Last Wednesday, footage was released from Syria showing what many believed to be a chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus. Reports differ on how many were killed, from a few hundred to over a thousand. It is not even known whether it was definitively a chemical attack or who the perpetrator was. Regardless of what is and isn’t known, the United States, France and Britain seem to be ready to strike at the Syrian government and help the opposition overthrow Bashar al-Assad. United States naval ships have moved into the Mediterranean in anticipation of military conflict and both Britain and France have noted the necessity of military force in Syria if chemical weapons have indeed been used. The question posed to the world now is not whether Assad should go but whether Western intervention should be used to remove him.
The Western powers have described intervention in Syria as a moral duty. Gassing civilian populations cannot be condoned and the United States cannot allow it to continue. However, the United States can allow the Syrian opposition to commit war crimes and continue to help it overthrow Assad. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted earlier this year that the opposition is believed to use torture, extra-judicial killings and desecration of bodies as war tactics. All of these are war crimes. Yet, it is these groups that the West is attempting to help into power. Additionally, Carla del Ponte, a UN Human Rights investigator told Swiss TV that victim testimony pointed to the rebels being the perpetrators of the recent chemical attack. Although the panel has not yet made a definitive conclusion on who perpetrated the attacks, it would seem as if the minds of Obama, Cameron and Hollande are already made up. The Western powers do not care about whom commits human rights violations; they care only about who they want in power.
Looking at the United States’ track record, this is easy to support. The United States has overthrown countless democratically elected administrations and replaced them with dictators. Amid the reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, a little noted article from Foreign Policy reported that the United States supported Saddam Hussein while he was using chemical weapons on Iran. There is no guarantee that Western intervention in Syria would end the human rights violations of Bashar al-Assad; it would only guarantee that the new regime would be loyal to the United States.
The United States has been using the Arab Spring idea to promote regime change in North Africa and the Middle East. It has coopted actual struggles and rebellions in order to stabilize its hegemony in the region. Look at both Egypt and Libya as examples. Egypt has been a US ally since Anwar Sadat came to power. The US provides billions of dollars to the Egyptian military every year. When the Egyptian revolution erupted, it was the Egyptian military that stepped in a deposed Hosni Mubarak. Earlier this year when the Egyptian people took to the streets to protest Mohamed Morsi, it was the Egyptian military that again stepped in to depose him. One reason that the United States has an interest in quelling unrest in Egypt and putting in a loyal regime is the Suez Canal. Too much traffic goes through the canal to allow for disruptions. Additionally, the United States military uses the Suez Canal in order to move its ships into the area. If the Suez Canal was closed, it could mean a lack of US military presence in the region. Also, Egypt is a regional hegemon and allowing the country to ally itself closely with China and Russia might destabilize the United States’ hold over the region.
Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was a brutal leader, but the United States accepted him as the country’s leader while Gaddafi was an ally in the War on Terror. However, when Gaddafi wanted to nationalize the oil production in Libya, that’s when the United States turned on him and supported the Libyan rebels (also alleged to have committed war crimes) through funds, weapons and airstrikes.
The West does not intervene in conflicts without a purpose. There a plenty of war crimes happening all throughout the world, but they do not attract the attention of Western powers. What is it about Syria? Oil is one factor and security is another. Although Syria produces only 1% of the world’s oil, its continuing civil war has an effect on the oil market. Installing a stable government could return the market to normal. Syria has also been a haven for forces seeking to fight against Israel. Israel is a major ally to the United States because it is a hegemon in its own region. With a loyal government in Syria, a crackdown on those forces could be instituted, increasing Israel’s security, and in turn, increasing the security of the US.
Assad is not a peaceful leader by any stretch of the imagination and this is why the choice of ‘leave Assad be’ and ‘support Western intervention’ looks so easy. If we want to remove a bad person, we support the forces that will remove him. But the real situation is much more complicated. Removing Assad may not end the violence inflicted on Syria. The rebels are not innocent themselves. It may be hard for people to accept the suggestion that we allow the situation in Syria to continue, and it’s definitely hard to suggest it. But Western intervention does not have as its aim stopping violence. It only has an aim to replace the figure of power. To support Western intervention does nothing for the people of Syria. It just makes the violence committed condoned by the United States.