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The World Watches Syria: What Will It Do?


As the violence in Syria continues, the international community has been unable to do much more than continue to condemn it. For more on the mounting debate over intervention, we turn to Andrew Tabler. He's a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and author of "In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria." Mr. Tabler, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Now there are reports the Syrian military may begin to crackdown on a neighboring city of Homs, Hama. Do you think that raises a sense of urgency in the international community to maybe toughen its stance about Syria?

TABLER: Yes, because the Syrian regime calls it the security solution. And what it's trying to do is it's trying to wipe out armed and civilian opposition to the regime. The only problem is that they've been doing this for some time - granted on a lesser level - and it hasn't worked. So, it will be interesting to see will they be able to go in and clear another area like Hama and then hold it. This seems to be the basis of their solution thus far. That's going to drive up death tolls and that's going to drive up the humanitarian crisis to a point that the West might have to do something more robust.

SIMON: Take a step back. When you talk about clear an area, I mean, to be blunt about it, we're talking about killing many people.

TABLER: That's correct. We're talking about killing hundreds of people and the Syrian regime is doing that. They're killing them in the hundreds per day. And thus far, the international community has done very little. That doesn't - I mean, directly. They've been doing a tremendous amount diplomatically, but I think as you've been reporting over the last few weeks, this has been locked up in the Security Council between the United States and Russia.

SIMON: The United States, France, the United Kingdom and perhaps several other countries have characterized Assad as a war criminal. Help us understand the reluctance to arm elements of the opposition in Syria to rise up against a war criminal.

TABLER: Because the Free Syrian Army is not a top-down organized military structure. It's more like a franchise. They're not in the centralized command. However, their tactics have been very effective in harassing regime elements and also temporarily liberating certain areas. Now, I think there's a reluctance to dump weapons into that environment by a lot of different countries - not only the United States but a lot of regional countries. But it doesn't really matter because the arms are coming in anyway. And at the same time, I think that a lot of people now are trying to consider if arms can't be directly provided to these people to defend themselves, perhaps other kinds of logistical and intelligence support could be provided to them, and that would include countries in Europe, the region and the United States.

SIMON: Help us understand how that would be done - or is it perhaps already being done?

TABLER: I think to a certain degree it is already being done. How that would be done would be, for example, providing information to the Syrian opposition or the Free Syrian Army or different elements in a certain area that a Syrian military division is moving into their area. That would give them time to disperse or to recollect in another area and to be able to coordinate their efforts against the regime's forces.

SIMON: That would presumably be something like U.S. and British intelligence telling someone in the Syrian opposition: there are elements moving your way.

TABLER: Correct. But the point here isn't the U.S. pouring on support for the Free Syrian Army. The point is that there are a lot of people in the region who have an interest in the outcome in the political battle in Syria. And they are already arming the opposition in Syria. And if it's already going in that direction, the question is at what point do other people get involved and in what way?

SIMON: Mr. Tabler, is it also possible that what a lot of the rest of the world sees as an urgent situation of concern winds up as some kind of a stalemate long-term?

TABLER: Yes. It's entirely possible. But the question is: what would that stalemate look like? I mean, I think that oftentimes people debate the question of, well, you know, how long will Assad hold on? I think this is beside the point. It just depends on what holding on looks like. I think it's fairly plausible that a year from now President Assad could still be in power but he probably won't control all areas of Syria. The problem is, for that regime is, that it's unable to deploy all its elite units at one time to suppress the revolution. And at the same time, it's unable to reform because of its sectarian nature. It's a real dilemma. And it's unclear exactly how this is all going to shake out but most predictions are for the region where I am now and the whole back to North America that it's not going to be going well in 2012.

SIMON: Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Thanks so much.

TABLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.