By: Elias Harfoush
If President Bashar al-Assad has succeeded in anything throughout his confrontation with his people and most of the international community, it is the transformation he caused in the way of thinking of President Barack Obama’s administration toward this crisis, and the possibilities of witnessing military intervention.
We are thus facing a new Obama whom we did not know during his first term and the first year of his second term. Indeed, Obama was reluctant to implicate his troops in any military action outside his country’s border, knowing he came to the White House with a promise to pull out the American forces from the regions in which they became involved under George Bush’s administration, especially Iraq and Afghanistan. And until a few days ago, Obama was still reiterating his cautious position while responding to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in the Damascus countryside. He clearly said in his last interview with CNN: “The United States continues to be the one country that people expect can do more than just simply protect their borders. But that does not mean that we have to get involved with everything immediately… We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long-term national interests,” adding: “Sometimes what we've seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.”
So, what changed in the last few days and pushed Obama to adopt a decision to place the use of force on the table to sanction the Syrian regime?
In his statements to the BBC yesterday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel summarized the reasons behind this shift by saying that most of the United States’ allies were fully convinced and had little doubt about the fact that the Syrian regime violated the basic international humanitarian standard by using chemical weapons against its people, assuring that any response by the United States will be done in agreement with the international organization and within the limits of international law.
In light of such an international climate and pressures of such extent, it was impossible for the United States to continue upholding its reluctant position towards the adoption of a firm decision in the face of the escalating conflict in Syria, the level of violence it has reached, and the regime’s disregard for its citizens’ lives. Indeed, neither the international responsibilities resting on the United States’ shoulders nor the role played by Barack Obama as the commander of the greatest military power in the world, allows idleness in the face of this ongoing tragedy that has started to threaten the security of the entire Middle East region.
In response to the international coalition taking shape to sanction it, the Syrian regime is claiming to be innocent from the chemical weapons charges. However, the Syrian regime, like any other, is responsible for the protection of the lives of its civilian citizens. And if it cannot carry out this task and prevent the genocide being perpetrated on its soil (while disregarding the perpetrators), it becomes the obligation of the international community to intervene and put an end to these atrocities, without any regard for the domestic sovereignty pretext which is being used by many criminal regimes to protect their right to commit massacres.
This is the principle that has become known as R2P (responsibility to protect), which was ratified during the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 and by which the international community is responsible towards Mass Atrocity Crimes wherever they are committed. The international community is based on the respect of a number of humanitarian principles, at the head of which is the necessity to ensure the right circumstances for the protection of civilian lives whenever they are violated, whether by the regimes supposed to be protecting them or by foreign powers attacking them.
The atrocities committed by the Syrian regime in its confrontation with the opposition exceeded all levels of violence and murder possibly committed by any regime. As for the use of chemical weapons in the two Ghoutas of Damascus, it dissipated all the illusions which some still had in regard to the impossibility for Bashar al-Assad to go so far! It would be enough to go over the series of massacres to learn he could as far, even farther, considering that the regime which – along with its allies – takes pride in the fact that it does not mind setting the region on fire to remain in power, would not hesitate to burn the two Ghoutas of Damascus, especially if this could limit the number of children who will grow up to be oppositionists.