Is Syria going the Libyan way?
The spectre of 'no-fly-zone', air strikes, carpet bombing and cruise missiles whizzing ashore from the warships stationed in the Mediterranean is rising over Syria. Damascus has 'crossed the redline,' according to a US set threshold based on what is touted as classified evidence of use of chemical weapons by Assad government on his people. In this line of thinking, a deterrent punitive action against an irreverent Assad regime is considered a compelling necessity.
However, is military intervention as imminent as it is made out to be? From the look of things, it appears that the US, Britain and France may be rushing to action. The rush of blood has been looked with suspicion by spirited Clare Short, a former foreign secretary to Tony Blair's government. She resigned on the issue of Blair joining the US' invasion of Iraq on the unproven ground of existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Saddam's hands. Her position was to be ultimately vindicated by the hoax revealed on the WMD. More important, Britain got sucked into a war tunnel for years that claimed not only precious lives of Britons but the Iraqis' as well.
Now in the case of Syria, Clare Short suspects Israel is up to an insidious Zionist design, if I have heard her correctly over BBC. It has already conducted air strikes inside Syria. Syria too, has threatened to attack Israel if the US carries out air strike on Damascus. At the same time, Hezbollah-Iran-Syria connection is thickening to a plot for regional conflagration on Shi'ia-Sunni sectarian lines. On the other side are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who being Sunni, are supporting the Syrian rebel groups. It is alleged that materials for chemical weapons were supplied by some Sunni governments to Assad who leads the Alwayte, a branch of Shia Islam.
Iran, for its part, has warned of a burning powder keg in the region.
The Western impatience to get a move on in Syria is driven by a preemptive agenda as well as a motive of teaching lesson to an errant dictator who is but walking dead. Part of the spectacle is grandstanding with perhaps the first taste poised to be given of the US' Asian pivot in the Mediterranean waters to whom it may concern.
The facts on the ground provide a breathing space, though. This, in spite of the war drums beating overtime with muscle flexing, sabre-rattling, troops and equipment positioning across the region and beyond.
The respite is made up of some distinct elements which by no means can be short-circuited to produce a resolution for an impulsive unilateral military intervention. It is fundamentally noteworthy such an intervention lacks well-defined purpose because, for all we know, no regime change is being aimed at nor a takeover of the country. How would power vacuum then be filled in when there is no identifiable rebel group or combination of groups which can be chaperoned into a proxy war as the air strikes went on without Western powers committing their troops on the ground till the enemy is reduced to submission?
First and foremost, UN inspection team will take four days to find out traces or clues of either presence of chemical weapons or attack by using them. Then, it will take few more days to analyse and assess the data to reach a conclusion. Russia and China, opposed to military intervention, are also keenly awaiting the inspection team's findings.
Meanwhile, a Security Council meet of the Big Five ended without a resolution that UK tried to put on the table. The Security Council process is likely to take its own time given that Russia or China can singly veto any resolution for deterrent or punitive action. But surely, conclusive positive findings of the IAEA would weigh in for the shape and content of the resolution to emerge from the UN Security Council.
The protagonists of tough action against Syria tend to recall that in the Korean crisis in 1950 when consensus couldn't be arrived at in the Security Council, it got referred to UN General Assembly which by a two-thirds majority passed a resolution for intervention.
That is hardly the option in 2013. This is because even the intent of a deterrent or calibrated intervention of the US and British governments will have rigorous reality checks in their own countries. The hemorrhage, maiming, traumatising and heavy costs exacted by Afghan and Iraq wars remain imprinted on the consciousness of the Western taxpayers and elected public representatives. It won't be a smooth sail for Obama and Cameron as they attempt to elicit the support of MPs and Congressmen for their plan of action. As it is, there is a five-day respite for Obama to participate in G8 Summit. David Cameron is recalling the parliament to consider the emergent issue, which too will take its time. The test, however, is to take Russia and China along with an inclusive diplomacy walking the extra mile.
Our hope, meanwhile, is best conveyed through a Bangla maxim: 'Kill the snake but keep the stick intact.'
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.