How Many Syrians Must Die before a U.S. Intervention?

An intervention in the U.S. Today Debate Club

Many Washingtonians claim that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has been thrown back against the ropes, boxed in by international sanctions, and growing hordes of protesters whom he cannot contain, no matter how brutally he cracks down on them.

In truth, Assad is hardly alone. Iran and Hezbollah have stood by his side from the first moment, providing intelligence, and by some accounts weapons and other assistance to the loyalist forces. More recently, China and Russia have drawn a line in the sand, refusing to acquiesce to the demise of Assad’s regime, exercising their respective vetoes at the United Nations Security Council.

Western officials remain conflicted about the possibility of intervention, considering it publicly at NATO and other institutions, while dismissing it wholly at press conferences.

Ultimately, Western powers have no choice but to intervene. Until outside forces compel them to stop, the Assads will continue their murderous rampage with utter impunity. Negotiations have failed, sanctions have failed. The United States has closed its embassy in Damascus, ending whatever diplomatic leverage Washington maintained there.

As Syrian activists are broadcasting on YouTube for all the world to see, the massacres continue unabated. President Obama has described the indiscriminate bombardment of the city of Homs as “outrageous bloodshed,” but it is much more. The Assads are carrying out a virtual genocide there. Any day now, the rural Damascus town of Zabadani, which borders Lebanon and has been liberated by local rebels for weeks, will witness a similar onslaught. Some 5,000 loyalist troops equipped with 50 tanks and dozens of howitzers are already inching their way there.

If the geopolitical payoffs of regime change in Syria—further isolating Iran, weakening Hezbollah and removing a regime that has played an active role in supporting terrorist activities throughout the region and the world—are not enough to sway President Obama, perhaps this obvious humanitarian angle can seal the deal.

Last week, the Foundation for Defense Democracy hosted a Skype video conference for members of the American media and policy establishment in Washington, and rebel leaders in the protest hubs of rural Damascus, who sent a clear message to President Obama: we want American intervention.

The Syrian dissident fighters did not demand boots on the ground, but underscored the need for safe havens along Syria’s borders with Turkey and Jordan and the establishment of humanitarian corridors to provide support for protesters and those caught in the crossfire.

The dissidents also demanded international recognition of the Free Syrian Army which, they believe, can protect communities from assault by regime loyalists once it gains access to equipment that can defend it against the tanks and artillery of Assad’s modern, mechanized army.

Assad’s tanks and howitzers are still rolling, but no one expects him to last in power. How many civilians does Obama wish to see die before the regime’s collapse?