Updated Sept. 4, 2013 12:00 PM
The stage is set for an escalation of war in Syria.
The ‘red line’ has been crossed with convincing reports that Assad has resorted to chemical warfare. The US is waiting congressional approval and weighing out an appropriate military response, including air strikes.
Syria is currently the battlefield for clashing ideologies, Gulf state rivalries, cold war drama, Islamic militancy, sectarian political agendas, and the list goes on. Its not the same war the rebels were fighting 2 years ago. And not surprisingly, the group which stands to lose the most from an international war in Syria are the Syrians themselves.
While the US government and its people indulge in heated debate over America’s role as democracy/human rights watchdog and whether it should commit its military might to another conflict when it is trying desperately to get out of another one in Afghanistan, the more urgent matter has remained the same – dead civilians and refugees.
The refugee crisis in Syria has long since reached a dangerous level and human rights organizations have been stressing the problem since the conflict began two-years ago.
Millions have fled their homes and almost 100, 000 people have lost their lives. The UN Refugee Agency announced on Tuesday that Syrians crossing the border to escape violence has crossed the 2 million mark - a shocking number given that there are no signs that the problem will let up anytime soon.
These numbers exclude the millions who are displaced or without a home within Syrian borders.
The United Nations announced not long ago that child refugees have surpassed the 1 million mark. This is the official figure for those who have been registered outside the country so far. What’s worse is that many of these children are being recruited by both sides to fight in Syria – a grave concern according to UN officials.
What does it mean for Syria’s future, when so many of its children languish in refugee camps or take up arms in a bloody war? Afghanistan and Palestine provide two examples of societies that have failed their youth as children have come of age in war and an environment of hate. The generations to come are likely to perpetuate violence and conflict.
The UN also stated that apart from children, women form a large population of refugees and this group is probably the one that is suffering the most. They are being brutally targeted.
According to a January report by the International Rescue Committee, rape was one of the leading reason women were fleeing the country – only to face further sexual exploitation and violence in refugee camps, such as the Zaatari camp in Jordan (more than 130, 000 Syrians).
"There is a tendency to think that once [women] have crossed the border, they are safe," Melanie Megevan told The Guradian. A specialist in gender-based violence at International Rescue Committee charity, she also said that many of these women face a ‘different violence’ once they become refugees.
Rape has been one of the most disturbing weapons used in the Syrian war and yet it has not received close to the same international outcry that chemical warfare has. It is also one of the most underreported crimes because of the nature of conservative society in Syria and the taboos associated with rape.
The assistant U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Erika Feller, highlighted the problem earlier this year when she said that “Reports are revealing that the conflict in Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war to intimidate parties to the conflict destroying identity, dignity and the social fabrics of families and communities.”
While the images from last Wednesday of the alleged chemical attack are difficult to stomach, it is important to take into consideration that if the US were to intervene in Syria the fighting will only increase and we are likely to see many more dead bodies. Who is to say that Assad will stop his use of chemical weapons (if the Syrian regime is in fact responsible)? It may also provide yet another recruiting tool for Islamic militants in the region.
So the question to ask is not whether the international community should intervene militarily, but what will this action mean for Syrians at home and the millions abroad?
The UN is already estimating that by the end of the year half of the population of Syria will be in need of aid. How many more will be added to this number if an international war breaks out in Syria?
This does not go to say that the international community should stand by idly while Assad does whatever he pleases, which seems to be the case. Perhaps the solution should go beyond military intervention because it has not been effective in the past. And it is this US record with intervention that is driving public opinion against intervention is Syria. That and Americans finally realizing that there are more pressing matters at home to tend to. According to a Reuters/lpsos poll, majority of Americans want Washington to stay out of the conflict.
The US-Somalia mission in the 1990s was a catastrophic disaster, which eventually led to the dead bodies of American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Most recently, the war in Iraq is widely known as one that was based on a lie, as Saddam’s regime never possessed any weapons mass destruction. While the next point is highly debatable, it can be said that fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan has yielded less victories for the US and more dead American soldiers. Not to mention the expenditure of trillions of dollars that could have been better spent on a crippling economy at home. Although some would argue that at least the 12-year war led to Osama Bin Laden’s death.
A lesson the US should have learnt by now is that you cant fight an insurgency with military action. Especially not in Syria, where the situation is more complex with the infiltration of Al-Qaeda in the rebel ranks. While Al-Qaeda and other Islamic factions are not exactly fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army, the US has to be cautious with respect to helping even small rebel groups because they risk worsening the situation for themselves.
Strategic self interests aside, with a weak track record with intervention and the transparent agenda-driven politics in clear view, how can the US and its allies justify more fighting in Syria – especially when the lives of so many Syrians are at stake?