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.