People worldwide can be forgiven for their sense of bewilderment at the constant back and forth between military and diplomatic solutions to the crisis in Syria. We've now been at this long enough for commentators to reverse their positions depending on the most recent developments. But there is one group -- a huge one -- for whom none of this really matters: refugees.
Conservatives are telling a skeptical public that Canada won't be significantly involved in any military action. Yet, ten days ago the head of the Canadian military met generals from some of the main countries backing Syria's rebels to discuss the prospects of building an international coalition force. In another sign of Canada's deepening involvement in the Syrian conflict the National Post and Ottawa Sun recently reported that Canada has funnelled $5.3-million to the Syrian rebels' propaganda efforts since April of last year.
If we subscribe to that old Washington truism that all it takes to be a "foreign policy expert" in America is to "enjoy talking about foreign policy," it's striking how little consensus within that class there seems to be on the matter of reigning in the murderous killocracy of President Bashar al-Assad.
The G20 summit this week, and the growing Syrian catastrophe, underscores the reality that we are living in a G-zero world. The bonds that once held nations together have severed, and there is nothing close to an international consensus on any hot-button matter being discussed today. Welcome to the G-Zero world, where we exist in a geopolitical power vacuum as the west declines and emerging nations (China, India) concentrate on their own domestic problems. It may be this way for a long while.
The U.S. military has targets picked out in Syria and President Obama is trying to convince Congress that America needs to intervene. If the U.S. does go ahead with tactical strikes against the Assad regime, oil markets will be caught in the middle. Any significant reduction in exports will be felt in the rest of the world.
Obama's "small footprint" action will, even if authorized by Congress, likely produce no advantageous consequence vis-à-vis American interests in Syria, but could illicit all of the bad consequences that are inevitably associated with acts of war. As the sports types say, he should go big or stay home.
As the debate rages over the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) and the possibility of US military intervention in Syria to punish the Assad regime and his Iranian supported Hezbollah fighters for the use of chemical weapons, against ethnic minorities, there exists one thing we can do today to really help.
If there is no outside intervention in Syria, the prospect of a stable Syria coming out of this conflict seems increasingly remote. What may well be the eventual outcome is a fractured country with different Sunni, Alawite, Christian, and Shiite forces creating their own safe havens within the country's borders. We have seen this before, and it rarely ends well.
Prime Minister Harper's stance on Syria seems to be a textbook instance of boring second-fiddleism. Like a good backup musician, the PM's endorsed the idea that "Western military action" should be taken against the blood-and-poison-soaked regime of Bashar al-Assad, which in practice means supporting President Obama's promised plan to bomb select Syrian sites at some uncertain time in the uncertain future. And like a good bore, Harp's also emphasized that said support will entail precisely no Canadian military contribution whatsoever.
As thoroughly unpalatable as it is to sit back and watch the horrific murder of innocents without doing something to help, it's difficult to see how a military strike on Syria will do anything to stop the violence, though it would almost certainly add to it, and could realistically help spread it beyond the country's borders. Is making a public moral statement a good enough reason for initiating military action when there's precious little chance of the action contributing to peace? It's a question the United States will have to answer in the coming days.
The Assad regime continues to kill indiscriminately in a desperate effort to regain control. The merciless army it has deployed to wipe out dissent is destroying entire rebel-held towns. The horrifying chemical weapons attacks it most likely carried out on innocent civilians may be only a terrible prelude to more massacres.
The international community has not only failed to live up to its responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes but its very inaction has encouraged escalating criminality by the Assad regime. With the crossing of the red line on chemical weapons use refocusing international attention on Syria, we risk losing credibility -- and more Syrians risk losing their lives -- should we not start now taking meaningful action to protect civilians in Syria. To that end, it is critically important that any intervention adhere to the requirements of international law.
Earlier this week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden decried the use of chemical weapons on "defenceless men, women and children" in Syria. As someone who works for an international aid and development agency looking out for children, something is deadly certain to me: Those children have been defenceless ever since the war in Syria began.