How to Respond to the Syrian Nightmare
There are no simple solutions to the horrors unfolding in Syria. Had the West responded sooner, there might have been a remote chance for moderates within the rebel camp to form a functional political authority. Today, that possibility is inconceivable.
Now the forces of darkness and evil dominate the behavior of the government and rebels alike. The depths of unimaginable barbarism to which both parties have descended exceed the worst horror films.
Merely a few kilometers from Israel’s border in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad has been butchering and massacring his own people for two years. He has now added chemical weapons to his arsenal. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who, until recently considered Assad a “reformer,” has condemned Assad’s chemical weapons attack as defying “any code of morality” and representing a “moral obscenity.”
The Iranian terrorist regime and its Lebanese terrorist extension, Hezbollah, fully support Assad. Together, they have concocted the ultimate evil witch’s brew. It is shocking that for reasons of realpolitik Russia supports these terrorists in order to bolster its regional influence. It represents Moscow’s most shameful foreign policy initiative since the overthrow of the Evil Empire. The Syrian rebels are guilty of perpetrating similar if not even more grotesque atrocities. Dominated by fanatical jihadists, including Al Qaeda elements committed to global sharia and martyrdom, they have murdered innocent Sunni women and children. They revel in committing vile atrocities, some even descending to the depths of public displays of barbaric acts of cannibalism.
Victory by either side will have disastrous effects on the region. If Assad retains even partial power, Iranian’s state terrorists will consider it a victory. If the rebels succeed, Syria will be controlled by jihadist packs. Unspeakable brutality will inevitably follow. Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, succinctly summed up the situation: “Syria is…mired in carnage between the brutality of Assad and various affiliates of Al Qaeda”.
Within this context, why should the West get involved? Why not let a plague descend on both houses?
Because it is unacceptable for the civilized world to abrogate morality and stand aside as innocent civilians are massacred. If we remain spectators to the mass murder and gassings of innocent civilians, we will be providing a green light to other cruel regimes to act similarly. We will lose our humanity. It will revive memories of the world which stood by as Jews were being exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust.
Intervention is a risky business. Time and again efforts to apply external pressure – especially on authoritarian Arab regimes – have proven to be counterproductive. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and even Egypt, crude attempts at imposing democracy have resulted in the ascendency of fundamentalist Islamic regimes with human rights records far worse than their predecessors.
Nonetheless, the West, led by the US, must act decisively. Despite division within Congress and American opposition to another military intervention, President Obama must deliver on his repeated threats of military action should Assad cross the red line of chemical weapons usage.
Initially Obama tried to fudge the issue, claiming that the US requires approval from the United Nations before embarking on a military initiative, but he faces pressures to act from Britain, France, Turkey and Arab countries. If Obama fails to respond now, Iran, North Korea and other rogue states will have little to fear as they continue in their defiant marches toward nuclear capability.
The risks associated with targeted strikes at chemical weapons arsenals are high. Massive casualties amongst innocent civilians and fallouts are possible. Additionally, there is doubt as to whether US intelligence can accurately identify and ensure the destruction of underground arsenals.
Overall, the current US response has been appalling. It has formally assured Assad that it will restrict its punitive military response to “limited strikes” over a number of days, and stressed that it is not seeking to bring about regime change.
This mere rap over the knuckles is hardly likely to act as a deterrent and the killing business will proceed as in the past. In fact, Assad is likely to boast that he defeated the US and the Western alliance. It will not reassure those concerned about the failure of the US to stand by its commitments and allies. It will certainly not allay Israel’s concerns about the US standing by its undertakings concerning the Iranian nuclear threat.
Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal has urged that the US concentrate on military strikes designed to kill Assad and his principal henchmen. Stephens correctly notes that if President Obama could boast about how he finished Osama bin Laden “with a bullet to the head and another to the heart,” he should have no inhibitions about doing likewise to a mass murderer like Bashar Assad.
Targeted assassinations would avoid becoming enmeshed in a ground war like the US faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would serve as a deterrent to other tyrants who would fear for their own lives if they behaved similarly and they would send a signal to the Iranians that the US is not the toothless tiger it often appears to be.
This would neither empower Al Qaeda and the Jihadists nor necessarily lead to an immediate regime change, but it might accelerate division of the country which, from a humanitarian viewpoint, represents the best possible outcome and would limit the civilian massacre which would inevitably result if either party achieves total supremacy.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom