Syria: Five questions

After months of obfuscation, the Obama administration, rightly wary of prior military misadventures, has determined that it must act on the horrific events in Syria, specifically that chemical weapons were used against civilians and that it’s future use must be deterred.

However, several questions remain:

1) For what reason was the Obama administration rushing after such prolonged lethargy?

Why was the US, after waiting for so excruciatingly long despite the spiralling death toll, (estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands), so impatient and seemingly unable to afford the UN inspectors adequate time to complete their investigations before taking action?

It is regrettable that such a tight timeframe (combined with both the depressingly frequent occurrence of No.10 incompetence and the spectre of Iraq lurking in the public conscious) resulted in the UK Government losing a key vote in Parliament authorising military action.

2) Why has it taken specifically chemical weapons deaths to trigger action? Are deaths resulting from conventional weapons somehow more acceptable?

This particular focus on specifically punishing the use of chemical weapons, as opposed to addressing the huge numbers of civilians who have perished so far in this conflict in conventional weapons attacks (including the recently reported incendiary attack on an Allepo playground) is extremely troubling.

Surely this signals the green light to Assad and other leaders who are contemplating conventional military operations that huge civilian fatalities aside, as long as chemical weapons are avoided, the International Community will most likely just “monitor” the situation carefully from afar, and express “regret” from time to time.

3) What purpose will a “limited and discreet” strike serve?

If only for the symbolism in being able to claim in future (thereby serving the collective conscience) that punitive action was taken when chemical weapons were used, then a strike should be dismissed as being both insignificant and counter productive in preventing the ongoing cycle of suffering and death that has befallen the civilians of Syria.

4) In the absence of any meaningful action to stop the bloodshed or any attempts to hold the perpetrators to account, what  is the virtue of a deterrence argument?

Whilst the wider deterrence argument remains a worthy goal, for many in Syria, such an argument is quite simply ‘too little, too late’. Prior action – (even the appearance of the will to act) much earlier in this conflict could have prevented this recent horrific escalation and grave violation of IHL.

5) How credible is the “inaction = complicity” / duty to protect argument when inactivity and indifference in the face of some immense human suffering has been the default position, whereas swift action has been the response in others?

‘Doing nothing’ is supposedly “not an option” this time around. However, that very option has been repeatedly and tragically over-used in recent times for a myriad of reasons, even where war crimes and IHL violations have occurred. To selectively invoke the UN’s Responsibility to Protect doctrine to protect civilians in some conflicts but not others hugely devalues its universality, prioritising certain humans over others.

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