The recent horrific chemical weapons attack in Syria left at least 355 people dead and over 3600 displaying neurotoxic symptoms. The attacks have sparked worldwide condemnation from ordinary citizens across the world but also prompted a diligent response from high ranking political figures most notably from US Secretary of State John Kerry. In a public statement John Kerry characterised the attacks as a “moral obscenity” intimating to the world of a possible military intervention. He continued in his address to justify possible US intention to intervene by “undeniable” evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime as well as “indiscriminate slaughter of civilians” citing first-hand accounts from Human rights organisations on the ground as well as the Syrian Human Rights Commission. US President Obama’s integrity has also come under immense scrutiny as the Syrian regime has crossed what Obama described last year in a speech directed towards Bashar Al Assad as the “red line” by using chemical weapons against civilians.
However, a midst all the emotions engendered by speeches and sentiments of condemnation towards the Syrian regime, one must objectively scrutinise the criteria being posited which would serve as the basis for US intervention. Thus far, the justification enunciated from the US has been on the basis of vast human rights abuses through the use of chemical weapons that Obama last year clearly defined as a “red line” not to be crossed. However the aforementioned raises many questions. Is the US in any position to take the moral high ground and intervene on the basis of human rights abuses as a result of the use of chemical weapons? Exactly what will US intervention achieve in a country consumed by conflict between an unrelenting hostile regime and armed rebel factions? Furthermore does the UN have any credibility as a legitimate supra-organisation to arbitrate a peaceful, diplomatic solution?
It’s been over a decade since the US embarked on its “War on Terror” campaign to combat terrorism and export “freedom “ and “democracy “ around the world. Since then America has found itself embroiled in a long term conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan spanning over a decade with no end to the ensuing chaos in sight. Ten years on both the financial and moral costs are still being lived out with hundreds and thousands dead, inflamed sectarian violence, millions of refugees and successive governments mired with corruption and scandal. Explosions and gunfire are a daily occurrence taking scores of lives and leaving the inhabitants in a constant state of fear and turmoil. Furthermore the US has also been guilty of human rights abuses with documented accounts of sexual assault such as rape, torture and murder at the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison as well as indefinite ill and inhumane treatment of prisoners incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay prison. Thus from the reality we can clearly see that the decision to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan has been nothing short of a catastrophe. The ensuing aftermath is a startling reminder that if the US decides to intervene then Syria could well share the same devastating political reality currently being witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However unlike the illicit regime change activities of the US in the Middle East, White House spokesperson Jay Carney indicated that this kind of intervention would be only to send a message. He said “It is not our policy to respond to this transgression with regime change”. However fears are already circulating amongst commentators that a military strike would more than likely affect the momentum on the ground. A military response would be directed at Syrian military infrastructure as opposed to chemical weapons stock piles. However Bashar Al-Assad has embedded military installations within the public space which means that casualties will more than likely ensue as a result of a US military campaign. Former US Ambassador to NATO Robert hunter has echoed the already mounting cynicism of US intervention in that it would be impossible to send a message without affecting the realities on the ground, “I think the idea is to calibrate a military action enough to send a message but not so much as to change momentum on the ground, and if there is somebody who knows how to do that I’ve never met that person.”
But the question still remains what exactly is this “message” that the US hopes to send? It is not that the international community will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. If that was the case then Israel would have been held accountable for using chemical weapons such as white phosphorous against Palestinian civilians as documented by the Human Rights Watch ‘Rain of Fire’ report, as that too was in the words of Ban Ki Moon today “an atrocious violation of international law”. The reality is that the Syrian regime is failing to maintain its stronghold as the legitimate governing authority as the rebel factions are increasingly making inroads in the fight against Bashar Al Assad. The Assad regime, which has served US interests for over four decades, was given the opportunity to crush the dominant call amongst the majority of the rebel brigades for an Islamic State. However given the failure of the regime to suppress the call for an Islamic solution which has amounted to over 100,000 innocent deaths according to official figures, coupled with a rejection of a secular alternative the US finds itself with no choice but to intervene to protect its own interests. The “red line” which Obama warned of last year was not in relation to chemical weapons. Rather it is the realisation of the real threat to American interests: an Islamic State.
With a major military attack looming ahead, it is undeniable that US intervention will most likely exacerbate the situation rather than ameliorate it. With America’s lack of commitment to human rights exposed in the last decade alone evidenced by indiscriminate drone attacks across the Middle East; the ill treatment of inmates in Guantanamo Bay prison and Abu Ghraib as well as a history of regime change the US is in no position to pander to human rights and self-proclaim moral high ground as an excuse for intervention. Furthermore the US has consistently supported or remained silent on Israel in both its genocide against the Palestinians as well as its defiance of international law through the expansion of illegal settlements. Thus if Al Assad’s regime is to fall then the security of one of America’s greatest and important assets, Israel, will come into jeopardy. The UN also has no credibility as an arbitrator for a peaceful solution given its inability to apply and enforce international law consistently. The reality is that the justification for intervention is not because of the use of chemical weapons by Al-Assad’s regime, but rather the rise of an Islamic vision which if materialised could potentially threaten US political interests indefinitely in the region.
Qasim Asad is a post-graduate student of political science, having graduated from Lancaster university in politics and history