By Baria Alamuddin*
Around 100 Syrians were gassed last week when President Bashar Assad’s genocidal regime showered chemical weapons on citizens, including children. How will the international community respond?
We have not forgotten the 2013 chemical attacks in Ghouta, when around 1,000 people were killed while then-US President Barack Obama humiliatingly admitted that America’s red lines would not be enforced. The repeated use of these weapons proves that efforts to destroy Assad’s chemical arsenal have achieved nothing.
Power comes with obligation. Negligent officials in civilized nations who fail to protect their citizens should be held accountable. Who will hold UN Security Council members to account for negligence for failing to prevent massacres of hundreds of thousands of Syrians?
Britain and France shrug and say it is all too difficult. Russia is a party to the killing, and shamelessly tells blatant lies to protect its bloodthirsty allies. China hides behind Russia. Security Council sessions are an embarrassing farce played out before the world.
Even if this dysfunctional Council issues condemnation, are we supposed to applaud? Are those Syrians lying in hospital with lungs shredded by chemical burns supposed to feel vindicated? Such a lethargic response is beyond parody.
US President Donald Trump appears unsure how to react. Despite condemning Obama for “weakness,” in 2013 he said military force should not be used. Until recently he was indicating that Assad was a necessary bulwark against Daesh.
An emboldened Assad thus believed he had carte blanche to slaughter the children of Idlib, even striking hospitals full of the dying. Trump says the massacre of Syrian children has caused him to change his mind about Assad. What does this mean?
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. During the Nuremburg trials after World War II, German officials were condemned for failing to prevent crimes against humanity. How have UN leading members, responsible for guaranteeing global security, done differently? Can there be no accountability for such catastrophic negligence?
Just as we have seen octogenarian former Nazis plucked out of hiding and put on trial for war crimes, Assad will remain a war criminal until he departs this earth. Clinging on to power must not allow him to escape justice. Those who act for the International Criminal Court (ICC) must relentlessly pursue those responsible for Syria’s suffering, including those whose negligence allowed genocide to occur.
It grieves me as a journalist when Syrians ask me why the world shows such indifference and fatigue over their plight. What more can we in the media do to make every right-thinking person demand action?
American leaders wonder why rogue states provoke them. Syria is the reason why power-hungry dictators feel emboldened. Because tens of thousands of children can be slaughtered with impunity and gassed with sarin in Syria, Iran knows that America’s “red lines” are meaningless. Tehran is the de facto power in Syria today, every bit as responsible for the killing as the regime.
Because of Syria, Israel knows it can get away with murder. North Korea knows it can pursue its nuclear and ballistic programs. The global system is too dysfunctional to act. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a nobody with a second-rate army and nostalgia for Soviet-era expansionism. Yet NATO’s inability to challenge him has emboldened him to live out his fantasies of meddling wherever he chooses.
The failure of the Security Council’s permanent members to take their conflict-resolution mandate seriously in Syria, again and again, allows militias, terrorist cells, separatists, warlords, rogue states and jihadists to proliferate with impunity worldwide.
Without Syria, Daesh would not have had the strategic depth in 2014 to overrun half of Iraq. Failure to take a zero-tolerance approach to state collapse in Syria means dozens of states today are in various stages of fragmentation and simmering anarchy. Either we have an effective system of international justice, offering security and accountability, or the world is governed by the Machiavellian logic of “might is right.”
Syria is a perfect storm of crises: Mass displacement; arms proliferation, terrorism, radicalization and humanitarian catastrophe. Instead of acknowledging that greater resources, capacity and multilateral engagement are urgently necessary, the West shrugs its shoulders. Electorates are voting for those who can build bigger walls, not those with the vision to act.
The world looks increasingly scary to people in the West, so they shut their eyes and hope it will go away. Even the Arab world is becoming more inclined to avert its eyes. This will not go away. The regional ramifications of the Syrian crisis escalate year-on-year, and will ultimately engulf us all. The failure to act is ours collectively. Isolationism is the strategy of burying one’s head in the sand. When you do so while the tide is coming in, you will drown.
*Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.