Averting disaster in Syria
Weekly Pulse
6-12 September 2013
So sanity prevailed in the end. An apt Russians diplomatic act averted the US military attack on Syria, which could only have aggravated its bloody civil war being waged since early 2011. While the world is still grappling with the implications of recent international wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, another international intervention in a sovereign country would have been disastrous not just for Syria but also the surrounding region.

If the Assad regime had not agreed to the UN-mandated plan to destroy all of its chemical weapons stockpiles, the American-led military intervention in Syria might have already occurred. For the US and its two key Western allies in this case, the UK and France, were sure that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad had, indeed, carried out the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the outskirts of Damascus, which reportedly killed close to 1,500 civilians.

Such military misadventure, occurring ahead of the UN inspectors’ report on the chemical weapons attack in Syria and without the approval of the UN Security Council, would have been yet another instance of the flouting of the will of the international community by the US and its Western allies. This would have been the third time for US military adventurism to come into play since NATO’s military intervention in Bosnia in the mid-90s and the 2003 military intervention in Iraq by the US-led “coalition of the willing.”

At least in Libya’s case, as well as that of Afghanistan, the UN, including the Security Council, had remained on broad. However, even in these cases, the implications for military intervention have been severe, with the international community showing no corresponding resolve to manage them effectively on a long-term basis. In Iraq and Afghanistan, tens of thousands of people have perished due to prolonged wars and subsequent ethnic and sectarian conflicts. Even countries bordering these nations find it difficult to deal with the fallout from these wars. The continuing conflict in Pakistan, where over 50,000 civilian and military lives have been lost, is a testament of this gory reality.

Humanitarian intervention must take place, but not for the sake of short span military adventurism, with underlying motivations that are commercial (extracting oil) or geopolitical (protecting Israel). Humanitarian intervention must solely aim at saving the lives of people who are at risk from the brutality of long-standing dictatorial regimes—which the Middle East is not short of despite the so-called revolutions of the ‘Arab Spring.’

Of course, no one can justify the 40-plus years of Assad dictatorship in Syria, with virtually no difference in the nature of rule from Hafiz al-Assad to Bashar al-Assad. Likewise, other age-old monarchies in the Arab world, especially those who have funded and armed the Syrian rebels for the past over a year, cannot claim the right to duly represent their respective masses. The difference in Syria’s case is that the majority of its people have revolted against a minority regime, which has, indeed, engaged in massacring its own people since the uprising began in March 2001.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria is unprecedented and real: over 100,000 killed, over 2 million turned refugees living across borders, and over 4 million displaced internally. And the best way to manage this crisis is for the US, France and every other capable country to response to recurrent UN appeals for humanitarian assistance. Alongside managing this humanitarian crisis, the international community must devise a diplomatic mechanism to end the Syrian civil war—with the instrument of internationally sanctioned military intervention to be employed only as a last resort.

Thus far, the evidence about Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is claimed by only the US, France and the UK, or their Arab supporters of the Syrian intervention; the UN inspectors have only confirmed the use of chemical weapons without identifying who used them. However, now that the Assad regime is committed to the destruction of its chemical arsenals, the focus of international diplomacy should be ensuring that Damascus remains on board and its chemical weapons are verifiably destroyed during the timeframe agreed in the UN Security Council resolution. Of course, just as it happened in the case of Iraq back in the 90s, there would be tensions along the way, which must not lead to external military intervention.

If the US and its allies ever rushed to take military action against Syria, then the main repercussions of such irresponsible conduct on their part would be further tension among global/regional powers; greater turmoil in the Middle East, more bloodbath in Syria, further spread of sectarianism in the region—and much more. The military intervention will also inadvertently or otherwise strengthen the hands of al-Qaeda or rebel groups affiliated with it. These are the very forces we have struggled against in the so-called War on Terror. Thus, if the regime in Syria is evil, the rebels of that country are no angels either.