Red lines and lack of action – how the bigger picture in Syria is overlooked
With the death toll from the Syrian crisis rapidly surpassing 80,000, over 4 million displaced Syrians forced to live in poor conditions and the human catastrophe deepening on a daily basis, the continued discussions in America and Europe about the trespassing of “red lines” and what action should follow is an insult to the suffering of the Syrian people.
When will the conflict be considered a crisis worthy of firm action? When the whole region is embroiled in the conflict, when the death toll surpasses 100,000 or even 200,000 or when most of Syria lies in rubble?
The point is, whilst the regime’s brazen and clear use of chemical weapons, meant that the US “red line” was crossed a long time ago, no matter what tools or apparatus is used by the ever desperate Bashar al-Assad, whether it is Sarin gas, ballistic missile or cluster weapons, the end result is the same – destruction of Syria and mass civilian casualties.
Just as in Iraq when the debate was side-tracked by search for weapons of mass destructions, the West often overlooked the bigger picture. Saddam Hussein, amongst his far reaching terror, systemically used chemical weapons on a mass scale on the Kurds and was by far worse than any weapon. By the same token, the Assad dynasty has ruled Syria with an iron fist for decades. It is not just the Assad actions of the past two years and the recent death tolls, what about the thousands dead before and immense suffering that his dictatorship has produced?
Syria is clearly a different case to Egypt and Libya, it has firm allies in the region in Iran, Hezbollah and sections of Iraq, not forgetting their chief arms supplier and bastion at the UN in Russia. However, the difficulty in knowing how to act or finding common ground to act should be no reason to remain idle for such a lengthy period of time.
US President Barrack Obama’s seemingly blurring red line and back-pedalling of the White House sends all the wrong signals to Iran, North Korea and beyond.
Last week Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that any red line was crossed long ago. Then less than a week later two car bombs allegedly orchestrated by a group with ties the Syrian intelligence ripped through the Turkish border town of Reyhanli slaying 46 people and resulting in scores more wounded. The Turkish elite warned that a red line was crossed, yet another line, but Turkey is unlikely to retaliate.
While somewhat productive talks took place last week between UK, US and Russia, Russia continues to hold the keys to ending the conflict. The conflict has allowed it to come to the fore in a powerful and influential manner, stamping its authority on the UN and the region, while the US has largely taking a back-stage.
With the EU arms embargo in force, the rebels remain crippled by a lack of arms, as Russia and Iran, for their strategic goals, supply the regime with sophisticated weaponry and Hezbollah lends hundreds of its fighters.
The talk of the past several months in the West is to whether supply the rebels with “lethal” aid and these discussions are intensifying.
Yet for all the positive talk that came from US and UK discussions with Russia last week and the promise of a new international conference aimed at striking a political resolution to the conflict, Russia allegedly supplied Assad with an advanced air defence system while UK and France and hawks in Washington continue to push to directly arm rebels.
Clearly, no political transition can ever be successful if the same failed formula is merely reapplied. Assad must go, and with blood draining from his hand, his role or credibility in any transitional government would be ironic and insulting. As long as Assad and his inner circle remain, the conflict will not end.
America may still be reeling from its perceived loss of credibility over the invasion of Iraq, but as it is becoming increasingly clear, action may be undesired, but inaction is far worse.
Over 2 years of lack of clear policies by the West, has meant that flames from the conflict have already reached neighbouring countries, a fear that originally deterred invasion. Islamist groups have successfully assumed the vacuum on the Syrian battlefield and thousands of refugees, destroyed infrastructure and increasingly fragmented Syrian landscape, now make a post-Assad era as problematic as the leisurely pace at which the conflict has been approached.