As I write this column a week before its publication, Syria and President Obama’s so-called red line are all over the news. The question is whether the United States will bomb Syria for crossing a red line or pursue other options to punish the country.
There can be no doubt that chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian civil war. The evidence is overwhelming. It is gut- wrenching to see innocent men, women, and children die an agonizing death.
What is not clear is who used the chemical weapons. If the Syrian army did, was that on the direct order of Syrian President Bashar Assad?
The United States and most European countries believe the Syrian government is responsible. Russia and a few other countries say the evidence is not clear-cut, and thus are reluctant to jump on the bandwagon to punish Syria.
To make the matter more confusing, there are unconfirmed reports that Saudi Arabia supplied chemical weapons to Syrian rebels and that the nerve gas was accidentally released by inexperienced rebel soldiers.
Americans have openly expressed their skepticism about the case presented by the Obama Administration for U.S. retaliation. They remember the hoax of weapons of mass destruction perpetrated by George W. Bush that preceded the invasion of Iraq. That folly cost about $2 trillion and 4,500 American lives.
A “limited and tailored” strike from the air and sea on Syria, as the Obama Administration is planning, has the potential of spreading beyond its scope. If Syria were alone in this conflict, perhaps such a response would work. But other players are involved in the conflict.
The conflict in Syria is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The House of Saud would do anything to keep Iran from becoming a regional power, and so would Israel. Put the United States, European countries, and Russia in the mix, and a regional operation has the potential of becoming global.
The American people are much more perceptive and smarter than current and previous administrations have given them credit for. Sen. John McCain’s interaction with his constituents a few weeks ago was revealing; most spoke against any action against Syria. Americans are tired after two protracted wars that have proved disastrous.
The question of morality and chemical weapons has been raised in public debate. In 1997, an international convention against chemical weapons of mass destruction was signed by 185 countries including Britain and the United States. Mr. Obama’a red line refers to that ban.
But under President Reagan, the United States looked the other way in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein repeatedly used sarin gas to stop Iranian advances during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. When he used sarin gas against the Kurds who had sided with Iran and risen against his rule, it became a moral issue. The use of sarin gas in the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing 5,000 people, was one of the pivotal charges against Saddam at his trial.
Another hypocrisy, as reported by British newspapers, was the supplying of potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride, active ingredients of sarin gas and fertilizer, by Great Britain to Syria soon after civil war broke out in that country. Permits were revoked six months later, after the European Union imposed strict sanctions against Syria.
The toll of human life in the Syrian conflict has been enormous. More than 100,000 people have been killed. Two million have been uprooted from their homes and have become refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq.
There is no difference between a child blown to pieces by a bomb and one poisoned by sarin gas. All atrocities should be marked by a red line. To emphasize one and not the other is to minimize the devastation of war for civilians.
The drumbeat of war against Iran is now being revived in the call to attack Syria. The underlying motive of warmongers is to change the map of the Middle East by changing regimes.
The U.S. Constitution does not have a provision for regime change, but it is part of the gospel of neoconservatives. After the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can ill afford to let the neocon cabal influence U.S. foreign policy.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org