Obama, Cameron and Hollande have reached a point of no return after each uttering across world media that something must be done to punish Mr Assad’s act of using chemical weapons (or as known through the Geneva Convention ‘tools of terror’) on his own people.
Cameron’s rush to action ahead of the UN report on the situation in Syria led him however to lose the vote in British Parliament on Thursday. It could be possible for the UK to come back from this, but the current coalition has such a weak majority that it places even more pressure on the UN process to come with compelling evidence. Not something that it has historically had the ability to do. The US and France are similarly trying to convince their cynical citizens to support intervention in Syria. Mainly by promising that the intervention will be quick and very short, perhaps even only one day, perhaps already this weekend. Or, as the US describes intervention: a “possibly imminent series of limited military strikes against Syria.”
Of this last point I am extremely sceptical. Short strikes will be mostly symbolic. The US needs and wants to prove to North Korea, Iran and potential future power houses that the US’ red line when it comes to chemical and nuclear weapons, really means business and will lead to imminent intervention. The main message of the intervention thus is of non-tolerance towards Assad’s most recent war methods, however not a word has been uttered about a possible peace process. Obama’s advisers are pushing him to intervene, driven by their involvement and memories of international mistakes in Rwanda and Bosnia. However, this potential intervention must not be confused with one as such; following the US and France’s short but sweet intervention, the killing will continue.
The US’ preference for a short and quick intervention stems from the fact that all roads which could result from this conflict are doomed in Western eyes. If a Western coalition is to fight Assad and remove him from power they are by default supporting the opposition. Within the opposition however the most effective groups are militant Islamists linked to movements as Al Qaida, who will most definitely form a government hostile to the US and Israel. Should the US, France and Britain chose the third way of creating a democratic interim government, they may again end up in a similar situation as in Afghanistan, fighting a ‘Syrian Taliban’ and without a chance of rebuilding the country before having to give up and leave.
The main problem with this intervention is that the international community has waited too long. When the Syrian government reacted to peaceful protests in mid-2011 by unabashedly slaughtering civilians, there was already a screaming indication that the situation was going to get a lot worse before it got better. Especially, as Syria has been viewed as a powder keg waiting to explode for decades. At the beginning of the revolution, peace was backed by the large moderate majority of the country. Two years on the conflict has escalated into not only a terrible civil war where millions have had to flee their homes and thousands have been killed, however also a playing ground for regional power seekers and opposition groups to play out unsettled disputes. With on the current winning side Mr Assad and his friendly allies in war, Hezbollah and Iran.
The only aspect uniting both sides is that they are both a threat to Israel’s security. The Assad regime has threatened to react to US foreign intervention by taking revenge on Israel. Here in Israel, I’ve seen a full range of reactions from people desperately queuing to get gas masks to no reaction what so ever. Bus drivers will turn news concerning Syria (and currently also Egypt) to full volume and bearded members of Orthodox Judaism have started a protest because gas masks do not allow for extreme facial hair. I guess Israelis are always somewhat prepared for the worst…
Britain, France and the US need to wait for the findings of the UNs report into the use of chemical weapons and the powers using them, to be able to most convincingly explain that they are getting involved for the ‘right reasons’ (according to international law anyhow). The great powers need to then think hard what it is that they want from intervention and in which state they plan to leave the country. The mistakes with Afghanistan and Iraq were not necessarily intervening, but not understanding that the international community, at the moment of intervening, were deciding to be a part of rebuilding the country and therefore needed both an understanding of the society (and every opposition movement)) as well as programs of peace-keeping to fit this understanding.