“The West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade,” Russian deputy minister Dmitry Rogozinaptly said recently. Barack Obama was elected the US president in 2008 on the promise to end the misguided wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which led to perceptions like these. Since then, Obama has gone back on numerous promises he made during the election campaign, including curbing government surveillance on Americans and limiting drone strikes. Hence, his determination to attack Syria does not come as a complete surprise. In fact, a new war conveniently serves as a distraction from Edward Snowden’s continuous revelations about the NSA’s $52 billion ‘black budget’.
The US claim for the attack is being made on the grounds of humanity, morality and a threat to national security. This is not the first time that chemical weapons have been used following the 1952 Geneva Protocol, which forbids the use of such weapons in war. The US doused South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with Agent Orange in order to destroy forests and prevent the Viet Cong from hiding therein. As a result, the Vietnamese continue to suffer from birth defects and cancer. According to recently released CIA documents, during the 1980s when the Iran-Iraq war was in full swing, the American government was not only aware of the use of nerve gas by the Sadaam Hussein regime in Iran but also provided coordinates of the location of Iranian forces. The sarin and mustard gas used in Iran resulted in the death of 20,000 soldiers. It is clear that humanity is only a concern when it is convenient for the US and its allies.
UN inspectors have been rushed out of Syria before being able to make use of President Bashar al-Assad’s invitation to examine the site in question. This indicates that the US is not interested in the results of the chemical attack investigation. John Kerry also indicated that the US could not rely on the UN Security Council due to “guaranteed Russian obstructionism”. There seems to be a rush to not only attack Syria, but to also ensure that a detailed investigation is averted. As AP reported, according to US officials, the intelligence linking Assad to an alleged chemical weapons attack is doubtful and questions remain over who actually controls Syria’s chemical weapons stores.
The sectarian threads of this conflict contribute to tensions as Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for influence in the region. Saudi Arabia and Qatar support US strikes and have even offered to pay for an American military intervention. Assad is backed most notably by Iran. Meanwhile, the White House is trying to gain support from Congress for striking Syria and one way to guarantee that is by mentioning Israel’s security. Pro-Israeli groups have spent over $15 million lobbying for their cause in DC during Obama’s tenure. Kerry cleverly emphasised that Congress needs to send a clear message to Iran that the “fielding” of a nuclear weapon will not be tolerated and that the US is ready to safeguard Israel’s security.
With less than one-third of Americans supporting this attack, people are wary of claims that launching missiles into Syria would serve ‘humanitarian’ purposes. Proponents have yet to detail how these strikes will defend civilians; there is actually a risk of dispersing chemical agents over a large area due to a missile strike. By the US’s own admission, these attacks would not eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons capability. Officials have previously stated that it would take 60,000 or more troops on the ground to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Growing atrocities in Syria cannot be denied, but throwing bombs from a safe distance into a civil war is not the responsible solution. There are other options. A great start would be for Western and Arab nations to terminate arms shipments to Syria followed by a UN-enforced ceasefire and negotiations. A no-fly zone can be established along with an increase in humanitarian aid. The American public has learned from recent mistakes; let’s hope their elected officials follow suit.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2013.
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