syria conflict

For over two years Syrians have been engaged in a brutal civil war that has left many thousands dead and thousands more as refugees and orphans. After America, Britain and France intervened in Libya’s civil war, and helped the rebels to topple Colonel Gaddafi, there have been calls from people such as Senator John McCain and the Times newspaper, for something similar to happen in Syria. These calls have increased now that the government forces of Bashar Al-Assad have been accused of using chemical weapons against civilians, prompting claims from President Obama that a “red-line” has been crossed and so Western countries should intervene. However these mostly well intentioned people are wrong, as getting involved in the conflict can only add to the misery of people in Syria and put all of us in greater danger.

The first problem with intervening that it is never been exactly clear who we would be helping. No one, especially the BBC, in their rush to cast the Arab protests as a repeat of 1989 in Eastern Europe, will say who these rebels are, who is leading and organising them and what their long-term intentions are. There has been speculation for a while now that Al-Qaeda linked elements are fighting against the government. In fact the lead rebel group, the Al-Nusra front is considered by the US government to be a terrorist group. Do we really want to help them to take control of Syria? Isn’t it rather in our interests to stop them from taking control of the country? President Assad’s regime, for all of its numerous faults is secular in nature, and so helps to prevent the spread of militant Islam, maintains an uneasy peace with Israel and provides protection to religious and ethnic minorities. On the other hand rebel-controlled areas already have functioning Islamic courts. Again, is this the sort of movement we should be helping to take control of the country? Is this worthwhile use of money at a time when almost all countries are cutting their spending and raising taxes at home? In Egypt the fall of Hosni Mubarak has put the country’s Christians in much greater danger, and many of them have been killed, so we must consider religious and ethnic minorities in Syria before rushing into any form of action.

The Assad regime poses no threat to any other country, and hasn’t done since its war with Israel in 1982. This means that there is absolutely no justification for taking action against them, which would be an illegal act of aggression. Toppling them could lead to a situation like Afghanistan in the 1990s, where the Taliban regime led by Mullah Omar gave safe haven to Osama Bin Laden and his allies, who certainly did pose a threat. A Taliban style regime in Syria could also lead to the resumption of hostilities with Israel.
Despite the shocking footage of a man frothing at the mouth in Aleppo, there is no hard evidence as of yet of who has used chemical weapons, and who they have used them against. In fact there is no proof at the moment that they have been used at all, as well as there being no evidence that the high command, or President Assad himself, gave the orders for their use. If rogue government elements have used them, then that is no reason to intervene in what is an internal Syrian conflict.

The US government currently says it has “varying degrees of confidence” that chemical weapons have been used. That is nowhere near good enough to justify taking military action. After the disaster in Iraq, any evidence for war needs to be completely watertight before action can be taken. I do not mean to diminish the suffering of victims if it turns out that chemical weapons have been used, but who is to say the footage wasn’t faked by someone keen to draw Western forces in, such as a hard-line group hoping to draw America and Britain into a Vietnam style quagmire?
If Western forces end up in Syria, this will look like yet another act of aggression against a Muslim country, and will brew more hatred across the Islamic world and among Muslim communities at home. It would also probably provoke an Iraq style insurgency to drive the “crusaders” out. So what exactly would be the point of intervening to save lives when it will only place our forces, as well as us at home, in greater danger?

All of these points do not detract from the very real possibility that war crimes have occurred in Syria, by both the government and the rebels. Those who have been affected by the conflict deserve for them to be properly investigated by the international community and arrest warrants put out for those responsible.

BY: Thomas Williamson