Why action in Syria is so important
Saudi Gazette Sunday, September 08, 2013
By Ray Hanania
Only the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad could have implemented missile strikes against Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that was sympathetic to the antigovernment rebels.
American officials said that 1,429 people were killed when the missiles landed on August 21. Almost all of the victims were civilians and the death toll included 426 children. This was a grisly, despicable act of inhumanity and a war crime of the highest order.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who is a principled and very passionate official, said that an investigation into the atrocity showed that only Assad’s military could have carried out the massacre. In fact, Kerry noted, the Syrian military had prepared for the attack. It warned its soldiers of the attack the day before, handing out gas masks and treatment for chemical weapons.
The neighborhood in question is surrounded by pro-Assad forces and residents. It was targeted specifically because it was an annoying nuisance to Assad, and conventional military means of weeding out rebels who were hiding among the civilians had been unsuccessful. Kerry said he believed Assad ordered the attack so that he would be free to take his fight against the rebels to their strongholds in Aleppo.
And, after the chemical WMDs were dropped, Syrian military forces bombed the neighborhood incessantly for four straight days in what was clearly an effort by Assad to cover up his heinous act. Kerry said that Assad’s military forces had used chemical weapons on at least 14 other occasions, on a smaller scale.
Yet, the debate so far hasn’t focused on the loss of human life, but rather the politics of the atrocity. Every comparison has been raised. And I think that we should consider what they are really about.
President Obama believes Assad should be punished for using chemical weapons. It is a violation of fundamental international law. But Obama and Kerry have had a difficult time winning support for a punitive strike against Syria, mainly because so many in the world remember the lies that were used by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to justify the attack and full scale war against Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The public remembers that they were lied to. Even elected officials in Congress were lied to. They were told Saddam Hussein not only had chemical WMDs but that he was also building a nuclear bomb.
As we discovered through 10 years of fighting and the loss of thousands of American soldiers, there never were any WMDs in Iraq. And Saddam Hussein, for all his crimes and threats, was not building a nuclear weapon.
But there is an even bigger difference. In Iraq, the issue was the “potential” use of WMDs by a madman. It was the threat that moved the world to act. In Syria, the chemical WMDs have already been used. More than 1,400 people, mostly civilians were massacred, including doctors and medical teams who tried to help the victims.
In Iraq, the response wasn’t punitive. It was all-out war. In Syria, no one is calling for foreign troops to invade the country as they did in Iraq and to topple the Syrian dictatorship. Kerry said the goal is to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again.
Assad has his defenders who are willing to close their eyes to the mass murder of the 1,429 civilians. To them, all of Assad’s foes should be gassed to death. During the past two years, more than 100,000 Syrian civilians have been killed and more than one million civilians have become refugees.
Why is the Arab world divided? In part, it is about religion. Syria is allied with Shi’ite Iran and the Shi’ite organization Hezbollah. Assad also has the support of many Christians who live in Syria and who fear that Assad’s fall will result in the rise of extremist Islamic forces. Assad has coddled the Christian Arabs who have been impotent in impacting policies in the Middle East.
Israel is a factor in the Syrian crisis, too. When Israel called on the United States to bomb Iran because of “Iraq-like” threats made by the Iranian dictators, Obama was criticized by the US Congress for not acting. Israel wants the US to bomb Iran and destroy its nuclear technology, which Iran says it needs for peaceful purposes. But Iran’s incendiary, belligerent and anti-Semitic rhetoric overshadow those assertions. Yet, when Syria used chemical weapons against its civilians, Israelis debated for weeks whether to support the attack or remain neutral.
Why the hesitation? First, Assad has been an ineffective foe. He is the perfect kind of enemy for Israel. The Syrian military can massacre civilians but it is ineffective against Israel’s military. Syria is not a real threat.
The second reason is fear. Israelis know that during the past 65 years, the only real successful military force they faced was in 2006 when they attacked Lebanon and Hezbollah responded fiercely, firing more than 4,000 rockets into Northern Israel.
Many Arab activists support Assad because Assad’s empty rhetoric and threats against peace between Israel and the Palestinians blur their own ineffective, failed activism. They reject peace based on compromise with Israel and believe the Syria-Hezbollah-Iran axis is the last remaining front from which Israel can be fought.
The tragedy of Syria is that no one really cares about the loss of human life. Most seem only to care about the politics.
– Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at http://www.TheMediaOasis.com or follow him on Twitter @RayHanania
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- Israel, Syria, White Phosphorous and Chemical Weapons (rayhanania.com)
Categories: Middle East Topics