I take an opposite stance to A.K. on the dilemma in Syria. Despite already uneasy relations in the Middle East, I think we must intervene, but only if America has international support. However, I do not advocate for the strike President Obama is calling for.
Before I make my argument, I want to explain simply the conflict in Syria right now and the U.S. involvement in chemical warfare.
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays
Bashar al-Assad: His Party and Rise to Power
The Ba’ath party came into power in the late 1940s as a movement against French rule in Syria and has held the reigns of Syrian’s dominant party ever since. The party always wanted conformity, but in 1970 Hafez al-Assad took power after winning violent wars. He then spread the wings of the Ba’ath party. He wanted mass political support and vanguardism, which is a revolutionary movement to take the working class and move them toward revolutionary politics to safeguard the party’s ideals. (Vanguard revolutionary politics is made famous by Vladimir Lenin of Russia.) Lenin more accurately describes this,
“Such workers, average people of the masses, are capable of displaying enormous energy and self-sacrifice in strikes and in street, battles with the police and the troops, and are capable (in fact, are alone capable) of determining the outcome of our entire movement — but the struggle against the political police requires special qualities; it requires professional revolutionaries….. I assert: (1) that no revolutionary movement can endure without a stable organisation of leaders maintaining continuity; (2) that the broader the popular mass drawn spontaneously into the struggle, which forms the basis of the movement and participates in it, the more urgent the need for such an organisation, and the more solid this organisation must be (for it is much easier for all sorts of demagogues to side-track the more backward sections of the masses); (3) that such an organisation must consist chiefly of people professionally engaged in revolutionary activity; (4) that in an autocratic state, the more we confine the membership of such an organisation to people who are professionally engaged in revolutionary activity and who have been professionally trained in the art of combating the political police, the more difficult will it be to unearth the organisation; and (5) the greater will be the number of people from the working class and from the other social classes who will be able to join the movement and perform active work in it..”
The party expanded from 60,000 members in 1970 to over 1 million members today. In a country consisting of only 22 million people this number is large. The Ba’ath ideology is mostly driven from Islam, since most Syrians follow the Sunni branch of Islam. Essentially, Ba’athists’ want an Arab united nation and believe that socialism is the key to a unified, free Arab state.
In June 2000, Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father. He is military trained at the academy in Homs, Syria and was elected as president at only 34 years old, unopposed. Previously, you had to be 40 to be President, but they changed the rules before he was elected. After he was elected, there was political unrest due to the authoritarian nature of the state, powerful police and a stagnant economy. Assad never threatened to dismantle the Ba’ath party, but he initially released hundreds of political prisoners and loosed freedom of expression restrictions. This is known as the “Damascus Spring” where citizens’ who were calling for reform were actually heard.
Assad vowed to clean up the economic state of the country before moving to any serious political reforms. However, by 2005 Assad’s economic liberalization only benefited a few political elite at the expense of many. In 2007, Assad was re-elected as president (there are 7 year presidential terms in Syria).
2011 When The Civil War Began
Early in 2011, 15 schoolchildren were arrested and tortured for demonstrating anti-government sentiments. Antigovernment protests were beginning to uprise not only in Syria, but in the Middle East and Africa as well, commonly called the Arab Spring. Citizens were peacefully calling for democracy and freedom, but were met by hostility from the Syrian government.
Syria has an emergency law that allows the arrest of anyone who does not have “permission” to peacefully demonstrate, which essentially gave Assad the power to arrest anyone who does not agree with the government. Assad claimed in early 2011 he was going to abolish this law, but instead deployed more tanks and troops to meet protestors. Assad has often claimed that the Syrian government is the victim and that citizens were not peaceful, but rather armed insurgents.
Later in 2011, opposition groups were increasingly armed and by early 2012 Syria turned into an all-out civil war. Turkey, U.S., Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been said to arm rebels, while Syria was being given arms from Russia and Lebanon (via Hezbollah.) Syria was sending artillery to level civilian homes, opening massive fire on protestors, and was taking over rebel camps despite rebel group’s intermittent successes at bombing Syrian headquarters and winning small battles.
On August 21 in Damascus, the Syrian government is said to have chemically attacked the opposition in one of their main camps. Assad has denied this assertion.
“There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said in an interview in Damascus.
Roughly 1 million Syrians have fled the country since Assad’s second presidential term. There are approximately 80,000 dead Syrian rebels, while another 30,000 Syrian troops are dead. Roughly 10,000 of these citizens are children.
The U.S. Pledge Against Chemical Warfare
During WWI, chemical gases (chlorine, mustard gas, etc.) were used to cause suffering via choking and burns on the battlefield. After WWI the first worldwide decree against chemical warfare was signed via the Geneva Protocol. The shortcomings were large in that it did not prevent stockpiling of chemical weapons and it did not prevent using chemical warfare against countries who did not sign the agreement.
During WWII chemical weapons were used by the Nazis and in Asia and during the Cold War many nations were stockpiling weapons. Not until 1992 did the Conference in Geneva adopt a separate Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to develop a framework to eliminate chemical warfare as a weapon of mass destruction. In 1997, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was formed and has been in cooperative agreement with the UN ever since. This organization prevents chemical weapon production and verifies the destruction of chemical weapons. Only 7 UN members out of 189 have not ratified the treaty (Angola, North Korea, Egypt, South Sudan, Syria) and Burma and Israel have signed it but not ratified it yet. 182 nations have come to a collective agreement on chemical warfare and ways to punish countries, but for those that haven’t signed the Treaty it is not as clear as to how the other nations of the U.N. should respond to a chemical warfare.
The Economist provides a timeline of uses of chemical weapons below:
Why International Agents Aren’t Willing to Help
One word: Russia. The Washington Post sums up the reasons why Russia wants to protect Bashar al-Assad in a pretty succinct way:
“The four big reasons that Russia wants to protect Assad, the importance of which vary depending on whom you ask, are: (1) Russia has a naval installation in Syria, which is strategically important and Russia’s last foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union; (2) Russia still has a bit of a Cold War mentality, as well as a touch of national insecurity, which makes it care very much about maintaining one of its last military alliances; (3) Russia also hates the idea of “international intervention” against countries like Syria because it sees this as Cold War-style Western imperialism and ultimately a threat to Russia; (4) Syria buys a lot of Russian military exports, and Russia needs the money.”
Two big world powers oppose each other on the Syrian dilemma and the other U.N. countries are hesitant to step across the line to either side. However, by many people abstaining from entering Syria via the U.N. Security Council meeting last week other countries essentially are saying that no one wants to upset Russia.
Why the U.S. should NOT be involved
Two reasons come to mind here. The first is that it is costly, which A.K. rightfully pointed out. We have been fighting two wars in the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan and still have yet to cut our losses. We got Saddam Hussein and Bin Ladin, but we didn’t dismantle Al-Qaeda and we haven’t stopped terrorism from spreading. We are losing American lives and American dollars in the Middle East. Why spend more on another Middle Eastern war? The second reason is because the American public does not support a war at this time. Americans are sensitive to the current wars we are in. Let’s face it, wars are never popular, but wars are also inevitable. Problem is we are in war right now and losing. Americans don’t want another failed attempt and they are right in being weary about being involved.
Why the U.S. MUST intervene
First, there is the humane stance. Killing innocent lives is always painful to watch. Regardless of rebel troops opposing the government this entire war started peaceful before Assad used brute force against its own citizens. Second, we have already been supporting Syrian rebel groups with weapons and money via defense contractors since early 2011. At no point does the U.S. want to be on the losing side of any war and have our resources go into the opposition hands. Third, we don’t want Russia to push us around. Most countries respect the U.S. as the most powerful in the world, but Russia has always been wary of our intentions and is perhaps the one country really not afraid to push our buttons. Just because Russia chooses a different path does not mean we should shutter away from what we believe is the right call.
Solution: Don’t strike, just CEASE (with PEACE)
Striking in Syria is not the solution. This will also endanger civilian lives by sending down drones or explosives, which is counterintuitive to what we, as Americans, really want to do—help the Syrian citizens. (If the argument is only about America displaying military power, than that argument is null.) However, the U.S. should be pushing a ceasefire declaration by the U.N. Security Council. In doing so, this may help rally full support of other U.N. nations. So, if Syria chooses to continue to use chemical weapons or massive force against citizens the U.S. will have partners in war. This has to be our path now. If we go to war we need more international support from countries other than Turkey and France. (Although getting early support from France is a small victory in and of itself.)
We need world unification on issues of freedom and not more displays of the ‘strength’ of the American military. Going alone in this fight against Assad and his army proves the latter, while weakening the former. We need support from other U.N. nations before entering into Syria.
“Is it going to be a new era toward more chaos or more institutionalization? That is the question,” Assad said. “The end is not clear yet.”