By Dr Cesar Chelala
At the St. Petersburg meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) of developed and developing economies, President Barak Obama faced growing opposition on his decision to go to war with Syria by almost all world leaders, with the exception of France’s President. At a critical moment in that conflict, President Obama would be wise to follow the world leaders’ advice.
In addition to world leaders, Pope Francis urged President Obama to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” and invited the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and people of other faith to join him in prayer to end the Syrian war. Obama was only supported by France whose Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, stated, “We are convinced that if there is no punishment for Mr. Assad, there will be no negotiation.”
Faced with this opposition, President Obama is renewing his efforts to gain the support of the US Congress. However, one cannot fail to realise that Democratic and Republican leaders, who have been unable to reach consensus on issues directly affecting Americans’ health and well being, are now united in their support for war.
There is no universal agreement on who carried the poison gas attacks in Damascus. While the US is convinced that the attack was carried out by the Assad government forces, Russian President Vladimir Putin says that rebel forces may have been responsible and warned the US that a military strike without the UN Security Council’s approval would violate international law.
Putin has found strong support for this point of view among the leaders gathered at St. Petersburg, and also by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stressed that there is only a political solution to the conflict. Both Beijing and Moscow will probably oppose any decision favouring a military strike on Syria.
Those opposing the US attacks on Syria point out that the US itself has engaged in the use of horrific chemical weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan. They indicate that US troops in Iraq used white phosphorus, which is a chemical weapon that causes severe burns and deaths, in cities such as Fallujah, where it has left scores of children born with birth defects.
“Iraq is poisoned. Thirty-five million Iraqis wake up every morning to a living nightmare of childhood cancers, adult cancers and births defects. Familial cancers, cluster cancers and multiple cancers in the same individual have become frequent in Iraq,” states Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist born in Iran who has carried out toxicological research in Iraq.
Opposition to a “limited” strike on Syria is high among Americans. Fifty-nine percent of registered voters expressed opposition, while just thirty-six percent supported intervention in Syria. A Washington Post assessment concludes, “There is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey.”
Some members of the Syrian opposition are against all violence and indicate, as a former rebel soldier said in a recent radio interview, “The regime is mad, but not that mad. They wouldn’t do this the same day that the United Nations inspectors were arriving in Damascus.”
In the meantime, President Obama is facing opposition from members of his own party, particularly African Americans and members of the party’s liberal wing, who are expressing their deepest reservations against military action against Syria. And Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Florida, stated “Nobody wants this except the military-industrial complex.”
This is happening at the same time that the brutality of Syrian rebels is posing a dilemma to those who favour strikes against the regime. A recent video smuggled out of Syria by a former rebel who grew disgusted with the killings show that many rebels have adopted some of the same brutal tactics as the Syrian regime. The video shows how a rebel commander killed in cold blood seven government soldiers, firing bullets into the back of the prisoners’ heads.
There is an option to the current situation, which had been basically agreed on by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but so far refused by some Syrian rebel groups: Western/Russian efforts for a cessation of hostilities and arms shipments from all quarters to both sides in the conflict as a prelude to further discussions on peace in the region.
Eliot A. Cohen, who directed the US Air Force’s study of the Persian Gulf War stated at the time, “Air power is an unusually seductive form of military strength, in part because, like modern courtship, it appears to offer gratification without commitment.” Strikes against Syria will offer no gratification, and much commitment.
Dr Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.