The U.S., Britain and France are struggling with a rational response to the crisis in Syria. Assad’s recent use of nerve gas against his own citizens has led to this current dilemma. Russia, China and Iran are warning that any attack on Syria can only result in chaos in the Middle East. Russia and China walked out of U.N. Security Council talks on the issue this week. The White House and Downing Street have been working together, but the British Parliament just rejected any military cooperation with the U.S. against Syria. Hollande of France, however, is still giving verbal support. Some kind of limited military response to the situation was suggested, but with the promise that there will be no effort to remove the Assad regime. Obama has not yet remarked on Britain’s refusal to participate, so no one yet knows whether he will decide to take any action without Britain’s cooperation/participation. In Turkey and Israel, however, people are lining up for gas masks in response to Assad’s threat that if there is any military action against Syria he will attack those in the region who have relations with ‘the West.’ That’s a direct threat to Israel and Turkey.
As I see it, Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. There is no way out for the U.S. If there is no reaction to Assad’s recent crimes against humanity, it could embolden him to get even more extreme. Assad could murder tens of thousands with impunity and the world would just watch it happen. It would be another cynical propaganda feather in Syria’s hat, creating an impression of powerlessness and ineffectiveness in the Obama administration in world affairs. If there is any military action against his military infrastructure, he can use it for more propaganda purposes and drive the rest of the Middle East into an anti-West fervor. If Assad follows through with his threat against Israel, Jerusalem has promised a swift and devastating response, which would bring a region wide reaction against Israel and there could be a full-scale Middle East war that pulls the U.S. in.
Unfortunately, there are no good options. If the U.S. does nothing now, the situation in Syria will worsen and we will have blood on our hands in tacit complicity. If the U.S. and other European countries try to put the squeeze on Syria by completely isolating them economically and politically, the Syrian people will suffer even more forcing them to flee to Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and wherever else they can find refuge. However, there are no countries in the area that can really handle a massive refugee movement and we could be witness to a human catastrophe. If the U.S. made a limited military strike against Assad, it could lead to Assad attacking Israel and Turkey, and a potentially devastating war.
My conclusion is Obama should lay these issues in front of the world in very explicit terms, isolate Assad and prepare to create a safety net for the flood of refugees. That will create its own problems, but at least the world would avoid a possible region-wide war in the Middle East. The U.N. will not respond to this situation, because Russia and China are in the Security Council and will veto any U.N. intervention. Even very limited U.S. strikes against Syrian military infrastructure could have horrific consequences that, in my opinion, serve no one’s interest.
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