The Case For Standing By

The Case For Standing By

Matthew Rephen, Political Columnist

For the past two and a half years, civil war has ravaged Syria, leaving 100,000 dead and millions displaced. From the beginning, the United States has considered intervening and assisting the rebels in their crusade against oppression. We have abstained from giving any kind of non-humanitarian aid for the refugees created by this conflict, but after the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks that killed 1,400 civilians in the Damascus suburbs, the debate on whether or not to intervene has risen again.

On September 28th, Syria agreed, in a groundbreaking compromise, to disarm their chemical weapons arsenal; so a strike on Syria is off the table–at least for now.

But if the Syrian government had not reached a diplomatic agreement with the UN to neutralize its chemical weapons—if the United States was still left with the decision of whether or not to take matters into our own hands, should we have gotten involved?

For starters, the deaths of 1,400 people by chemical weapons shouldn’t be a greater incentive for us to intervene than the deaths of a potential 100,000 people by bullets and explosives. Although the images of the onslaught quickly went viral on YouTube and were seen by thousands of viewers, it’s easy to feel emotionally compelled to act even though the amount of people that died at Ghouta is a small percentage of the total casualties brought on by the war. The usage of chemical weapons alone does not justify our intervention. Considering the number of people that have already died before the usage of chemical weapons, someone that believes in intervening to end the fighting should have already felt it necessary to do so, as Haji-Mara, commander of the Al-Tawhid Brigade of the Free Syrian Army at Aleppo explains: “The red line is the chemical weapons? It means, ‘Bashar, whatever you want to do, go ahead and do it.’ If you kill 100,000 people, that’s not a problem. You’re dropping 100,000 kilos from planes, that’s not a problem either. They’re giving him the green light. But the chemical weapons? We don’t want to see all of the Syrian people go. Just keep 20 or 30 percent of them. That’s okay.”

Although Haji-Mara and I disagree on whether or not the United States should intervene in Syria, we do agree that labelling chemical weapons as the red line for too much violence and suffering is illogical. 100,000 people have already died, if there were a red line, it was crossed a long time ago.

When asked why he believes the US should have taken away chemical weapons in Syria, senior Charles Tomb audaciously replied, “Why help innocent people from being murdered? Because we can.” But even without chemical weapons, Syrians would continue to slaughter one another with hot lead and shrapnel, as they have been doing for years now. To reiterate an implicit earlier point, at the end of the day when 1,400 people die, does it really matter how they’re killed? Taking away chemical weapons would hardly benefit the rebel fighters, seeing as how they’ve only ever been used on one occasion, which wasn’t even against militants, but civilians. If the United States is supposed to help topple the Assad regime, the only real way that we could do so would be by occupying the country and fighting the Syrian Armed Forces ourselves. And, seeing how recent events have shown us that occupations of Middle Eastern countries usually don’t go too well, that wouldn’t be the wisest decision. Senior Jasper Kitchen feels the same way: “ I want you to think about the best possible scenario of intervening in Syria. There’s no way where we don’t end up in another situation where we’re forced into the process of nation building. Time and time again this has proved to be costly and inefficient for both America and those who we try to help.”

In the extreme case that we do overthrow the Assad regime through occupation, which isn’t seriously being considered, that still wouldn’t necessarily end the violence considering the fact that there are multiple rebel factions, few of whom are considered to be true champions of democracy.

Some would argue that a strike to neutralize the chemical weapons would not be “getting involved or lead to war”, but any kind of attack would be an act of war. We’re the only country that speculates so openly over who we might strike next; recently it was Iran and its nuclear program, and now it’s Syria. When we appear so ready to meddle in other countrys’ affairs, even when they haven’t directly provoked us, it degrades our diplomatic standing in the international community. Whether it’s in our best interest or that of others, sometimes we have to let issues in other countries play themselves out.

Considering our standing in the international community, we have to concede Vladimir Putin his point in his letter to the New York Times that when the United States takes matters into its own hands in these kinds of situations, we undermine the United Nations and the decision making process that the world community would like to make. When we do that, we lose the power of the UN and in doing so, enervate the ties of the world community.

Democracy should be the first goal for all nations in the world. As long as Bashar Al-Assad is in power, the Syrians will not have this basic, but invaluable form of government. Although the rebel factions in Syria are numerous, divided and in many cases radically Islamist, a fresh start poses the best chance for Syria to become a decent state. Regardless, the United States doesn’t have the power to end the fighting. Had we taken away the chemical weapons, the Assad regime would continue to fight with bombs and bullets, and if the rebels topple the regime, the factions will most likely continue to fight amongst one another. It’s best for the United States to keep itself out of this conflict as there is not much impact that we could have, and we could only find ourselves bogged down.

Some may be hoping that the Assad regime prevails, while others are pulling for the rebels, but one group of people that have been stuck in the crossfire that we forget about are the children. Middle School Director James Shapiro, who has been to Syria twice in the past five years, had this to say about the conflict: “It’s one of the most complicated international crises I could imagine in terms of the complexity, delicacy, intricacies and unpredictable ramifications that will flow out of any action. The difference is that this is one of those incidents where human wisdom and foresight is outstripped by the complexity of the events on the ground. Where my energies go is the ongoing tragedy of the refugees and the children with interrupted lives and interrupted education. How can anyone make up the lost time in their lives?” With our eyes on the belligerents locked in combat during this conflict, we forget about the citizens caught in the crossfire, which is one side everyone, including the United States, can, and does support.