Syria: Obama Moves the Goalposts

President Obama threatened to take serious although unspecified action if the Syrian dictator Assad used chemical weapons in his war on his own people. Well, the Wall Street Journal reported on 4/24/24 that the research director of Israeli intelligence, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, stated that Assad has indeed employed chemical weapons.  Brun said, “According to our professional assessment, the regime has used deadly chemical weapons against armed rebels on a number of occasions in the past few months.”  Brun said that Assad repeatedly used chemical weapons against his military opponents, thus confirming a pattern of war crimes.

Obama’s response was to minimize the reports of Assad’s use of chemical weapons.  The Wall Street Journal reported on 4/27/13 that Obama said, “Knowing that potentially chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria doesn’t tell us when they were used, how they were used.”  Obama cast doubt on the Israeli report by describing it as “potential.”  Clearly Obama refuses to intervene in Syria under any circumstances.  And so he must downplay evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons in order to justify his policy of non-intervention.

Similarly, the UN Charter mandates UN intervention in cases of genocide.  But being dominated by Arab Muslim states, the UN has decided not to intervene to aid the African Muslim survivors of Arab Muslim genocide in the Sudanese province of Darfur.   The UN denies the ongoing genocide in Darfur because they would be obligated to stop such cruelty if they admitted it was occurring.

Many analysts correctly point to the potential dangers of intervention in Syria.  Indeed, even some Republicans oppose intervention in Syria because they fear that such action could strengthen the jihadist forces which are playing an increasingly dominant role in the opposition.  But such analysis does not contemplate the costs of refusing to intervene in Syria and allowing Assad to remain in power:

1.  Prolonging the Syrian civil war and increasing the suffering of Syrian civilians who are being systematically raped, tortured, and murdered by the Assad regime.  Assad has already murdered 70,000 people, and his war on the Syrian people includes barbaric tactics such as slaughtering mourners at funeral processions, murdering civilians on bread lines, and killing conscripts who refuse to fire on their own people.

2.  reinforcing the power of tyrants throughout the Middle East and the world by sending a message that the free world condones attempted genocide in Arab and Muslim countries.  This approach strengthens the Iranian regime which is supporting Assad and encourages the Iranian regime to act with impunity both internally against Iranian dissidents and externally against Syrian democratic forces and Israel and the Jews.  In addition, allowing Assad to remain in power undermines Arab democrats in highly repressive countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt who are fighting for fundamental human rights under dangerous conditions. Russia and China also learn that Obama is happy to hide behind them and use them as an excuse for his refusal to challenge the Assad regime.

3. causing Sunni Muslims worldwide to believe that the West hates Sunni Muslims and condones the slaughter in Syria primarily because the victims are mostly Sunni Muslims.  The global Sunni Muslim community is distressed by the slaughter in Syria partly because Assad is clearly targeting their co-religionists and partly because Damascus was once the center of Sunni Islam under the Umayyad Caliphate from 661 to 750.

The U.S. should implement a robust intervention strategy that challenges the Assad regime and supports Syrian democratic forces against radical Islamist groups in the Syrian opposition.  The strategy should be modelled on the approach that was successfully used to remove the Qaddafi regime from power in Libya.  The policy should begin with NATO air bombardments of Assad’s military forces.  Such a campaign would not only weaken Assad militarily but also show the Syrian people that the West has not abandoned them to Assad’s terror and supports their struggle for human dignity and freedom.

Unfortunately, the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) does not currently deserve Western aid for two major reasons:

1.  FSA commanders in many areas have formed strategic alliances with radical Islamists, thus raising the risk that military aid to the FSA could end up in jihadist hands.

2. Corrupt FSA commanders illegally stole and sold the bread that Western humanitarian aid provided to the people of Aleppo, thus causing starvation among poor Aleppans.

For this reason, following a NATO bombing campaign against Assad’s military forces, the FSA should be required to meet two major conditions before receiving Western military aid.  One, the FSA must cease all cooperation and coordination with radical Islamists, thus reducing the risk that aid to the FSA is transferred to jihadists.  Two, the FSA must prosecute the corrupt commanders who stole bread from starving Aleppans in a fair and responsible manner.

About the Author
Rachel's educational background includes a B.A. in international relations from Brown University; she has been an independent scholar, analyst, and researcher about Middle Eastern affairs for 12 years; Her focus has been on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.