What is there to say in a situation like this? As he told his story and expressed his opinions, I found myself continuously repeating "I understand, I understand", trying to show some degree of sympathy and compassion, while simultaneously not trying to sound like a fake. I do understand, to a certain degree, but how can I ever begin to imagine what his family is going through?
Awkwardly, I asked whether he is Sunni, Shite, or Alawite. He's a Sunni.
That led into an uncomfortable part of the conversation. My friend mentioned what is happening in Bahrain, and how it is incomparable to what is happening in Syria. Quantitatively, yes, that is true. Far fewer people were killed (and are being killed) in Bahrain. But, I tell him, comparing the two makes me feel uncomfortable. It is tacitly implying that what is happening in Bahrain isn't as important, which I think is an unnecessary and harmful distinction to draw. Mercifully, we move on to the next topic.
What would he like the international community to do? Give the opposition guns. Taking the role of "common Western opinion", I say that it would be difficult because there are so many factions out there and little structure to the opposition. In effect, we'd just be handing out guns to anybody who asked. He understood, but countered that organization is impossible because of the lack of effective communication between groups. They are in a war, after all.
Good point. My friend also is in favor of buffer-zones. Again, I put on my State Department hat and give a brief rundown about what happened in Srebrenica. "But that was in the middle of the Balkans. We have Turkey." Another good point. A buffer zone with Turkey as the backstop would allow opposition forces to gather, organize, and present a united front. (Senator John McCain has called for much the same thing)
But recent developments might make this all moot. The UN is sending "peace observers", "military observers", "truce observers" or whatever you want to call it to Syria today in order to monitor the Annan peace plan. Didn't the Arab League do that a few months ago? Didn't they leave in disgust at the indiscriminate continued killings of civilians by the Assad regime? Alas, if the UN mission can halt the killings, then I guess we have to call that "progress".