First on protection: the responsibility belongs in the
first instance to the Syrian government. The international community is not
obligated to intervene. It may do so under particular circumstances, when the
government has clearly failed to protect the population. I don't see a
stomach for overt intervention in the U.S. Nor do I think the Arab League
or Turkey will do it without the U.S., as Anne-Marie Slaughter suggests.
The Syrian government has not only failed to protect, it has
in fact attacked its own citizens, indiscriminately and ferociously.
Self-defense and intervention are justified. The question is whether they
are possible or wise, which they do not appear to be.
The Free Syria Army, an informal collection of anti-regime insurgents,
is nowhere near able to protect the population. Their activities provoke the
government and its unfree Army to even worse violence. It would be far better
if defected soldiers worked for strictly defensive purposes, accompanying
street demonstrators and rooting out agents provocateurs rather than suicidally
contesting forces that are clearly stronger and better armed. A few automatic
weapon rounds fired in the general direction of the artillery regiments bombarding
Homs are going to help the artillery with targeting and do little
Violence also reduces the likelihood of future defections
from the security forces. For current
Syrian soldiers weighing defection, it is one thing to refuse to fire on
unarmed demonstrators. It is another to desert to join the people who are shooting
at you. Defections are important -- eventually, they may thin the regime's
support. But they aren't going to happen as quickly or easily if rebels are
shooting at the soldiers they want to see defect.
But if you can't march around singing kumbaya, what are you
going to do? There are a number of options, few of which have been
tried. Banging pans at a fixed hour of the night is a tried and true protest
technique that demonstrates and encourages opposition, but makes it hard for
the authorities to figure out just who is opposing them. The Arab variation is Allahu
akbar called out for 15 minutes every evening. A Libyan who helped organize the
revolutionary takeover of Tripoli explained to me that their effort began with
hundreds of empty mosques playing the call to prayer, recorded on CDs, at an
odd hour over their loudspeakers. A general strike gives clear political
signals and makes it hard for the authorities to punish all those
involved. Coordinated graffiti, marking sidewalks with identical symbols,
wearing of the national flag -- consult Gene Sharp's 198 methods for more.
The point is to demonstrate wide participation, mock the
authorities, and deprive them of their capacity to generate fear. When I
studied Arabic in Damascus a few years ago, I asked an experienced agitator
friend about the efficacy of the security forces. She said they were
lousy. "What keeps everyone in line?" I asked. "Fear,"
she replied. If the oppositions resorts to violence, it helps the authorities:
by responding with sometimes random violence, they hope to re-instill fear.