Over a year ago I contributed a piece to this website which mentioned the use of torture by Syrian government forces in an organised fashion. It should be no surprise to us that the Assad regime has gone ahead and used gas on its own people. The Assad regime is without a doubt an evil regime hell-bent on maintaining power in any way possible. It is disheartening and tragic that this can continue in the twenty first century. We are essentially sitting watching another Rwanda happen, albeit over a longer period of time.
Living in the large shadow of the Gulf War II it is to be expected that western powers are going to be hesitant to intervene in another Middle East conflict. Assad’s regime is reportedly preparing for a U.S. strike, with reports coming through of troops, ordinance and sensitive documents being moved to civilian buildings and discreet locations. Obama’s decision to delay any possible action seems to be allowing time for Assad to prepare for this possibility. However the decision is hugely complex and Obama will have a number of motivations for his decision.
Following on Britain’s example, Obama is seeking Congressional approval for his action. One can easily see the allure of having a strong consensus built behind military action, given the disaster that was Iraq. Domestic factors may be present in the president’s mind. Intervening without Congressional approval (as in Libya) would leave Obama and the Democrats open to criticism from Rand Paul et al, hailing the UK as an example of how a democracy should decide on entering into a war. This would be an easy card to play to an American public which may balk at the prospect of another drawn out war. They have seen enough American boys come home in body bags.
Syria is also stocked full of new Russian anti-aircraft technology, and the supply chain will not halt any time soon. The UN is also unlikely to reach a strong consensus due to Russia and China’s position on the Security Council. This is an issue which needs to be changed as the current setup of the security council prevents it functioning to its full and proper potential.
There are numerous other complications so boggling that nobody can say with any certainty what will happen. The Islamic fundamentalist elements among the Syrian rebels are a mysterious threat. During this week, Iran threatened retaliation against Israel if Syria were struck. The war has already spilled over into Lebanon. Egypt, once reliable as a bastion of stability, is now more chaotic than any other point in recent years. One cannot blame America for being apprehensive about beginning to bomb a region that could inflame the whole region.
The great tragedy of these complications is that the carnage continues. This was the second gas attack by Syrian government forces, twice crossing Obama’s ‘Red Line’. The UK’s rash decision to avoid war, and America’s hesitation will send out the wrong message worldwide. This message is clear when we hear reports of the Syrian government taunting America’s aversion to war and loss of superpower status. To prevent mass war crimes against whole peoples in the future, perpetrators must understand they will be brought to justice. John Kerry has a reputation as a dull operator, but he has been an ardent supporter of intervention. He is one of a few prominent politicians with the conviction to call the Syrian government for what it is.
The firm line taken by France is hardly surprising given their willingness to become involved in former colonies like Chad and Mali.
Obama had missed the opportunity to be decisive and take a firm line on Syria. The UK has essentially forfeited its chance to help. The memories of Iraq, and the continuing deadlock of the U.N. Security Council means we are facing into more misery and more dead civilians with no end in sight.