The Syrian dilemma
There are a lot of people around the world who are demanding that somebody “does something” to punish the Syrian armed forces and their President Bashar Assad for using sarin nerve gas against civilians in its second largest city, Damascus.
Damascus is the seat of the country’s wartorn government. The evidence we in the West are seeing is that Assad’s forces used nerve gas against women and children in his own capital, with perhaps as many as 1,500 casualties.
Syria is in the midst of a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and left more than six million either displaced inside the country, or in vast tented refugee camps outside the country.
And nobody who believes in democracy would want the leaders of either side to win.
But there are people in Canada who are disappointed in the lukewarm reactions of our own federal government in condemning this crime, and who are embarrassed that the official response of promising “all aid short of help” is being used once again.
The question that bothers me is that if Canada were to join a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria (don’t bother hoping there will be one led by the United Nations), just who would be shooting at?
Brutal (and possibly insane) dictator Assad and his forces, or brutal (and possibly insane) religious extremists who would supplant him? There does not appear to be a rational, moderate leadership option in the wings with much hope of producing a stable, peaceful democracy.
So who are the criminals we should be taking out?
Assad cannot be trusted to give you an honest weather report, but I put some credence in his statement that once outside military powers intervene in Syria, this whole thing is able to spin into more evil than we want to think about.
Assad has two allies: Russia and Lebanon. Russia keeps the UN from doing anything useful; Lebanon keeps the world from doing anything at all.
As of Tuesday, there were about 720,000 Syrians in refugee camps in Lebanon. You can get your family into Lebanon on one tank of gas from Damascus.
How many of them might be capable of exporting their civil war outside Syria, and how many of them might end up becoming helpless targets of Lebanese military?
Just south of Lebanon sits Israel. Israel is beefing up its missile defences in the event some nutbar to the north decides to go their direction to avenge any U.S. incursion into Syria.
What happens after that is a shopping list of bad consequences.
That, I suspect, is why President Barack Obama overruled his advisors on Monday and said he wanted to consult Congress — and thereby, the American public — before using military power to “downgrade” Assad’s ability to launch chemical weapons again.
Congress is coming into election mode right now. There must be enough Vietnam vets still around to warn against putting military boots in Syria today.
“We should have this debate,” Obama said Monday. Yes, perhaps we should.
I wouldn’t want to predict what the situation in Syria would be, by the time Americans have had their debate.
The number of dead already exceeds 100,000, and international news reports tell us the country is bleeding itself of women and children fleeing the violence.
About a third of Syria’s total population has already fled the country.
I agree with the critics that it is distasteful to see despotic leaders use genocidal-scale attacks against their own people. But the extremists waiting to take over when Assad is finally gone are far from gentle by comparison.
Perhaps, then, Obama does have the right proposal: bomb the bejeebers out of Assad’s missile delivery systems, and assure the populace that the world does feel for their plight, while leaving it to the Syrian people to decide the outcome of this civil war.
That would seem rational. But rationality, like truth, was one of the first casualties in this conflict.
Canada has no capability of intervening in Syria to disable Assad’s chemical weapons, and it is rather unseemly for us to suggest someone else do it for us.
Until we know exactly who we want to shoot at, and for how long, it’s best we just not shoot at all. As distressing as that may be, while the videos play, showing us the innocent dead.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.