The debate on Syria, in the Western media, is already narrowing down to the timing and modality of bombing as to whether it should be a ‘limited, surgical strike aimed at regime degradation, or should it involve some kind of a special operations to take the chemical weapons out of Syria or simply arm the rebels so that they take on all the killing and spare the Americans of any more guilt or handwringing. No one, not even the redoubtable Tom Friedman or Nicholas Kristoff, seem to ask their President to kindly show the elementary proof that is needed to justify such an attack. Why do the most sensible journalists in the US seem so unwilling to raise some basic questions? The unanimity with which the American media supports their President has been the envy of many democracies.
Both US President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry seem absolutely convinced of the guilt of Syrian President Assad in using chemical weapons on his own people, though this conviction was hardly shared by the Senate panel that heard John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel. President Obama does not feel the need to share the intelligence assessment with anyone, for fear of exposing his sources, one of them being the very dubious Mossad.
The UN Secretary General is still awaiting the report of his inspectors who had gone to the site at el-Ghouta, in the suburbs of Damascus. He does not know the truth yet. Incidentally, this team of inspectors had gone to Syria on the repeated requests of the Syrian Government to examine the veracity of an alleged chemical attack in east of Aleppo in mid-March this year. They reached Damascus after a five-month delay on 18 August and to suggest that the regime would carry out another chemical attack on 21 August, while the inspectors were in town, would appear illogical. But then, the President of the US and his Secretary of State are both honourable men and their words cannot be easily questioned. Like all honorable men, why don’t they start with some proof first, and then list out the actions they intend to take.
Even former US President George Bush, who had much less qualms about bombing any country, thought it fit to show some proof of Saddam Hussain’s WMD to the UNSC, however fake it was. May be, President Obama, precisely due to that qualm, is reluctant to show the proof to the world.
“So, now we want to bomb Syria, because Syrians are bombing Syria?” asked Sarah Palin in a rare flash of brilliance. How come such disarming common sense escaped the ruling elite in the White House is not clear.
Thanks to the growing international skepticism of the claims of the White House, from London to Paris to St. Petersburg, the American rhetoric has become less shrill, but clearly there is no weakening of their determination. It is just a matter of time before the world witnesses, in horror, another sound and light show on the CNN, this time of cruise missiles, with hardly any mention of the ‘collateral damage’. Wars are easy to start, but so difficult to end. President Obama knows it too well. Then why is he keen to start one more?
How President Obama, who was clearly aware of the dangers of supporting the ‘rebel forces’ and who had branded the leading force – Jabhat ul-Nusra – as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) last year, has suddenly started to think that degrading the regime of Assad will not strengthen the hands of this FTO. Nor do we know at what point the ‘limited strikes’ would be deemed to have succeeded in their mission. Certainly, the regime change is not the objective. That has been repeatedly stressed as a benign acknowledgement of Assad’s utility as a bulwark against the Al-Qaeda franchisee, the al-Nusra group. Then how weak should Assad be made, before the bombing should stop?
Most analysts in the West are agreed that if due to the bombing of Assad’s regime and the consequent rise of Salafist forces in Syria, the Americans will be their foremost targets, as in Libya, though not the first. Their first target would be the Alawites, the Druze and the Coptic Christians of Syria. How can the Christian West not protect their brethren in Syria, especially, when they get so indignant about a Coptic church being torched in Egypt?
If the current situation in Libya is anything to go by, Syria too will have no ‘power centre’ to control its Army, the Republican Guards and the Shabiha — all with heavy military hardware fighting an enemy they cannot see or comprehend and defending a regime that is no longer there. There would be millions more with rage and with arms. The battles of the sectarian divide would be the easiest and obvious ones to fight, though they were not enemies till two years ago.
Contrary to speculations, neither Russia nor Iran will take up arms on behalf of an autocrat they are tired of counseling. Russia actually gave up on him quite some time ago, but that does not stop them from challenging the ‘lies’ of the White House. The new dispensation in Iran desperately wishes to get out of the hole that Ahamdinejad has pushed the country into and not get into any war with the US or its allies in the region. Its economy, already ravaged by the sanctions, just cannot afford a war.
There will also be no region-wide conflagration as a result of American missile strikes on Damascus. There will be no attacks on Israel by the Hezbollah. Far too many of them have gone to Syria to fight on behalf of the regime and quite a few have come back in coffins to Beirut. But one thing is almost certain. Assad may be seriously tempted to use the chemical weapons. Not on his own people, as he had promised, but certainly on some neighbouring country. And that will be a collateral damage that will weigh heavily on President Obama.
(Ravi Joshi is a Visiting Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
Courtesy: ORF: The article can also be read at Is there really any proof on Syria?
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