Monday, September 2, 2013

Genocide in Syria: The world must put an end to it

The Syrian civil war is a particularly horrendous one. It is comparable to the Rwandan civil war of 1990-1994 in which over 500,000 people were killed by the government and another two million forced to flee the country. Both wars were started by rogue governments who used propaganda to incite violence against minority populations. There have been over 100,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war, and perhaps a million refugees, who have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

The war in Rwanda was called a genocide. The war in Syria is now approaching the same level of violence. The UN failed to stop the former. Right now, the UN is standing by and watching the slaughter of Syrians by the thousands.

The civil war is between the Government of Syria and its opposition, which calls itself the Free Syrian Army. The primary supporters of Assad are the Allawites, a Shi'ite sect that comprises only 10 percent of the population. Assad receives weapons and money from Russia and Iran, whose rulers are also Shi'a, and military assistance from Hezbollah. Hezbollah, founded by Iran, are a state within a state in Lebanon, with perhaps 200,000 supporters and a battle-hardened militia.

The Free Syrian Army and its allies forces are primarily Sunni. They receive weapons primarily from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Syrian Government forces, supporters of Bashar Al-Assad, have used all the weapons of a modern military state in their campaign to remain in power. The US has condemned them for their use of chemical weapons, including the nerve-gas rison, but most of the deaths have been caused by conventional means, especially artillery shells and cluster bombs. Government forces are targeting civilians in hope of convincing them to stop sheltering the rebels.

The grotesque spectacle of a government killing its own people to stay in power has aroused the anger of much of the world. Russia and Iran are unmoved, however. The United Nations is powerless to provide military aid because Russia holds a permanent seat on the Security Council. At news that Assad may have used sarin gas against his people, Vladimir Putin said it didn't make any sense that Assad should use sarin against the rebels in a war that he was winning. Therefore, Putin theorized, the attacks, though real, were actually provocations intended to draw other nations into the war on the side of the rebels.

Putin's logic is faulty. Chemical weapons will not help Assad win the war, but that is not Assad's problem. He must win the peace. Since Assad's power base is the Allawite minority, just 10 percent of Syria's population, he needs to find some way to exercise authority over the Syrians after the war is over. Assad has chosen terror, as his father and Saddam Hussein did before him. Saddam used chemical weapons successfully to win his war with Iran and terrorize his own countrymen.

President Obama announced that the use of chemical weapons is a red line that Assad must not be allowed to cross with impunity. The US president says that chemical weapons pose a threat to the entire world, and that other countries will use them unless the US takes military action to “punish” Assad. Obama cannot seriously believe that the US can make a surgical strike and withdraw from the engagement. His military commanders must have told him that would be impossible. Assad has been telling his countrymen that Obama delayed his plans because he feared the reprisals that Assad would make.

Obama asked friday, "What's the purpose of the international system that we've built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world's people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?" In this sentence, as in others, Obama has spoken not just for himself and the American people, but for peace-loving people everywhere.

Obama never actually intended to do anything without Congressional approval. Right on cue, over 100 house members signed a letter to the president stating that engaging the military without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers delineated in the Constitution. Twenty-one Democrats joined Republicans in signing the letter. But Obama knew that House Republicans would oppose any action he might take. Many of them were waiting to see what would happen before making any statement. By delaying any action, Obama forces his political opponents to take a position on the record. He also emphasizes the fact that they are all on vacation and unwilling to return, while he is on the job in Washington.

Obama has given the English parliament what it asked for when it defeated Prime Minister Cameron's motion to support a strike against Syria. The English opposition insisted that Cameron should wait for the UN inspectors to file their report on the evidence of chemical weapons. Now they have their wish.

Finally, Obama has put pressure on the United Nations. It is the UN that proposed and ratified the international system that is supposed to safeguard human rights. But the UN system for enforcing its treaties depends on unanimous consent and is therefore seldom invoked. Outside observers have declared that the US cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The UN has declared that chemical weapons must not be used in warfare. Now would be a good time for the UN to prove that it, not the US, enforces international law. Genocide, not just chemical weapons use, is a crime against humanity.

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