Until yesterday it seemed the stage was set for imminent US-Britain-France led military intervention in Syria. That President Obama has said no final decision has been made, the fact that Cameron is looking to get approval from parliament and the expectation that the UN Security Council’s position on this is going to far from unanimous may mean that it may take a while. But it is clear that the question now is not “if” but “when”.
I don’t think anyone is now disputing that a chemical attack took place. Who was responsible for it is another story. There are numerous views and rumours out there. A report by ANI from January, quoting InfoWars.com, claims that a leak shows the US government supported a plan to carry out a chemical weapons attack in Syria that could be blamed on President Assad and lead to international military action.
More recently, the Syrian ambassador to the UN has claimed that the British government conspired with rebel forces in Syria to carry out the attack. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Bashar Al-Ja’afri claims the delivery system was supplied by Britain to rebels who put the chemical weapons together in a secret factory in Turkey. On the other hand, the US, British and French governments are claiming that there is clear intelligence that shows the Syrian government carried out the attack.
Although I am not convinced that military intervention in Syria is the answer, or even that it is justified, the world can’t just sit back and do nothing while innocent people are being killed every day by a dictator, can it? So many people have died in Syria, not only in the recent chemical attack, but for the past several months, that something has to be done. Surely!
It is an incredibly complex situation, with many internal and external influences already in the mix. It is about democracy versus dictatorship, sectarian hatred, polarisation and intolerance, the rights of minorities, balance of power in the Middle East, the interests of Iran and Israel, the role of Al-Qaeda in supporting the Syrian rebels and the future of the Arab Spring all at the same time. Taking sides is not going to be easy. But adding cruise missiles to the mix? Is that going to help?
Meanwhile, life goes on for people in Syria. I am sure there must be a great deal of nervousness and anxiety among ordinary citizens of Damascus and other major cities as they wait for missiles to rain down, adding to the suffering that the civil war has already inflicted on them. There are reports of people who live close to military installations and government offices abandoning their homes and moving with their families. Similarly, people have started to move away from cities to safer areas in the countryside. When the civilised world’s response to a dictator’s atrocity is bombs that are likely to terrorise, injure and even kill more civilians, one has to stop and wonder.
There are so many other questions. When does mass murder cross the line and become an atrocity? Is a civilian life taken by a bullet or a bomb or a missile somehow worth less than one taken by nerve gas? How much we can trust the “Assad used chemical weapons” narrative knowing what we know about weapons of mass destruction claims in Iraq? How will Syria respond to a missile strike and will that lead to escalation? Will Russia jump into the mix? If damage to the Syrian military gives the rebels an edge, what is the future of the Assad regime? Does this strengthen Al-Qaeda and what is the blowback of that going to be?
Perhaps this is where the international community needs to take a stand against extremes that a dictator can go to in order to suppress protest and opposition. Obama, Cameron and Hollande collectively appear to think so, or else they would have acted months ago in Syria and may even have had a different view about what happened in Egypt recently.
But to believe that you have to assume they mean what they say and there’s no hypocrisy or lies. And that the Obama-Cameron-Hollande trio are genuinely motivated to save innocent Syrian lives.
Like I said, taking sides is not going to be easy.