hree years now, one hundred thousand people - children, women and men; still counting - dead. Over two million refugees. Too much pressure on fragile and combustible neighbours: Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, etc. Billions of dollars, and counting, poured by the world through its undertaker-in-chief - the United Nations. And recently, nearly two thousand people have been permanently cut down, with their lives snuffed out by chemical nerve agent suspected to be sarin. The pictures are horrific and chilling; the scenes are gory. Mothers, children, men, women, youth lay waste like chicken, neither fit for composting nor for vultures. It is a stuff of whodunit. Chances are that they were murdered by their own government, whose primary obligation is to protect them. It could well be they were victimized by the opposition whose brutality is as worrisome as those of the al-Assad regime. And what would be reason for the opposition to do that? Answer: Conceivably, to draw the United States and the rest of the world out of their reluctance and into the Syrian crisis. Especially, the United States since the unleashing of chemical war fare would be crossing President Obama's "red line".
Why is the United States now inevitably drawn into the Syrian crisis in a do-and-be-damned and do-not-and-be-damned situation? It started with Mr. Obama's uttering of the ominous phrase "crossing the red line"; a reference to potential use of chemical weapon by Syria's Assad, which development Obama promised would attract some consequences. I advance further a number of reasons for America's dilemma on Syria. First, the current American President, Mr. Obama, unlike his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush is not a known war monger. Second, he is inclined to work within the United Nations framework. Third, America is war-fatigued and lethargic and its allies and members of the coalition of the wiling such as Britain and most of Europe have recently demonstrated the same mood. America has yet to finish its military exposure to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Its economy is still vulnerable. The American public has a very strong reason to be sceptical when its government advances reasons for going to war. The false intelligence over Saddam Hussein's alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction is still fresh in the memories of most Americans and their politicians. Even if Obama and his cabinet were right , as they claim, that Assad used chemical weapon against innocent Syrians, the credibility gap between the American public and their government has yet to close in regard to going to war.
Perhaps more importantly, the Syrian crisis has the trappings of a sectarian conflict that is both local and regional as evident in the alignments that reflect the evident sectarian cracks in the Arab region in regard to Syria. So, Syria does not reflect the essentials that propelled a number of countries of the 'Arab Spring', including Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, etc. Such scenario leaves the Syrian situation with potential for regional combustion and unpredictable outcome. Fourth, Syria is seriously aligned with America's official and unofficial enemies and rivals, notably Iran, China and Russia. The return of Vladimir Putin to the centre stage of Russian politics has not helped a bit as he continues to nurse his sadistic delusion of Cold War revival and anti-American sentiments. Russia and China have continued to court America's enemies and propping up dictatorships not on the basis of any competing ideology save to shore up their regional sphere of influence and to nurse old sentiments.
As Syria becomes the chessboard of a fragmenting world order, one cannot but wonder on what basis America is planning to launch a military strike and what objectives any such strikes could serve, not to mention its consequences. America cites the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. The official administrator of the Convention is the little known Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which has remained press shy so far. The Convention outlaws the use of chemical weapons and commits parties to destroy their chemical arsenals and to cease developing new ones. But it does not authorise a unilateral action by any country to enforce its provisions. That would be a matter that can be taken up by the United Nations Security Council. Both Russia and China have used their veto power consistently to make it impossible to hold the Assad regime accountable. The Security Council gate is now closed to the United States in regard to its professed intention to coerce Assad and hold him accountable.
Obama and his Democratic Party colleagues were quite critical of George Bush and the Republican Party's inclination for unilateral action and lack of patience in forging global consensus on matters of war and external aggression. Now, they are courting Republicans and the latter's war hawks, such as Senator John McCain. Obama and his like-minded Democrats are now in a position to appreciate America's frustration with the United Nations. The problem is that the United Nations and its Security Council is not structured to serve the cause of global justice, peace, and security. It is a fraud, essentially designed to advance the fluctuating regional interests of the permanent members of the Security Council at the expense of the rest of the world. That is the reason the Council is permanently deadlocked and has since reduced the United Nations to a global undertaker-in-chief.
America's frustration with the United Nations also feeds United Nations frustration with America. The same America that is eager to engage Syria's Assad was not willing to sanction or otherwise attack Saddam Hussein's Iraq when Saddam used chemical weapon against the Kurds and other elements in Iraq because then he was America's friend. The same America that is willing to punish Assad did not subscribe to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) and have lobbied willing countries not to come on board to ensure justice for potential American war criminals. America is happy to have Liberia's Charles Taylor, Kenya's President Kenyatta, Sudan's Omar Bashir, even Syria's Bashar al-Assad handed over and tried at the ICC but it is not willing to even give up a deranged element from its combat missions who has committed a war crime, let alone its President or high political leadership whose conduct may make them candidates fit for arraignment before the ICC. One can go on and on to tease out the historically rootedness of America's selective justice and contradictions that has long been justified under the doctrine of American exceptionalism. The truth is that when justice is selective, when conducts are dictated by parochial and shifting national interests, it is very hard to continuously dress them up in the guise of pursuit of liberty and freedom as America often does. American's loneliness is not only a necessity of its being a lone superpower; it is also a consequence of its double-faced role in global affairs.
In the present case of Syria, why is America not willing to commit to a regime change? Does death by chemical weapon and death by other weapons of war fare not all result in the end of life for the victims? If America was to start the proposed "limited", "surgical", and "targeted" bombing of Syria and then withdraw - just to teach Assad that he cannot use chemical weapon against his people, what would be the essence of such a "message"? I think that it would just mean this: "Assad please chose a more acceptable way of killing your people and it would be fine by us and the rest of our allies". Such an absurdity has been the reason, perhaps, why America has yet to act on Syria and have long been waiting for a red line to be crossed, and hoping that it never gets crossed. It could also be that as evident in the public debates in that country, lately, that America's ego and that of its President is on a different political line since Obama had promised consequences if Assad crossed the red line by using chemical weapon against his people. Consequently, America's potential campaign against Syria may well be a face-saving adventure designed to redeem its ego. Yet another, perhaps more credible, theory of America's proposed limited intervention is that it is not sure of the consequences of such a campaign or what would result from a regime change in Syria for the entire region. Also, perhaps America is interested in gauging the mood of Russia and other Syrian allies and may make a regime change contingent upon factors that are not know at this point it time. Head or tail, America is not in an enviable position in regard to Syria. If it does anything, it is damned; if it does nothing it is still damned. Obama must have really regretted uttering and drawing "a red line", a phrase that has since become his albatross.
The Syrian crisis continues to expose the fragility of a fragmenting world order and the reality of America's dwindling influence as a lone super power. Unlike most American technocrats would admit, America's interests would be better served if it commits to and follows through with a radical reorganization of the United Nations and its Security Council. In a fairly reorganized United Nations system, America would still have strong moral credit than Russia and China and most other pretenders on the global stage. For Mr. Obama and his Democratic folks, the lesson here is that American foreign policy is neither consistent nor predictable. There is hardly an obvious Democratic or Republic response, everything else in contingent.
What is the use bombing Syria without committing to a regime change? America's dilemma over Syria might yet me messier; all eyes are on the Congress and whatever Mr. Obama makes of what the Congress decides. Meanwhile, America's war posturing in the last two weeks is hardly of any comfort to suffering Syrians and their neighbours who are now contending with escalating refugee crisis.