Truth is the first casuality of war. What kills truth is the the lack of clarity in wars, such as is currently the case in the Syrian Civil War between the brutal dictator Al-Assad and the varied assortment of rebels that make up the Free Syrian Army. With both sides backed by powerful allies, a combat tenure lasting over two years, and a rebel army that seemingly can agree only on the question of removing Al-Assad from power, the war is as clear as mud.
What is known, is that over 100, 000 people have died in the conflict, and that the situation has created 6 million refugees according to a UN report. It is also known that the Regime Loyalist forces have the upper hand in the conflict, though the war itself generally remains deadlocked. Similarly, the world remains divided over how best to manage and resolve the civil war.
The reason why the war has recently drawn so much attention is because of the large scale use of chemical weapons on August 21st against civilians, resulting in the death of 1000 to 1400 people – and this remains controversial. To some, the question is still ‘were chemical weapons even used at all?
Many have accepted the conclusions of British scientists who, on September 5th, announced they had discovered traces of Sarin gas in soil and clothing samples from the event of August 21st. Many also support American Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement earlier this last week that such traces had been found in blood and hair samples. Previous statements on the matter include the French Foreign Minister’s comments in June regarding the repeated use of Sarin gas in Syria, and the American Secretary of Defense’s words last April on the small scale use of chemical weapons in the region. However, many remain sceptical. After August 21st a team of UN inspectors was deployed to collect samples for testing and confirmation. They finished their mission and returned to the Netherlands on August 31st. Now these samples are being tested in laboratories accross Europe. It could now be weeks before the release of a report even after Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon pressured the team to quicken their work.
While Russia and China, along with much of the world wait for the results of the United Nations investigation, the United States has labeled it redundant. With it’s own intelligence backing it’s accusations, on September 9th the U.S. Congress will reconvene for a vote on whether or not to grant approval to President Obama’s plan to proceed with ‘punitive actions’ against the Syrian regime. Despite support from Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, public and congressional opinion is very skeptical about the justification to do so.
To many, there is no doubt chemical weapons were used, the question is rather ‘Who is reponsible for the event of August 21st, regime forces or rebel forces?’ Again, this is a matter of controverse.
The United States insists that Regime forces have deployed chemical weapons several times over the last year to try and “gain the upper hand or break a stalemate in areas where it has struggled to seize and hold strategically valuable territory” –White House press release on the August 21 Event. They have also asserted that the Syrian regime carried out this particular attack after considering a variety of evidence – namely that, Syrian military chemical weapons personnel were operating in the vicinity of the region three days prior, satellite evidence depicted rockets (capabilities reportedly beyond the Free Syrian Army) launched into the government held areas 90 minutes before reports of the event, and finally because a senior Regime official confirmed the use of chemical weapons and was concerned about UN involvement. Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has challenged the United States to present this evidence to the international community as he believes the attack was a “provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict.”
While it is widely known that the Syrian regime is fully capable of launching chemical strikes with a stockpiled variety of delivery mechanisms, it is also possible that chemical weapons have fallen into Rebel hands and as President Putin suggests, that a faction within the Free Syrian Army is attempting to pull the international community into the Syrian Civil War. Last December, American officials were increasingly worried about Syrian chemical weapons falling into Rebel hands, as radical elements of the Free Syrian Army were in a position to seize some of the Regime’s chemical weapon production, research and storage facilities – a former (defected) Regime General said that such chemical weapon facilities were not secure. “Probably anyone from the Free Syrian Army or any Islamic extremist group could take them over.” He said.
The final question is “How does the world respond?”
President Obama has vowed punitive military action, alongside President Francois Hollande of France and mentioned that any strike would be included in “a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition.” Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom recently brought forward a proposal to the British Parliament for such measures, though it was narrowly defeated and instead he is pushing for further humanitarian measures. Prime Minister Stephen Harper meanwhile has said that Canada is not interested in joining a military mission, and the UN has urged all parties to wait until the release of the UN report before taking any action. Russia and Iran have since warned the US against military measures.
A brutal dictator indiscriminately using chemical weapons in an increasingly sectarian civil war against an alliance of moderate democratic forces and significant al-Qaeda backed groups presents the International Community with one of the most convoluted, complex issues in recent memory, where no action is readily justified or possesses a clear effect. It seems that neither intervention, nor isolationism can be properly weighed in full against their drawbacks, and effects – but it may also be the case that neither decision will be vindicated in retrospect.
– Adam Templer
Featured photo: License Yishac – Isaac Alvarez i Brugada, Creative Commons, Flickr
Photo 1 : Yishac – Isaac Alvarez i Brugada, Creative Commons, Flickr