had to crouch as they walked through the pipe, and they fell farther and farther behind Conroy and Espinosa, who were with several Syrian activists, some of them on motorbikes. (Conroy's injuries did not require him to lie flat and made him easier to transport.) Suddenly there were explosions at the tunnel's end. The army was onto them. People fled, screaming.

Daniels found himself alone in the dark with Bouvier; both were breathless and terrified. A rebel fighter approached, mumbling, "No problem, no problem," and placed a Kalashnikov rifle across Bouvier's slender body, warning them to cover their faces from a possible gas attack. Then he ran off. The gun ($1,600 on the black market) was a gift for them to defend themselves.

Fighting to remain calm, Daniels began trying to drag the stretcher, but he couldn't move it. He weighed the option of carrying Bouvier over his shoulder but quickly realized it would be impossible. "It was a nightmare," he says. "We were alone. I didn't know what to do. She was saying, 'We have to move. We have to move.' And I was saying, 'Wait, let me think.' I thought, O.K., if this is the time for us to die, it's O.K. But I did not want us to suffer--getting shot and bleeding to death for hours."

Then Daniels heard a buzzing noise. It was a far-off motorbike and it was headed their way, its headlight dim but welcome. Daniels ran toward it, shouting for help, and the driver stopped. They sat Bouvier on the bike, jamming the rifle between her and the driver, with Daniels perched behind. Bumping through the darkness, toppling over a number of times, they headed not away from Bab Amr but back to what little shelter it offered.

Conroy managed to make it to the Lebanese border. A couple of days later, Espinosa too got across. But perhaps 13 Syrian activists died in the attack on the tunnel. The hopes of Bouvier's and Daniels' friends and relatives in France were crushed when French President Nicolas Sarkozy retracted a statement that the two French journalists had also made their way to safety.

Back in the hideout, a Syrian activist laid out a last-ditch escape plan for the next day, Feb. 27. They would disguise Bouvier in Islamic dress and try another route, which the activist admitted was even more dangerous. "Yesterday," he said, "my friend was killed on that road." The French journalists had no choice. Bouvier's leg was deteriorating, and everyone expected the Syrian army to launch an attack at dawn.

"We'll try it," they said. They were bundled into a car with fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a group of army defectors battling Assad's forces. In a series of vehicles, they drove through terrain held by government forces. "I cannot give details because the route was absolutely secret," Daniels says. "But it was very, very dangerous. We were very, very scared."

When they finally stopped at a safe house, they were overwhelmed by food and warmth. Everyone wanted to have a photo taken with Bouvier, who had become famous since the YouTube video. "She was like an icon of the revolution," Daniels says, laughing. After two nights, the FSA escorts took them to a second safe house before smuggling them across into Lebanon on March 1. In all, the escape route was 25 miles (40 km) long but had taken almost four days to travel. Bouvier and Daniels turned on their mobile phones and sent ecstatic messages to friends. "We are out," Daniels texted photo editor Patrick Witty at TIME. "And Edith is safe!"

Flown back to France, the two were greeted at the airport by Sarkozy, who praised "the knightly spirit of ... William Daniels, who at no point abandoned his colleague, even though he was not injured and could have escaped." The tribute left Daniels uneasy. He did not want to be portrayed as a hero.

One other anxiety has been relieved. Three days after Daniels wrote Ochlik's and Colvin's names on their body bags, medical workers buried their corpses because there was no longer fuel for refrigerating the morgue. SARC exhumed the bodies when regime forces finally seized control of Bab Amr on March 3. Colvin's remains were repatriated to New York, Ochlik's to Paris, where they were cremated on March 6, the one-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising.

But something troubles Daniels. He says repeatedly that he is deeply uncomfortable that the ordeal of Western journalists has gripped the world's attention while hundreds of residents in Bab Amr have been killed. The people they left behind may well have been slaughtered by the Syrian army. With the supply and escape tunnel reportedly destroyed, the odor of death pervades the district. The carnage continues in other parts of Syria. The violence Assad has unleashed "will get worse before it gets better," General James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "He will continue to employ heavier and heavier weapons on his people."

"The real story is not us," Daniels says. "It's the Syrian people." It is, unfortunately, a story that cannot yet be told in full. Even the names of the activists who died in the rescue must remain secret. The very revelation of their identities is likely to put others in danger in a Syria where mourning the dead may itself be punishable by death.

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