I was hesitant to type this article as the situation regarding Syria is in such a state of flux that whatever typed or said now may become largely irrelevant in the coming days. As you read this it would appear that the US along with at least the UK are positioning the required military hardware, personnel and are finalising plans to launch missile/air strikes on targets inside Syria. These potential attacks are, on the face of it, in response to the horrendous chemical weapons attack launched on civilians in the outer suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus which are being blamed on Assad-led forces . However, let us not be naive, this is just the latest escalation of the western and broader international intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Limited strikes are being mooted by US/UK officials and commentators. Ignoring the whole range of legal and moral issues that have arisen from this, launching missile strikes on a sovereign nation are unlikely to have a limited result. The main questions that need to be asked from a humanitarian standpoint, which should be the overriding concern are, are these strikes going to help to prevent ANY Syrians from death, injury or displacement? Will the strikes end the war or bring it to the horizon?
There has been a verbal commitment that this isn’t about regime change, which seems a ridiculous statement to make. The strikes will surely be intended to weaken the regime in terms of their long war with the over 1000 different militant factions nominally under the umbrella of the Syrian National Council (SNC). How could the strikes be about anything other than regime change? It may not be the immediate aim, but that is the ultimate medium-term aim of the strikes. The political leaders in the west and Assad’s enemies in the region want him gone but not necessarily immediately. That may sound contradictory but it is exactly how it is being communicated by the western political elites including our own prime minister, David Cameron. I do not know how you can square the circle of claiming you are not seeking regime change with these particular attacks, whilst supporting the opposition in their attempts to force regime change over the last two and a half years.
If President Assad and the forces loyal to him did fall either as an immediate result of strikes or in the ensuing momentum the rebellion would hope to gain from them ‘vacuum’ would become the buzzword. Syria would be in a situation where a 40 year-old police state spirals in to anarchy with no central government all in the space of three years. What would follow in Syria? It has been well documented that there are many undesirable elements within the rebellion. Undesirable as in they have and will try to impose a new regime on the Syrian people rather than allowing a democratic choice on the matter. Will theses same groups also be able to gain access to the massive amount of chemical weapons that the Syrian regime holds? It seems likely that they already have. We have witnessed just this last week just how violent and complicit parts of the rebellion have become in the disintegration of Syria and the exodus of its people as an estimated 40,000 Kurds fled across the border in to Iraqi Kurdistan. The rebellion is not only made up of forces such as the al-Nusra front. There are still many civil society groups in the country who oppose the sectarian form that the opposition has taken and hope to see a unified Syria emerge from the conflict. If there must be a western intervention, perhaps a massive and coordinated effort to support these civil forces along with the more moderate-armed rebels would be a better response to the violence of president Assad and his forces?
This takes us back to the main question, will this strike from the west help the Syrian people? In conversation with someone working for a humanitarian organisation on the Turkish/Syrian border, they conveyed a mixture of confusion, worry and steadfast preparation.
Everyone has very mixed feelings about the idea of intervention. Contingency planning is happening on the ground here already. We are expecting a serious influx to the border. The work will only double now and the team are stressed too, although they don’t show it. They have families inside Syria.
If these concerns are realised, that the strikes will force more civilians to flee their homes and become either internally displaced persons (IDP’s) or refugees, the strikes will be an unmitigated disaster for the people of Syria. Not only will the strikes have caused further destruction to Syria as a functioning state but it is possible that they will lengthen the conflict by hardening even further the positions of all sides. The rebels will see the strikes as just the start of a prolonged, increased and direct support for their forces. Assad and his forces, including those within Syrian society who support Assad mainly in fear of the rebels, may see the attacks as a sign that, even if they were considering it before, it is win or death for them in the conflict. There are some within the rebellion who even fear an attack, worried it would increase support for Assad in the country and across the Middle East, framing his government and Syria as standing against US/western aggression.
The only route to ending the conflict is through peace talks. The endlessly delayed second peace conference Geneva needs to go ahead with all the actors involved in the conflict in attendance, including Iran and Hezbollah. For once the leaders of the nation states have to put aside what they believe is good for their own geo-political ambitions and take the necessary steps to stop the suffering of the Syrian people. Air strikes just won’t cut it anymore as an acceptable response.
You are a citizen of the world, let us know what you think below.
Jonathan Woodrow Martin