With Confirmation Of Chemical Weapons Use, Syrian War Becomes More Complicated
The United Nations reports that the death toll in Syria since 2011 has risen to at least 93,000, including an estimated 1,700 under the age of 10. Those graves numbers have failed to persuade the international community to act, but confirmation by the United States and the European Union that Syria used chemical weapons may.
An exchange between a reporter and State Department spokesman Jennifer Psaki illustrates not only the administration’s hesitance to become involved, but also the difficulty of clearly defining the terms of the war.
PSAKI: “The President said it is a redline, it is a game-changer. What that means in terms of the options, as you know, I will leave that to them to discuss.
QUESTION: Well, does changing the game mean – I mean, to me, that means that – that would signal – it would be a harbinger of a policy shift. Am I incorrect?
PSAKI: I don’t want to get ahead of where we are, which is we’re not at that point.
A day later and the US appears to be “at that point.”
Libyan Experience Sways Decisions On Syria Intervention
Whether the confirmation of the use of sarin gas by President Bashir al-Assad will compel action is unknown at this juncture. The options, however, are far messier two years later. The war is no longer confined to Syria having evolved into a proxy war between the US and Iran, Sunnis and Shiites, and Russia and the US. And as policymakers consider which steps to take next, their discussions will take place in the shadow of the Libyan conflict.
“The willingness to use armed force is also inevitably influenced not only by the desperation of the affected population but also by geopolitical factors, including the relevance of the country to the world community, regional stability, and the attitudes of other major players, contend Jayshree Bajoria and Robert McMahon of the Council on Foreign Relations.
They also argue that the international community’s actions – or inaction – in Syria “seem overshadowed by the Libya experience.”
In the case of Libya, the UN Security Council invoked the “responsibility to protect” doctrine to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians under attack from Muammar al-Qaddafi’s government.
“Western-led air strikes ultimately ousted Qaddafi from power and prompted criticism from Security Council members like Russia that the R2P doctrine was cover for a regime change strategy. Experts say such sentiments, combined with concern about the way Libya’s upheaval spilled over into the region, have given pause to humanitarian interventions backed by regional or global bodies,” they conclude.
What Would Qualify As Victory In Syria?
Matthew Feeney of the libertarian Reason magazine cautions that the complexities of intervention are numerous and that it is incumbent upon those calling for engagement to clearly outline both an entry and exit strategy.
“By itself, the complexity of the situation is not an argument against intervention,” he says, adding that “it’s up to interventionists to sell the rest of us on yet another war. How exactly, will they separate the good rebels from the bad ones? How, exactly, will they keep the bad rebels from access stockpiles of Assad regime weaponry? What are the conditions of victory? If the rebels do route Assad, do we stick around and help them rebuild? If so, for how long?”
Along similar lines, Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy magazine advocates for a debate is “built around a frank discussion of the goals, not only the means.”
UN Report Finds Children At Risk In War-Torn Nations
The announcement came on the same day that the UN released the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. The report found that Syria is one of a number of nations that actively recruits children to fight and uses torture to punish children associated with opposition forces.
The report, which covers 22 conflicts in 21 nations, said progress was made in 2012, but that they remain at risk in numerous wars. The UN report also includes a list of “names and shames,” those groups or nations that “engage in the recruitment and use of children, sexual violence against children, the killing and maiming of children in contravention of international law, recurrent attacks on schools and/or hospitals or recurrent attacks or threats of attack against protected personnel.”
The list includes 55 armed forces and groups from 14 countries, including 11 new parties in Central African Republic, DRC, Mali and Syria.