Skepticism towards President Obama’s decision to launch a limited military campaign against the Syrian regime is understandable. Ten years after the Iraq war, Syrian Americans have consistently been an integral part of the anti-war movement in the United States. Syrian Americans took part in the strong opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and stood side by side with the anti-war movement against drone strikes on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. As citizens with origins in a region that has terribly seen the results of war for the past century, Syrian Americans are no strangers to the dangers that war can bring and have been some of the greatest voices against it. It is for this reason that when the use of force is supported it must be in a limited and proportional way, to save civilian lives, be legally justified, and as a last resort.
While based upon good intentions, the anti-war movement today may inadvertently be standing with forces that support a continuation of the conflict in Syria. The conflict in Syria has reached a new level after the Syrian regime carried out large-scale chemical weapons attacks on August 21, 2013, killing more than 1,400 people in the suburbs of Damascus. This large scale use of chemical weapons is a serious and dangerous escalation, a bold sign of the regime’s disregard of US warnings, and a clear indication of the regime’s willingness and capacity to engage in future attacks on an even greater scale. This attack came one full year after President Barack Obama on August 20th, 2012 said that the use of chemical weapons on a large scale would be a red line which would require intervention in the Syrian conflict to protect civilians.
War is always a last resort and any type of military action should be proportional and legally justified. The Syrian crisis has gone on for over two and a half years and diplomatic attempts to resolve the conflict have been exhausted and consistently failed, as thousands of people are killed by escalating violence:
- The Arab League sent in monitors in December 2011 under General Ahmad al-Dabi to deter the Syrian government from shooting at peaceful protestors. This monitoring mission failed, the Syrian regime never accepted a full monitoring team into the country, and monitors were not able to prevent massacres in front of their very eyes. The monitoring mission eventually failed and left Syria on January 28th2012.
- The United Nations appointed Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan in February 2012 who tried to enforce a ceasefire and send a United Nations monitoring mission to the country, which was approved on April 21st 2012. The ceasefire immediately broke down on May 25th 2012 when government forces massacred Syrian civilians in Houla, Syria killing 108 people including 34 women and 49 children. The monitors were not able to stop further massacres in front of their very eyes and left the country on August 18th2012.
- After the failure of both the Arab League and United Nations plans, attempts were made to make a diplomatic deal with Russia to reach a mutually agreeable transitional government through a purely political process. On June 30th2012, the United States and Russia agreed upon a “Geneva Accord” which would solve the Syrian crisis through a peace deal between both the rebels and the government. In September 2012, a “Quartet” of countries including Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to provide a diplomatic solution for the Syrian conflict which had completely failed. Again in the summer of 2013, the United States attempted to revive the idea of talks with Russia towards pushing both sides to a political solution announcing a Geneva II peace conference between the government and the rebels which never got off the ground, as the Russian regime continued to provide attack planes to the Assad regime, and Hizbollah intervened on the regime’s behalf. Just last month in August 2013, Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan offered Russia’s President Vladamir Putin millions of dollars in economic trade and concessions in return for ceasing support of the Assad regime and was rejected.
Unlike past conflicts, such as the war in Iraq, the Syria intervention is not a unilateral American adventure but is being actively pushed by foreign countries including Muslim countries. The United Kingdom, France, and Turkey have called upon the international community to act, while the Arab League on September 1st issued a statement calling on international intervention to hold responsible the Assad regime for its chemical weapons attacks against civilians. These countries have called for even further action than is Congress is considering. The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference, a conference of the 57 Islamic states in the world, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, has called for a no-fly-zone to be instituted in Syria. The response will be undergone through legal channels. President Obama is asking the Congress of the United States to authorize the use of force, and the evidence has been in public view and will be debated for weeks. Two and a half years later, we are not rushing into war.
Unlike Iraqis, the Syrian people have pushed for intervention as well. The sight of thousands of Syrians protesting in the streets on hundreds of YouTube videos throughout the past two and a half years should disabuse any of the notion that this is not something that the Syrian people want. As early as September 9th 2011, the Syrian people held a nationwide Friday protest called “The Friday of International Protection,” on October 28th 2011 they held “Friday of the No-Fly-Zone,” on December 2nd 2011 they held “Friday of Safe Zones,” and have called for international protection of civilians since the beginning of the conflict.
Finally, the response is proportional. The options for consideration to respond to the Syrian regime’s usage of chemical weapons include cruise missile strikes that will not involve boots on the ground and will be targeted at military facilities. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted on August 30th, the response will not look like Iraq and Afghanistan, nor will it even look like Libya.
Although you may still remain skeptical of action, non-acting only costs more civilian lives. Just last week in Syria, on September 1st, the Syrian regime launched 43 airstrikes on the country killing dozens of civilians. As Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, and other non-government organizations have documented the use of air power by the Syrian regime against its civilian population is a war crime. Syria is already being bombed but by its own government. The use of chemical weapons by the regime to kill over 1400 civilians is a significant escalation and truly a red line that goes against basic international norms, peace, and human decency. By not acting, the Assad regime and other dictatorships around the world will only be emboldened to use these weapons in large amounts against their civilian populations when their regimes are challenged. Action in Syria will help accelerate a political transition so that the people can begin the difficult and important processes of reconciliation, repatriation, and democratization, in communities across the country. To oppose US action is not to oppose war — it inadvertently supports the status quo, a continuous cycle of violence that is slowly enveloping an entire country of innocent people, and quite possibly the entire region.
We urge you to consider our heartfelt and respectful plea to you and your membership, not to support the status quo, and not to support Assad or partner with those who would have Assad remain in his seat of power to continue waging his war against the people.
Signed, on behalf of the Syrian American
community and in cooperation with the people of Syria,
Dr. Yahya Basha
Chairman, Coalition for a Democratic Syria