BY PATRICK HUNTER
President Barack Obama painted himself into a corner on the Syrian affair and is looking for a way out. Not so long ago, he decided to establish a “red line” by which tolerance of Assad’s behaviour towards his own people would be completely unacceptable. Although he did not say what he would do then, it was clear by implication that he would advocate for an intervention.
That red line has been crossed. So say a number of reports which have now been “verified” according to U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, who claims to have evidence that sarin gas was used.
But, instead of moving ahead on intervention, whatever form that would take, the President decided to get the blessings of Congress. This is a big gamble.
Okay, first, let me say this: I believe that Assad is a criminal. In his quest to hang on to power he has inflicted considerable cruelty on his own people. He needs to be removed from power and brought to the International Court of Justice. But having said that, the people of Syria need to resolve this issue themselves. How they do it, is up to them.
There have been far too many similar situations where the United States and its allies have ventured in and have made matters worse. Iraq is a most recent example.
The U.S. administration would have you believe that any intervention would only be to protect the people of Syria. The implication is that they would not be pursuing regime change. Really? How do you resolve the issue of the civil war without removing the primary instigator and his cronies? You can fool some of the people, some of the time …etc.
There is an awfully striking resemblance of this situation to that of the Bush Administration and the Colin Powell address to the United Nations Security Council to justify U.S. intervention in Iraq and the regime change of Saddam Hussein. Powell made the case, with slides and so on, that Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruction. It came to light later that all of that was a mass deception. Now, they seem to be trying it again. This time, Kerry is the front man.
Sooner or later, the truth about the use of gas in Syria will emerge. But, for the time being, President Obama has decided, following the slap down of David Cameron, the British prime minister by members of the British Parliament, to seek Congress’ approval. This move has caused a great deal of astonishment. Even the hawks – the people like Senators McCain and Graham – are backing away from supporting a U.S. intervention.
So why did the President back away? Polls probably have a lot to do with it. A survey of the landscape must have shown the national security team that Americans, while they have been grossed out by what is going on in Syria, are reluctant to send their troops in. As far as they are concerned, this could be another Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, it is coming at a time when the U.S. is supposed to be down-scaling the war in Afghanistan. Enough already, the American voters seem to be saying.
It is also very possible that entering Syria would create a much larger problem than just securing Syria. There is a war against the United States that is not being fought by states but by factions or groups. In many ways it is a religion-based war – a revisit of the Crusades – based on interpretations of Christianity and Islam. And, as I noted in an earlier column, the so-called Arab Spring has created a situation that is, at best, fluid. One uniting point among those seeking change in those areas of the Middle East is a basic intolerance of U.S. interventionist policies.
Readers should also be aware that in the sphere of international debate on morality, there is a policy or, rather, a concept that has not been quite resolved. It is referred to as “a duty to intervene”. It may also have other nomenclature but there comes a point in human suffering when the rest of the world is obliged to intervene to protect lives and guard against egregious cruelty.
It is a solid argument and one that poses a dilemma. Those are the horns on which the U.S. is caught. In a way, it is one of their own making in that they have placed themselves in the role of the world’s policeman. They have given themselves the moral duty to “right wrongs” wherever they are in the world – Superman. That creates an expectation from the suffering that does not balance the costs of military interventions. Further, it creates a situation within the “liberated” country in which the U.S. exerts influence that is often unwelcomed.
So, France is the only country, so far, that has shown any willingness to support the U.S. in entering Syria. On the opposite side are Russia and China.
Obama is clearly looking for a way out of putting boots on the ground in Syria, hence the seeking of the support of Congress. The question remains: What will he do if Congress does not back him?