The conversation debating militarily intervening in Syria due to chemical attacks which are presumed to have been carried out by the Syrian military on orders of President Bashir al-Assad has intensified considerably within the past week. The reports that a chemical weapons attack has been perpetrated in the fighting of the civil war in Syria came from the same sources as have the previous reports over the past year, namely France, Britain and Israel intelligence services. There have been urgent calls for a response to the use of chemical weapons from officials of Britain and Turkey even without first receiving approval for such attacks from the United Nations Security Council, alleging the near guarantee of a Russian veto and strong possibility of a Chinese veto of any such resolution. The main difference this time is the concurrence from officials within the administration of United States President Obama. All the calls for a punitive strike on Syria is targeting only the Syrian military and laying all suspicions and blame for the attack upon Syrian President Bashir al-Assad and ruling out the possibility that the use of chemical weapons by the any of the rebel forces. Despite all the noise one needs to question whether such an attack is necessitated, correctly targeted, desirable or even setting a sensible precedent.
As far as whether an attack on the Syrian chemical weapons stores may appear to be a responsible action, making such an attack now after two years does take away some of the moral basis behind such an attack. If the desire of an attack is to remove the possibility to use chemical weapons on troops or civilians by bombing the stores out of existence, such a move begs the question of why now so late in the game and not within the first few months of the Syrian hostilities. If the existence of chemical weapons and the availability making their use a clear and present threat, then why now as this has been true since the onset of violence especially when one takes into consideration the previous use by former President Hafez al-Assad, the father of the present President of Syria, on the city of Hama in February 1982 where it is presumed that the Syrian military had used hydrogen cyanide to cleanse some areas. With the hope of the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors being unable to carry out their assigned inspections as their convoy coming under sniper fire on their way to the scene forcing them to turn back and abandon their mission for now, and probably forever as it is probable they will draw fire whenever they set out for anywhere other than the airport to leave Syria. The possibility of gaining a United Nations resolution sanctioning such an attack is now probably impossible without any serious confirmation by the inspectors with which to push beyond a Russian veto.
There will always be that measure of doubt over whether the Syrian army or the rebel forces were the perpetrators of the chemical weapons use. This doubt is exaggerated by the limited numbers of casualties reportedly caused by this use of chemical weapons as any use of chemical weapons in an amount to be considered tactically significant would have caused tens or hundreds of thousands of casualties and have done so over a broad generalized area. This presumed use of chemical weapons causing minimal casualties in a relatively small defined area implies that the perpetrators releasing these weapons possessed a small amount and were unable of dispensing the chemical weapons in sufficient concentrations over a significant area of the battlefield which makes it somewhat doubtful that this was a Syrian military usage as their access to chemical weapons is extensive meanwhile the rebels are the side with a minimal if any access to chemical weapons stores and a resultant limited capability to use such weapons in any manner other than a relatively small front.
As for the questioning of whether such an attack would be desirable, we take a stance that this is an unwise move just as we said when taking our stand in Libya. The parallels between the current situation in Syria and the situation before the military intervention in Libya are very nearly identical. Both were internal conflicts where foreign fighters had joined one or more of the disparate forces involved in the civil wars. Just as was claimed by Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Syrian President al-Assad has also made the claim that the majority of the forces his country is fighting against are made up predominantly of terrorists. We agreed with Gadhafi back then and do so again with Syrian President al-Assad and somewhat more people in agreement this time. Hindsight has definitively corroborated the claims by Gadhafi and will do so in Syria as well as such is beyond any shades of doubt and is accepted fact already. Knowing that the rebel forces are so predominantly made up of terrorist jihadists from al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood aligned groups and allying on the Syrian military’s side is members from Hezballah, also a terrorist force, and suspected members from the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), an Iranian group which is suspected of organizing terrorist forces outside of Iranian borders throughout the world, there actually are terrorist forces fighting on both sides, making the Syrian civil war even less desirable for any intervention supporting either side.
Then there is whether or not an intervention now would be setting a dangerous precedent which makes it necessary to comment on the general intents of those who have supported the concept of R2P, the Right to Protect. The origins of the R2P concept came about during the lead in to the Libyan intervention with some unsettling reasoning behind it. It was touted as the significant response required in Libya in order to protect the people from human rights abuses, especially those human rights abuses committed by a sitting government. The truth about R2P is it was initially introduced as one of the concepts which supported the intervention in Yugoslavia in support of the establishing of Kosovo as an independent nation by NATO, another intervention that this author was strongly opposed to and for which received many condemnations. During the arguments supporting the NATO intervention despite the lack of United Nations sanctioning resolution depended heavily on the R2P concept which was argued strongly by Samantha Power. For those who can’t quite place the name Samantha Power, she is the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former Senior Security Adviser to President Obama. What was interesting about the arguments around the R2P concept even before Kosovo when it was first being put forth by such human rights self-proclaimed groups such as the Open Society Institute was that R2P could be utilized as a means for intervention to be taken to force the formation of a Palestinian State even against all objections which might be proffered by Israel.
What was basically required for such a forceful intervention under R2P in Israel by the European Union, United Nations, United States or whatever coalition could be cobbled together would be the previous application of R2P in situations where there was strong international support and any military intervention could be promoted as necessary, popular, supportive of human rights and moral, especially moral. The discussion in many of the self-assigned human rights NGOs claimed that should R2P be used as the driving reasoning behind successful and acceptable military interventions, even if it had to be applied as having been useful and a necessary measure in the initial reasoning after the fact, it should be given sanction by such situations. Then, after R2P had been mainstreamed and given the purification of general acceptance as a positive means of addressing instances of human rights offensives, then it could be applied to the Palestinians plight and used against Israel giving sanction to the utilization of force against Israel in order to establish a Palestinian State along the lines of the full demands of the Palestinian Authority leadership, even if it resulted in the destruction of the State of Israel. Whenever one is to examine the reasoning behind interventions, especially military interventions, it is necessary and vital that all possible ramifications are considered. It is necessary to look beyond the immediate situation and to try and look forward to and predict any other situations which might come under the same criteria thus demanding an intervention in other situations which cry out for such interventions. Quite often the most sensible and good sounding ideas which are placed into the general public discourse are introduced not into the situation where the actual designed use is desired but first is vetted in controlled instances, sometimes even injected into arguments after the fact, in order to have the idea receive acceptance and become understood as a no-brainer whenever it is brought in as an argument for actions such as interventions simply to utilize it to justify and sanctify an intervention which may have otherwise caused stronger resistance had such a concept not been applied thus dressing the cause in a cloak of morality. R2P is being molded in such a manner and it will be used to sanctify actions which will be more and more questionable in the future once it has been amply established. That is the danger posed every time outside forces intervene in conflicts and other situations, no matter how dire or undesirable, which are internal to a single nation such as civil wars or popular uprisings as is currently occurring in Egypt and Tunisia.
Beyond the Cusp