Thousands dead, millions displaced and not much ground gained for either side. You could be forgiven for thinking I am describing the battle of the Somme, but this is in fact the reality of Syria. Like a tragic saga unfolding, the Americans and the Russians have been thrust into the starring roles, but seem to have two separate scripts to the play.
On August 21st the chemical attack launched in Syrian towns, killed at least 1,000 people and was almost immediately blamed on the Assad government by the US and the UK. However after the attack, the Syrian Army strenuously denied responsibility, blaming it on the opposition rebel forces, with the backing of western powers. Parliament was recalled and we seemed to be hurtling headlong into a weekend of bombing without any regard for Security Council sanctions or International law.
The United Nations is often accused of being inept and useless at preventing or solving conflict in present times. And Syria is the latest glowing example of just why this is. I don’t sit on the fence, my mentality tells me to question how military strikes against Assad could do anything other than adding more chaos to an already anarchic situation. Breathing a sigh of relief when Parliament voted against military intervention alongside the US, I couldn’t help but also feel frustrated by military action being the ‘politics by other means’ of our generation.
The world is war weary just as they were in the post WWI climate, and the vast majority of people have clearly indicated that they do not want, nor see how strikes can help the already reeling country of Syria. Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner who stated that the US could strike Syria even before the UN weapons report came in. Then following the defeat in parliament of David Cameron, Obama agreed to take it to Congress but admitted again that, strikes would still not be ruled out even if Congress said no! Luckily John Kerry suggested a solution involving Syria’s chemical weapons being handed over to the International community, and although he dismissed it as an option that ‘would not happen’ – the Russians saw a potential beacon of light in this dark situation. When Obama addressed the nation on Syria, he spoke of American exceptionalism as a good thing, it’s “what makes Americans different, it’s what makes us exceptional”, he declared. With this thought in mind, it can be mentioned that when polls were taken in Egypt, in 2010, a staggering 80 percent of the population believed the US and Israel to be the biggest threats they face. Is the US actually becoming increasingly aggressive rather than exceptional?
Did a sleeping giant wake with the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions, does America now see itself as self-designated policeman of the international community? Take Iraq and the mythical weapons of Mass Destruction that were never found. Or Afghanistan, presumed likely to slide into civil war when international forces leave. At the time of writing, the Taliban has just claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the US consulate in the country. Is it the mess which is Libya that shows the failing of the UN so well? The Russians believe they were sold out and are determined to not make the same mistake with Syria, with the main objective of the offensive becoming regime change. And who can blame them, it’s happened before. I share in Vladimir Putin’s worry that, “military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States”.
The League of Nations failed because national interests were stronger than a desire for true world peace and equality. It lacked any real credibility especially when the US did not become a signatory. The UN is in real danger of falling down the same wayside. One thing that does seem apparent is the need to modify and strengthen it as a tool of international law. If it can be bypassed and sidestepped at will, to suit the powerful, we have indeed, already lost it. The words peace and equality seem as moribund as ever, diplomacy is another relative limping sadly behind the big guns of our modern times. That there was a chemical attack is not in dispute, but what happens next, is in my view just as important as the choices of whether to bomb or not to bomb Iraq ten years ago…
Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue and diplomacy to be the only way forward on Syria. Speaking with the echo of many countries, citizens and even the Pope behind their statement, they categorically state that they ‘do not protect the Syrian government, but international law’. Anything other than self-defence or a decision taken by the Security Council is not in accordance with international law, and is seen as an ‘act of aggression’. We could break the mould; renew the lack of trust in Western policy towards the Middle East. I guess we have to ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want to live in, and how do we want to achieve peace in these turbulent times?