August 30, 2013
The world braces itself for a possible U.S. attack on Syria. Horrified by the images of innocent children and civilians gassed to death, many are calling for some decisive action to respond to what can only be described as a crime against humanity. A military response is, however, ill conceived and cynical.
Good wars are behind us. The Syrian conflict has become a classic proxy war between “bad guys.” There are no “good guys” in this conflict except the peaceful civilians victimized by the war.
No decisive military action will end the cycle of violence in Syria. Neither the United States, nor other regional actors involved in the conflict have the moral authority to speak and intervene on behalf of the victims of the civil war.
John Kerry called the use of chemical weapons a “moral obscenity.”
Was it not a “moral obscenity” when Saddam used chemical weapons against Iran with full knowledge of the United States, while using intelligence provided by the United States?
Is there a difference if a massacre occurs with the use of conventional or chemical weapons? The Egyptian police and security forces killed more than 1000 peaceful protesters in less than a week. Yet the United States refused to withdraw its aid to the military.
The selective moral outrage of the United States makes the case for a humanitarian intervention in Syria at best suspect.
Meanwhile, other actors involved in the Syrian conflict are no less guilty of double standards. Opponents and supporters of Assad are united by their hypocrisy and selective morality.
Whether done by the regime or the rebels, the blame for using chemical weapons at this stage of the conflict is on all parties that used the Syrian war to enhance their own regional interest.
A victim of chemical weapons attack in the past during the Iran-Iraq War, Iran has contributed to the rising violence in Syria by supporting Assad and prolonging the conflict.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar share responsibility for this human tragedy by funding and arming of some of the most violent jihadists fighting the Assad regime.
A U.S. attack on Syria will not protect the Syrian people from the violence of the civil war. It will escalate the war, turning it into a more destructive regional conflict. While Assad will not be weakened, the Saudi-backed Jihadist and Al-Qaeda will be the most likely beneficiaries of the attack.
The attack on Syria will also strengthen Iranian hardliners and undermine Hassan Rohani’s efforts to normalize relations with the United States. Rapprochement between Iran and the United States would be a game changer for the region. Losing this window of opportunity will be regrettable.
Steps Toward a Political Solution
Given all the facts on the ground, a political solution remains the best option for minimizing the damage of the Syrian conflict and moving towards a less violent future for the Syrian people. A viable political solution requires the following steps.
Directly or indirectly, many regional powers contributed to the rising violence in Syria. Protecting the Syrian people from further violence requires their collective change of policy.
The United States should put real pressure on Saudi Arabia to halt its funding and arming of the salafists and jihadists in Syria.
The Syrians will be worse off in a Syria run by the jihadists. The jihadists’ victory will also have devastating consequences for the region and the world. The United States should make every effort to avoid this outcome. This is the United States’ moral responsibility.
Turkey and Qatar can also play an important role by persuading their allies in Syrian opposition to take part in meaningful negotiations with the Assad regime to reach an acceptable compromise.
A policy change by Saudi Arabia and other adversaries of Assad would help persuade Russia and China in rethinking their Syria policy. Russia’s agreement to halt its shipment of arms to Syria will force Assad to negotiate with the opposition.
Iran must be persuaded to play a constructive role in the Syrian conflict. A resolution of all disputes — including the nuclear dispute — between the United States and Iran is the best guarantee for achieving this goal.
Iran’s cooperation would also halt Hezbollah’s direct involvement in the civil war. The Iranians demonstrated their willingness to help the United States in stabilizing Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. They can and should be expected to play a similar role in the Syrian conflict.
A peaceful Syria without Assad seems highly unlikely in the near future. Given the current balance of forces, Assad’s fall at this junction will empower the jihadists and other radical forces.
Minimizing the power and influence of the jihadists, and reaching a compromise between other opposition forces and Assad is the best possible outcome at this point. An attack on Syria will weaken this possibility.