The Problem with Removing Dictators
The Problem with Removing Dictators a hard hitting op-ed in Al-Jazeera English about the complexities of outside intervention in Syria. I make the argument that regional rather than outside intervention is key to resolving the crisis, while explaining in detail how outside intervention inherently short circuits organic nation building processes.
Instead of interpreting Annan’s departure as a definitive failure of diplomacy, the international community should take seriously his reasons for stepping down and heed his warnings both about Syria’s internal fragmentation and the risks of a divided international community turning Syria’s civil conflict into a multi-state proxy war. As he pointed out, much more important than removing Bashar al-Assad is what happens afterwards. It is for these reasons that a consensus-based regional solution represents the best way forward, rather than one imposed from afar.
Before embarking on a new course that might culminate in military intervention, Western leaders should review their “success rate” at militarily removing dictators. Previous instances of regime decapitation not only removed the dictator but also destroyed the mechanisms that had been holding the state together, which led to greater instability and suffering. The main reason for this is that, since the European empires have been decolonised, the world’s most brutal tyrants have emerged in the most volatile parts of the former colonial empires. These dictators and their supporters forcibly held together states that are not always considered “nations”.
In the absence of a “strongman”, such states require organic processes to formulate new identities and viable, inclusive institutions. Outside intervention short-circuits this. Although direct outside intervention can create space for political transformation, it also runs the risk of short-circuiting that very process by fashioning and supporting power centres willing to collaborate at the expense of home-grown actors.
The real question after June’s Houla Massacre, July’s withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission, and Annan’s resignation in early August is not how to get Russia and China to support a Western-led UN Security Council Resolution on international intervention in Syria.
Instead, it is how the Syrian people might construct their own national institutions, national identity, and sufficient unity to tackle the trials they will face after Assad. Getting the regional powers that are funding and arming the Syrian opposition – reportedly primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey – to coordinate their efforts and achieve some degree of unanimity with more hesitant regional players such as Lebanon and Iraq would help not only resolve the crisis but could help build unity inside the Syrian opposition. Such a development would have the makings of the regional solution that we advocated for months ago in the Christian Science Monitor.