I have so far attempted to stay out of the Syria debate - paradoxically, because I have rather strong feelings on the subject. But in the event that you missed it, here is a ten-second recap. Syria, which borders Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, has been effectively mired in a civil war after its President, Bashar al Assad, who inherited his title from his now-deceased papa, Hafez al Assad, declined to bow to the will of the people, or the tide of history, that saw a few of his peers either open up to democratization, get dead or go to jail in the Arab Spring.
The question for Assad Jr, was one of how to stay in power and resolve the civil war in his favor. It is a well-established fact that other than in Turkey, being the president, prime minister, sheikh or king in the Middle East is quite a dicey affair; most rulers come into power through violent means and they can expect no different when they leave. Examples abound: Egypt, the bastion of Middle Eastern thought and culture, is one such example. In 1952, the "body with a head", otherwise known as "His Majesty Farouk I, by the grace of God, King of Egypt and Sudan, Sovereign of Nubia, of Kordofan, and of Darfur," was forced to abdicate (with the help of the CIA), eventually losing his citizenship and settling in Rome. On a side note: his sister, Princess Fuad, should have taken her cue from the abdication; she would later marry the Shah of Iran, who would face eerily a similar destiny. Anywya, back to Egypt: his successor, Nasser, died of natural causes, and was succeeded by his confidante, Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in 1980. He was succeeded by Mubarak, who was tossed out by the people in the 2011. The first democratic elections were won by the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Morsi, who now sits in a jail cell. It is a very bad idea to be anything close to a ruler in the Middle East. And Assad knows that.
Assad, being smarter than dinosaurs, decided to engage in an all-out war against his people. Only, he had forgotten those annoying details contained in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, and the new kid on the block, the Responsibility to Protect. True, he could appeal to the 1648 Westphalian notion of sovereignty, which articulated that a country is free to do what it wishes, within its borders, and without any interference from outside. Free to do anything it wishes within its borders, and without any interference from outside – including perhaps, bomb its citizens. In the process of succeeding his father, he must have missed the 2000 September meeting that ratified the R2P principle, which redefined sovereignty, and declared that republic’s first duty is to protect its citizens from – you got it – the government and other vagaries of politics, including war crimes, genocides, crimes against humanity and such atrocities. The problem, however, was not that the Syrian government was not doing that; in fact, it was doing so exceedingly spiritedly, using tanks, planes and all manner of weapons.
Then came the gas. You know, after 100,000 civilians had died in the previous 2 years, and for some reason the world collectively gasped from the 1,500 or so men, women and children who must have choked to death in a most horrific manner. Suddenly, Hampton Roads noticed that we were in the middle of heated rhetoric; the Atlantic fleet ships and destroyers steamed towards the Mediterranean coast, awaiting an order to take out these horrific weapons of mass destruction. As if the guns and bullets and bombs had not done enough killing.
So then we got into the back-and-forth about democracy, the US role in the Middle East (and the world), whether it was missiles or boots on the ground, whether we should watch babies and women and other helpless folks lie in the dust from massive gassing, and even Europeans, who had had some experience with some of that, did the foxtrot and exited the scene, leaving the French – who have taken to becoming quite adventurous, if Libya and the Ivory Coast are any examples to go by, of the enforcement of R2P – and the Americans, who feel sufficiently removed from the vagaries of everyday world affairs, do not understand why their country accounts for 43% of the global defense budget and capability to project power and is expected to actually project power in the ME and elsewhere. “We are not the world’s policeman”, so the cry goes. The world can solve its problems; yet, when the British and the French fix Libya, the American president is accused of “leading from behind”. Sitting on the fence, I call it.
Anyway, I had a moment of revelation when one of the Commonwealth’s Congressmen argued that the United States should do nothing, since firing missiles at the chemical weapons was not going to remove the problem (Assad). It made perfect sense: taking out the chemical weapons (and not the bad guy) was far worse than doing nothing. Especially given that we do fire live missiles every so often as a way of exercise, so what difference would it have made if we actually aimed them at targets? Might even hit the bad guy and take him out accidentally. Plus, it would have sent Iran a message, yes, you are next.
So there is this terrible, terrible deal by the United States and Russia, that the chemical weapons will be inventoried this week and destroyed by the middle of next year. In the meantime, Syrians will go on suffering the ravages of war. Until we get to, say, 800,000 like that other country…(what country?) Oh well. Never mind. The Syrians will fix it; after all, they broke it. Indeed, I am my brother’s keeper.