The reasons I oppose this move are:
1) The Pre-Decided Agenda
It has clearly been the agenda of the USA (and by default the UK and France) to depose the Syrian president, Assad, for some time. Obama long ago, perhaps with good intentions, stated categorically that it is just a matter of time before Assad‘s regime falls and when the president of the USA puts his reputation on the line so clearly and boldly there is rarely a way back.
Anything but Assad‘s ultimate removal will be a political disaster for Obama. His domestic critics, of which there are many, would savage him without mercy. The problem is, when Obama said these things, he and the American intelligence agencies underestimated Assad’s staying power and the determination of Russia and China to stand up to America this time.
So, Assad has not fallen and does not look likely to fall, but the commitment has been made. The USA, UK and France have spent so long telling the world how evil the Assad regime is (and by all accounts it is a terrible one) that to allow him to continue as leader is now too hard to reconcile with the statements they have made.
Regardless of the facts and the changing political nature of the conflict, they will press on. In world power politics, for a country like America, they have to get what they want. A challenge to their authority is invariably met with a renewed determination to overcome the challenge. Their golden rule appears to be “never back down” and when you combine that mindset with economic might, it becomes a powerful and disturbing force.
So, if we accept that the USA’s aim is regime change, in the name of supposed holy grail of forcing freedom and democracy on Syria, then all pronouncements from the governments of USA, UK, France and any allies must be viewed in this context. The same is of course true of Russia and China. They are determined that Assad will stay (Russia much more openly so than China) so any statements or actions from their governments must be filtered through that context.
2) The Evidence
We are being told that there is evidence of chemical weapons being used by the Assad regime. I don’t know if this is true or how definitively it is possible to measure this, but I am prepared to cautiously believe it based on the evidence presented.
There have, however, been widespread reports and verbal evidence from at least one United Nations inspector that chemical weapons have also been used by the anti-government forces in Syria. The US government says there is no verifiable evidence of this, but the have they gone to the same extent to scientifically measure chemical levels in the bodies of pro-government victims?
The reality is that no-one, not even those in Syria, know for certain what is going on. We don’t know who has used what weapons or why. We can only get glimpses of information here and there, and is that enough to promote further bloodshed by arming the anti-government fighters?
3) The Hypocrisy
The USA has used chemical weapons on a horrific scale in the not too distant past. The use of “Agent Orange” in the Vietnam war is the most infamous example. Go to the war museums in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and see the stomach churning, heart wrenching inhuman consequences of this. If you can’t do that, look it up online.
I fervently hope that the modern day US government takes such a strong line against chemical weapons because it has learned from the past; to judge and damn others so unequivocally has more than a whiff or hypocrisy about it.
I deplore the use of chemical weapons by anyone, but I don’t quite understand why, in an escalating war with an estimated 100,000 already dead, the apparent use of chemical weapons on a very small scale is deemed a tipping point to start pouring more weapons into the war.
It is also hypocritical to be supporting an opposition that is known to include a section of hard line Islamic militants when the governments in the West are campaigning so strongly against “terror” domestically.
They regularly make decisions as morally complex as killing Pakistani people with no trial or published evidence via drones and increasing surveillance powers (quite possibly illegally judging by recent news stories) but they are now arming an opposition including people with the very same vehemently anti-western views. They claim the arms would only go to moderate opposition.
In theory, that sounds OK, but in a country in such a chaotic state as Syria, how could this possibly be enforced?
4) The Consequences
We have seen with Iraq that reshaping a country is not as easy in practice as it is on paper. Even skipping the awkward but all-important question of whether the western governments have the right to overthrow foreign regimes they don’t like, we have to accept the reality that, ultimately, even if our intentions are good, a system of government can’t just be imposed on a country.
We have to accept that democracy is not the same as freedom and, sometimes, freedom equals freedom to oppress. A western style democracy is a system of government that has many merits and the right for everyone to vote freely is an incredibly empowering aspiration, but the nature of the system is that it also allows a majority to oppress a minority if they so choose.
The even wider consequence is the prospect of the world’s superpowers engaging in yet another proxy war. While the USA, UK and France line up on one side, Russia and China on the other and the rest of the world assesses which side it would rather be on, the deaths and suffering go on.
When the big boys start to play, egos and power are on the line, and without wishing to scare-monger, we have to be very, very cautious about how far this escalates outside of Syria. Syria is tragedy enough but more widespread bloodshed is looking ever more likely.
5) The Moral Paradox
What We Need To Do:
The citizens of the powerful countries who are running this situation need to call their governments to account. Tell them loudly and clearly that this mustn’t be allowed. And it is not enough to say no weapons and no war and don’t get involved. We are involved and it is naive to think we can separate ourselves from these horrible messy affairs.
No, we must make our governments not only avoid war but to actively and genuinely support peace. That is done through negotiation and diplomacy. Each side must recognise peace as the only long term goal, and must compromise. USA must give ground to Russia and vice-versa. The only chance of this happening is for the people to make it happen by putting pressure on our own governments and letting our voices be heard. The time to act is now.