For the millions of victims of the Syrian conflict, the very loud international campaign against the chemical strikes in Syria sounds like another outburst from a fickle aristocracy selectively choosing which tragedy among the many wrought on the Syrian population to react to.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its allies in Iran and Russia have committed scores of atrocities in Syria using a panoply of weapons, some of which are internationally banned. But it is attacks by chemical weapons that terrorise the international community. After experiencing the tragedies of many destructive wars, the international community ended up agreeing on a worldwide ban on weapons of mass destruction.
In times of intractable and cruel wars, such as the Syrian conflict, the innocent end up sacrificing themselves and their families in order to end their ordeal. The Aegean Sea bears witness to the horrible scandal of allowing the Syrian regime to escape punishment for transgressing just one of the red lines against using weapons of mass destruction. The regime has received valuable protection from its Iranian and Russian allies, and even from the administration of former US President Barack Obama.
Not long ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin was full of praise for the variety and efficiency of Russian weapons used in Syria. It was as if we were witnessing a marketing campaign for consumer products and insurance policies. Not to be outdone, other weapon manufacturers decided to show off their killing products too in a surreal race to defend human rights in Syria. One side was claiming to protect Syrian civilians from the cruelty of the regime while the other side, notably the Russian one, was claiming to protect the “legitimate government” from the savagery of the majority of the Syrian population.
Some of the chemical components in the deadly gases can also be found in non-military uses of the chemicals. Chloride, for example, is also used in insecticides. So for chemical weapons manufacturers and users, not much of a difference exists between humans and insects; they can both be wiped out in the same way.
As soon as the US, Britain and France hinted at retaliating against the Syrian regime, Putin said he hoped “common sense will prevail” in the realm of international affairs. It sounded as if Russia’s might was in need of an equal or superior might to show it the limits of its bloody intervention in Syria.
Russia’s endorsement of common sense in settling international conflicts came a little late. In Astana, for example, Russia had expected to end the conflict in Syria on its own terms. That meant consecrating its occupation of Syria and switching the balance of power there in favour of its beloved “legitimate government.” That same government had no qualms about using chemical weapons to end the standoff in Eastern Ghouta. Russia itself had no qualms about ignoring the UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Ghouta to deliver assistance to the civilian population held hostage there. Paradoxically, Russia voted in favour of that resolution.
Russia’s beef with Europe and the US is not in Syria. It regards the international sanctions imposed against it. Putin was hoping that the sudden escalation in Syria would bring about a “commonsensical” change in the Trump administration’s big stick approach. But it is not working. Now Russia has to choose between reacting as a new contemporary Russia or resorting to the reflexes of the defunct Soviet and imperial Russia, similar to those of the stubborn and backward regime in Iran.
Both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin love to show off. It is in their blood and their professional CVs announce a big and imminent showdown on the Syrian stage. For its part, the Syrian regime is addicted to power and won’t let go of it easily.
The escalation against the Syrian regime this time around is quite serious but it must be interpreted within the context of the coming revision of the Iran nuclear deal, which is only one month away. The situation in Syria and the Middle East is boiling. Iran’s militias are behaving hysterically in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen while Russia continues to accuse the US, France and Britain of breaking international law. Everybody is waiting to see if Russian “common sense” will prevail in settling international relations.
In short, the Syrian people deserve better from the international community than a small bandage as if they are helpless prey left alive for the hunting pleasure of the regime.
Hamed al-Kilani is an Iraqi writer
© The Arab Weekly