The world’s attention has finally turned to Syria, well after the country’s civil war began in 2011. Since the conflict broke out, over 100,000 have died, including the victims of chemical attacks that the U.S. government claims Assad’s regime is behind. Obama has made it clear that he believes the best course of action is a military strike on the Syrian government to deter future use of chemical weapons, but what would this attack actually accomplish?
To be clear, the Obama administration is correct in thinking something needs to be done. The use of chemical weapons (like the nerve gas sarin) should horrify anyone living in the modern age. The Aug. 21 chemical attack was carried out on civilians, leaving well over 1,000 dead by Western estimates. Videos from the region show hundreds in make-shift hospitals lying on the ground, trembling and salivating. These are the types of images that the world at large cannot afford to ignore. However, simply attacking those believed to be responsible would only raise the death toll and create even more chaos in the region.
First off, it is important to remember that there are two sides in the Syrian conflict. While the U.S. has continually pointed to the alleged human rights abuses of Assad and his government, the rebel groups have blood on their hands as well. A report in May from the UN suggested, but could not conclusively prove, that Syrian rebels had used sarin themselves.
While the UN stressed that it could not conclusively determine which side used the nerve agent, it is important to remember that they are saying the same thing for the Aug. 21 attacks. The May report was downplayed and brought into question by U.S. officials, yet Obama has said the UN’s most recent investigation proves Assad is responsible for the chemical attack he called “an assault on human dignity.”
Though the rebels want to overthrow Assad, they do not share the same ideology. Assad has repeatedly pointed to the al-Qaeda links of many of the rebels — and although he has exaggerated their numbers greatly — he is correct in saying they play a significant role in the uprising.
The only rebel group with concrete ties to al-Qaeda has been incredibly effective in fighting against the regime, particularly in the areas of storming fortified buildings.
While the U.S. certainly wants Assad out of power, one must imagine that an attack against Syrian forces would also benefit those fighting for the off shoot of al-Qaeda as well.
Thus, military action in order to secure the chemical weapons of the Syrian government and keep them out of the hands of al-Qaeda would seem likely, a story that should sound all too familiar.
There are countless other causes that make attacking Syria a diplomatic nightmare (namely Russia and China’s support of Assad), but pointing out all the conflicting interests of the region does little, if it doesn’t go a step further and offer a better solution.
Obama’s impulse to do something is correct, but it is important that it be diplomacy, not bombs, that the U.S. brings to Syria.
By UN estimates (which many place on the low-end), there are over 2 million Syrian refugees in surrounding countries, with another 4.25 million Syrians that have been displaced from their homes since 2011. This has placed a massive burden on nations attempting to help, with little sign that the numbers will slow as the conflict continues.
Rather than adding more casualties to this civil war, the U.S. should be helping those who were fortunate enough to survive and escape the violence. Between humanitarian aid (in form of money and volunteers) and diplomatic talks within the UN, the U.S. can make a substantial difference in the quality of life for many in the region while still stopping the use of chemical weapons.