By: Yasmeen Ali
The plot has gone stale: a bad government, the saviors and an ultimate invasion of sorts by US and her allies bringing down the “bad government” to install a “good government”. I would think by now, people would be fed up of the wars sprung; Iraq War, the Libyan War, Afghan War, supporting the “Egypt Spring” and now; the continued support of extremists operating within and along Syria’s borders.
Why the US and her allies feel so strongly about Assad using chemical weapons is surprising considering it gave a hand to Saddam in gassing Iran. It was also the US and Britain who sold Saddam Hussein the technology and materials Iraq needed to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. US & UK cannot be so naïve to think the sale would have resulted in production of children’s’ toy guns. Americans was apparently well aware that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons that he used against Iranian Army and also against his own countrymen in the 1980s. Yet America did nothing to stop or condemn.
Classified US Defence Department documents (also seen by the Sunday Herald) show that Britain sold Iraq the drug pralidoxine, an antidote to nerve gas, in March 1992, after the end of the Gulf war. Pralidoxine can be reverse engineered to create nerve gas. (Report by Neil Mackay and Felicity Arbuthnot: The Sunday Herald – UK) Let us also not forget that cluster bombs are banned by 83 countries. This has not stopped the US military from selling $640 million worth of American-made cluster bombs to one Middle-eastern country alone. It is ironical for US to vehemently react to one country using chemical weapons while selling it to another. The Cluster Munition Coalition defines a cluster bomb as, “a weapon containing multiple explosive submunitions. These containers are dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground and designed to break open in mid-air, releasing the submunitions and saturating an area that can be the size of several football fields. Anybody within that area, be they military or civilian, is very likely to be killed or seriously injured.”
Let us not forget also the use of Agent Orange in the war against Vietnam where between 1961 to 1971 an estimated 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of its use. Mark LeVine in his Op-Ed in Al-Jazeera News (Published August 27, 2013) poses a thought provoking question; can a government that supported the use of chemical weapons in one conflict claim any moral, political or legal authority to militarily attack another country for using the same weapons?
The questions that I pose are different; will the US target the stockpile of chemical weapons in Syria? The answer is an obvious no. Will the US attack ensure no future use of chemical weapons in Syria? The answer is it cannot ensure this. Will the “limited attacks” as envisaged by Obama continue to be limited attacks or will the scope of the war theater be enlarged once started? The answer is: there can be no such certainty. So, what exactly is the strategy that we are talking about here? What is America trying to achieve?
The atrocity of using chemical weapons notwithstanding, does the answer to proposed Syrian attacks sans UN sanction, lie in vested interests? Is the act to be seen as an obsessive anti-Iran driven policy being followed by the west? Many American strategists feel support to Syrian rebels and a subsequent downfall of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will result in a roll-back on the influence Iran yields with Syria and inflicting a major casualty upon Iran. Syria has been Iran’s sole consistent ally since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
It is in American strategic interest; says Michael Rubin, not to allow Iran to prevail in Syria. “The chief impediment to peace and stability in the Middle East is Iran, and it’s long past time the United States begins to realise that there will be no breakthrough on any issue of concern to US national security until the Islamic Republic no longer exists. It should be the policy of the United States to hasten that day.” (Published 6/23/2013) A friend, in a lengthy private mail commenting on the tense situation in Syria, wrote, “The west has delayed Syrian “spring” long enough.”
However, there are the religious-geographic dynamics that cannot be overlooked. Hezbollah & Iran in hands with Alawites of Syria have been aiming at reviving the Greater Iran, keeping in view their own schismatic ideology, the effects of which reflect in the current proxy war in Pakistan. The geographic link formed is Hezbollah on one end, Syria and Iraq forming the center with Iran at the other end converging to solidify a unified religious school of thought. Is the Middle East or South Asia ready for the revival of a Greater Iran? Is the World ready for it?
In a recent development, President Barack Obama has decided to seek congressional approval before taking military action against Bashar Assad’s regime. Is this a route to face saving as being claimed by some political pundits or does Obama want Congress to walk the red line he created last year when he said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for the United States? A red line that has boxed Obama in a corner.
There are many unexplored avenues through which the use of chemical weapons in Syria can be effectively checked. First; allowing the UN to conduct an inquiry and giving access to the site of an alleged nerve gas attack. After initial support, Obama’s government reversed its position. The explanation given was that it was too late in the day to carry out the investigation and get valid evidence of the alleged crime. Second; to open up space for a diplomatic exchange with Syria where interests of US and its allies overlap with those of Syria. The use of “lead from behind strategy” can be instrumental in bringing Syria to the table. Third; to impose harsh economic sanctions upon Syria. It may be difficult to make Russia and China bite, but I am sure Obama can work his way around this. Fourth; to appoint observers mutually agreed upon by both Syria and the UN to observe the situation and ensure that such attacks are not repeated. Once fully satisfied; the sanctions may be removed, staggering it in two or three tiers. Fifth; stop arming the rebels. If a change has to come it must come from within, a change imposed from outside is neither long lasting nor is it accepted by the local populace. Military support to Syrian rebels was reluctantly given by Congress earlier this year. White House spokesman Jay Carney, in July 2013, talking to reporters; stated, “The aid is intended to help the opposition resist Assad and eventually prevail.”
I hope that US is not eager to repeat the same mistake it made in Afghanistan; using diplomacy not to avoid war but to ensure its allies support her with ammunition, soldiers and maybe logistics. Reverting only to the military option is in fact, the failure of any foreign policy.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @yasmeen_9
This is a cross post from The Nation: http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/columns/03-Sep-2013/syria-and-the-greater-iran