Nicholas Noe writes: Almost one year after anti-government protests began in Syria, a disaster of enormous moral and strategic proportions is fast approaching. Full-scale civil war is now likely. And a multifront, conventional and possibly unconventional war ignited by events in the Levant is also increasingly plausible.
However, many in the West, in some Arab governments and even in the Syrian opposition still think a “controlled collapse” of Bashar al-Assad’s government is possible.
According to this view, increasing pressure from all around will, at some point, fracture the government and its supporters both at home and abroad. Any resulting death and destruction, as well as regional blowback, will be within acceptable limits.
Unfortunately, there are at least three problems that make a controlled collapse unlikely.
First, the Assad government, which still enjoys substantial support from the army, the elite and other segments of the population, may be able to prolong its bloody denouement, with help from outsiders. Russia, which sees Syria as an indispensable strategic asset, joined China on Saturday in vetoing a United Nations resolution against the Assad government.
Iran has staked its own vital interests on Mr. Assad’s regime, which is a crucial conduit for Tehran’s support for the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah in their common struggle against Israel.
Second, the violence from any drawn-out collapse will most likely exceed the limits of moral or strategic acceptability for the West and its allies — not to mention the Syrian people. Sectarian conflicts that divide the Alawites and other minority communities from the majority Sunni population will accelerate, compounding tensions in neighboring Lebanon, where Sunni fighters are now staging attacks into Syria, and also in Iraq, where sectarian violence has sharply increased in recent weeks.
Third, the resulting movement of refugees will add yet another destabilizing element to a humanitarian crisis. After all, Syria already hosts millions of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees who are likely to experience further anguish and loss. [Continue reading…]