Recent history in Iraq and Libya shows that the departure of a tyrant can lead to a deterioration in stability and an increase in human suffering. In Syria, a Yemen-style transition (dictator forced into exile to be replaced by a transition figure) may be the best possible outcome.
Cambridge, Britain and New York
As Syria devolves into what the UN peacekeeping chief calls a full-out civil war, observers worry that the fall of Bashar al-Assad could precipitate even greater chaos. Such concerns are well founded. Recent history shows that the departure of even the most gruesome tyrant can lead to a further deterioration in stability and an increase in human suffering.
The rationale for this paradox is that since the European empires have been decolonized, brutal tyrants have arisen to hold together the most volatile remnants of empire – states that are not really nations. Iraq, Syria, and Libya are just a few examples of colonial amalgamations of different sectarian, ethnic, or regional groups.
In the 20th century, the colonial overlords and then their post-colonial strongmen replacements kept their internal fissures in check by force. Understanding this history, UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan is right to be wary of military intervention in Syria and to seek regional support for a political transition there. An ill-conceived international intervention to remove Assad – especially if it lacked regional support – could easily unleash a war of all against all.
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