10 reasons Obama shouldn't go there: why the Syrian strike is a bad idea

Published August 29th, 2013 - 20:02 GMT

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Barack Obama David Cameron
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Image 1 of 10: Duo going solo: Obama & Cameron are beating the drums of war, rejecting calls for UN Security Council consensus. According to UN charters, humanitarian intervention - which Syria can expect due to the use of chemical agents - without a UN mandate is illegal. Flouting international law will set a dangerous precedent for global conflict, a la Iraq.

Damascus UN team
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Image 1 of 10: Proof: Even though the US is sure the Syrian gov’t is behind the chemical weapons, solid evidence must be found before any action is taken, lest an Iraq WMD scenario is repeated. UN chemical weapons inspectors are still in Damascus, gathering samples. Even if the US is ‘ready to go’ on an attack as Hagel says, irrefutable evidence is key.

Barack Obama
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Image 1 of 10: Unpopular war: All eyes are on the US who, as world leading superpower, heads up the anti-Assad brigade. But Obama has little public support for American involvement in Syria. In May, a Gallup poll showed 68% of Americans don’t want to intervene. Obama does not need a Syria legacy akin to George W. Bush’s Iraq to haunt his time in office.

Vietnam afghanistan iraq wars
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Image 1 of 10: US history: The memories of the US’ past failed interventions were always going to crop up. With even Assad warning the US of ‘Vietnam style’ defeat in Syria, the bitter fight against the Taliban in 2001 in Afghanistan and the very real failures of Iraq mean the US has no successful historical precedent to fall back on to guide them in Syria.

US Naval ships
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Image 1 of 10: Chilly hang-ups: With US naval fleets in the Mediterranean, and Russia strategically deploying two ships to the region, Cold War politics are at play. Constant UN Security Council vetos, alliances drawn on rusty WWII lines and the antagonism over Snowden means these frosty relations are dominating the international arena, delaying progress.

Walid Moallem
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Image 1 of 10: Syria's secret weapon: Syria’s FM Walid Moallem has been coming out with some fierce rhetoric over the potential Western strike. “The people of Syria...are prepared to confront the whole world,” adding that Syria has “defences which will surprise others”. A scary thought as the regime’s brutality has been well documented since 2011.

Bashar Al-assad
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Image 1 of 10: Know thy friends! It’s easy to say you’re against Assad, but the divided nature of the Syrian rebels makes them difficult to support - the rebel forces are broken, diverse and peppered with radicals, such as Al Qaeda linked Nusra front. If the US chooses to attack Syria, they will be fighting on the same side as Al Qaeda 12 years after 9/11.

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Image 1 of 10: Stirring the ME beast: With Egypt rocky, Lebanon on the brink of civil war, the promise of Iran’s involvement and Hezbollah threatening Israel, and Israelis buying gasmasks, there’s no doubt that any aggravation of the Syria conflict would lead to total chaos in the region. Moallem himself said any intervention could “inflame the Mideast”.

Ghouta Grieving family
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Image 1 of 10: Innocent lives: Outrage flooded in when pictures of innocent civilians killed by chemical weapons in Damascus went viral. According to conservative UN estimates, over 100,000 Syrians have died in the conflict since 2011. The flurry of violence that will follow any external strike will see scores of innocent lives caught in the crossfire.

syria damascus oil barrels
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Image 1 of 10: Oil prices: Economically speaking, even though Saudi supports the US and wants Assad ousted, oil prices will skyrocket due to the instability of the markets. Since its interest in the ME is often spurred by oil, regardless of ‘obscene’ humanitarian violations, any intervention will have global consequences on the oil market.

The sight of dozens of young children laying dead in makeshift morgues in the outskirts of Damascus last Wednesday elicited a knee-jerk humanitarian reaction all the world over. The reported use of chemical agents against a residential suburb of Damascus immediately resulted in the international community crying foul and calling for immediate action in Syria.

Despite more than 100,000 people dying in Syria since the onset of violence in 2011, the reports of chemical attacks made the world sit up and listen. And, crucially, it seems the Syrian civil war finally crossed hthe elusive ‘red-line’.

Immediately, the key international players stepped up their rhetoric on the Syrian crisis, calling for accountability or condemning those who referred to an intervention in the war torn country.

The international community is being drawn down two lines, as it seems their polar political positions on the Syrian conflict have relaunched Cold War relations between Washington and Moscow. Despite having worked together to forge the Geneva II peace conference, the joint forum for political dialogue in Syria has not yet emerged and with other international developments such as the Edward Snowden fiasco, it seems the Syrian people are paying the price of frosty geopolitics. On Wednesday evening, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting in New York, with the US emerging from the meet claiming that Syria could “not hide behind Russia’s intransigence”, and citing repeated vetos from Moscow’s delegate.

Too hasty to wait on the chemical verdict

The US, who says it has evidence that the Syrian government perpetrated the chemical attack after listening into regime phone calls, does not seem to be waiting for the UN chemical team, who are already in Damascus and have been given permission from Assad to investigate the claims, to finish collecting samples from Syria. If they fail to garner any other substantial proof than regime phone-tapping the Syrian government was behind the attacks, they may have an Iraq-WMD case on their hands.

The case studies of Iraq and Afghanistan make it seem unlikely that any attack on Syria would be successful - the Taliban is still very much alive and well in Afghanistan despite the US intervention in 2001, and violence is sweeping Iraq 10 years after the Bush Administration moved in to topple Saddam Hussein. Bashar Assad himself warned America of Vietnam-style failure if they get embroiled in Syrian politics.

However, it those catastrophic interventions have had an impact on the form of strike the West is likely to take - it will not be an American and British troops on Syrian soil-type venture. It is more likely to be an isolated strike that will seek to damage Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles, and such a strike will be implemented from naval fleets in the Mediterranean.

Not taking any chances

In the event of a foreign strike on Syria, it is likely that it will send the Middle East over the edge. With only a few countries still stable, and having been rocked by the Egyptian meltdown, any form of interference in the region’s delicate balance may prove catastrophic. The chances of retaliatory attacks are all too real - fearing a backlash from Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah in the face of a US strike, Israels went in their droves to collect gas masks as a precaution.

The Syrian rebels themselves are divided and there are radical pockets throughout the opposition, including the Al Qaeda linked Nusra Front. With questions raised over why the Syrian regime would choose to launch a chemical attack when the UN has a presence in Damascus, the jury is out on whether or not the chemical attack could have been perpetrated by the rebels. With these troubling aspersions cast over the Syrian opposition, one must also remember that if the US does attack Syria, they will be fighting on the same side as Al Qaeda. With the memories of 9/11 still fresh in the minds of the American people, this is sure to cause a hoopla within the Obama administration.

Although the horror of the chemical weapons attack does necessitate some response - the violation of human rights, immense suffering and the clear crossing of the red-lines should not be taken lightly - there is far too much at stake in Syria for the US to launch a strike, with its allies, against Assad and his loyalists.

Ten reasons for Obama to hold his horses before going guns blazing, or missiles striking, into the Syria fire.

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