Is there a way to boot Assad out of Syria without turning his state into a Mad Max dystopia? Clean breaks don’t really happen in civil wars. The reason? AK-47s are as common as pencils.
I used to have a pipe dream: the rebels miraculously defeat the Syrian military and surround Assad’s dome of pleasure. Assad shaves his mustache, dyes his hair, and moves to Miami. I also hoped that both sides could simply run out of ammo. But these players have cash and know who to call for assault weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, and spare parts. In the real world, the Kalashnikov is easier to find than potable water.
The AK-47 is the poison in every hot zone around the world. Since 1949, as many as 70 million Kalashnikov-type rifles and light machine guns have been manufactured. Every dictator in modern history has used this monstrous instrument. . . . and therein lies the problem.
You can’t just end the bloodshed by overthrowing the dictator and plugging in a Western-educated politician. It’s never that easy. To avoid military intervention by coalition forces and still capture Syria’s attention, you need to constrict all of their resources. Surround Syria with a harsh and unrelenting embargo. Freeze any of their overseas assets. Hunt down every arms smuggler in the region. Kick the envoy from Damascus out of your country–already underway in some capitals. Put inspectors and surveillance drones on every border: mercenaries and terrorists like to sneak in while refugees run out. If the U.N. task force has the capability, you may want to start interfering with the Internet in Damascus. . . I hear Assad and his wife love to shop online.
Is this another pipe dream? Yeah, probably. Things can go wrong. But a cease-fire can’t be enacted by a power-hungry subordinate behind Assad’s left shoulder. People have to stop shooting, and negotiators have to push Kofi Annan’s peace plan. This has to end in a fair compromise. If either faction feels betrayed or left out, the fighting will resume.