If you haven’t been following the news in the last week, you need to take a break from Instagramming photos of block parties (even though it was a nice one, Beta) to get up to speed on the rapidly evolving U.S. policy toward Syria and the background of this tragedy. If you don’t know where to begin, Al Jazeera’s “Best of the Web: Syrian War” offers a great overview of the situation and the events as they unfold.
This is my seventh piece regarding the conflict in Syria. This crisis isn’t new. It began in May 2011 and although various parties dispute the current death toll, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights estimates that over 110,000 people, over 40,000 of them innocent civilians, have died.
If those numbers doesn’t make you incredibly uncomfortable, the 4,000 women and 5,800 children included in them certainly should.
The world has seen genocides before, atrocities committed that horrifying crimes against humanity, but this one is different.
It’s not depicted through foreign correspondents and professional photojournalists. It’s coming to the world in real time, through blurry snapshots taken from smartphones and Tweets on the ground from the few daring journalists who remain near the conflict.
It’s not isolated, leaving its people to suffer quietly. It’s on the verge of engulfing much of the region, and their aiding superpowers. Because it’s happening under the glaring spotlight of social media and international attention, Syria isn’t an Iraq, isn’t a Vietnam, isn’t an Afghanistan.
It isn’t a conflict of questionable origins or ambiguities of weapons of mass destruction. There is sufficient evidence, supported by global organizations that Assad used sarin gas to slaughter his own people.
The red line of chemical warfare was not one invented by Barack Obama, but instead by the international community. In 1925, Syria signed the Geneva Protocol, prohibiting “the use of chemical and biological weapons,” according to the U.N. This is why Obama said Wednesday “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line,” according to CNN.
Regardless of what side of the political fence you’re on, in this circumstance, Obama is right. Grotesque violations of human rights and blatant disregard for international law call for a response, or we allow Bashar al-Assad to believe he can act with impunity and continue to mercilessly kill his own people.
This makes U.S. policy incredibly difficult. Only 29 percent of the American public approves of air strikes on Syria, according to Pew Research. Equally precarious, France is our only European ally explicitly supporting air strikes, according to USA Today. Most disturbing of all, we are on the edge of air strikes, of supporting a group that we don’t fully understand. The ambiguity of the Syrian rebels makes the actual method of intervention equally ambiguous, but necessary in some form.
Keeping this in mind, President Obama and Congress should not compare Syria to Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam but it should remember these previous experiences to better strategize a way to liberate the struggling Syrian people without empowering a radical, violent Islamic faction. This is their real task, one much larger than the question of simple air strikes.
Our task, as the American people, is to decide where politics coincide with morality.
When, if at all, do we as a superpower have a moral obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves? When do we not only speak support for those wanting freedom, but act upon those words?
How high does a death toll climb before we’re too uncomfortable to sit still?
I am not eager to see American lives even slightly endangered in another Middle Eastern conflict. I am incredibly worried about a Russian response to an American airstrike, as Russia is Syria’s greatest benefactor.
These concerns are deeply troubling, but even more so is inaction. To not act is to not back our threats to the Assad regime, and to fall short of the principles to which we ascribe as a nation founded on supporting freedom.
I, with many other people, including likely many in our government and many in Syria, wish that diplomacy could singlehandedly provide resolution, but there’s no way to longer be diplomatic with a government that systematically kills its own people.
As the time drags on, more people suffer at the hands of a violently oppressive regime. How much longer will other countries let them? Will it be indefinite? In the words of our president, “Are we going to try to find a reason not to act? And if that’s the case, then I think the (world) community should admit it.”