Indian Americans have made considerable inroads professionally and are making a significant impact politically at the local, state and national levels. As a community, we often bring a unique perspective to U.S. domestic and foreign policy issues. This is my reading of the events on and about Syria.
It started with the White House launching a “flood the zone” blitz campaign to persuade a skeptical Congress to authorize a limited bombing of Syria. It released a military resolution that authorized the President to use armed forces “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria.”
The Assad regime must be comforted by the United States position as this gives them the green light to kill as many of the Syrian opposition forces—with little danger of United States intervention—if they do not use chemical weapons. The slaughter of 100,000 did not invoke such an outrage but the death of 1,400—has invoked moral indignation.
It is puzzling to understand how we have suddenly become paragons of virtue in excoriating the Assad regime. There is little doubt that Assad, like his father, is a brutal dictator. But have we forgotten the dark chapters of our own history? The nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that vaporized tens of thousands of innocent civilians; carpet bombing of Vietnam with Agent Orange; the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium in Iraq; aiding and abetting Saddam Hussein in his chemical attacks on the Iranians and Kurds?
The London Independent reported that the British Government was under fire for “breathtaking laxity” in its arms controls after it emerged that officials authorized the export to Syria of two chemicals capable of being used to make a nerve agent such as sarin a year ago, allowing a British company export licenses for the dual-use substances … in 2012.” It certainly seems that profits triumph human life.
A United States attack would likely rekindle collective memories of outrage of previous Western hegemonic attacks. The bogus claims of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs followed by the United States’ “shock and awe” attacks on Iraq is deeply seared into Arab minds who are highly distrustful of our humanitarian intervention claims.
Several questions arise out of Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress. How did U.S. intelligence come up with such a precise number of fatalities of 1,429 including 426 children? A United Nations report claimed 734 people died in the chemical attacks and a further 3,600 were injured.” Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, challenged Kerry’s death toll statistics charging that he had been “sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number.”
In another stranger twist, a freelance journalist, Dale Gavlak, was credited with an article claiming to have interviewed a number of rebels who admitted they received chemical weapons from Saudi Arabia. They further admitted they had little knowledge of its capability and accidently triggered the explosions that led to the tragic loss of life. But once the article was published, Ms. Gavlak denied having written it. She indicated that the article was written by Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian and “a reputable journalist.” Further, according to a New York Times article, “Ms. Gavlak told The Lede (a Times blogging site) that she has been suspended by The Associated Press as a result of the article.” If it is true that the Syrian rebels were behind the chemical explosions, it erodes United States’ credibility and tarnishes Obama’s leadership.
Mark Seibel of McClatchy argues that a U.S strike would have unintended consequences by strengthening the more extremist elements of the opposition, namely, al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which are al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations. These groups have been at the forefront of all major attacks against Assad’s government forces.
Most disturbing is the reported in-fighting, rebel-on rebel, among opposition forces with Al Qaeda forces determined to kill Syrian resistance fighters in an operation they have dubbed “expunging filth.”
Fortunately, the cards are being shuffled once again. Assad has now agreed to destroy his stockpile of chemical weapons and has given President Obama a much needed lifeline to postpone a potential defeat by Congress. Vladimir Putin, whose New York Times op-ed article reeked of hypocrisy in projecting himself as the guardian of human rights and justice, nevertheless, deflated the United States self-promoted claim of being “exceptional.” A country that has incarcerated more people than the rest of the world, where educational standards have declined precipitously, a nation that is experiencing horrific acts of gun violence and whose government is paralyzed with indecision by its deeply entrenched ideology can hardly merit the mantle of “exceptionalism.”
With the President’s recent address at the United Nations, it is clear that Putin’s words rankled. Obama remarked that the United States was still an “exceptional” leader of the world, since America was not afraid to intervene when necessary. He urged the Security Council to take on the task of monitoring and destroying the chemical weapons surrendered by Assad, as outlined by Russia, acknowledging that his shifting positions on Syria had resulted in anxiety in the region. He assured the assembled leaders that we would “use all elements of our power, including military force to defend our interests in the region.”
The brokered agreement on destroying chemical weapons may be largely irrelevant to Syrians who are being killed by AK-47s, missiles and bombs. Valerie Amos, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, estimates seven million Syrians are in critical need of aid. In a twitter post she reiterated “the importance of diplomacy and discussion, rather than war.”
Jagjit Singh is a retired computer professional. He is an active member of Amnesty International and is a founder and director of a non-profit company Aid for Indian Development which supports numerous charities in India. He is an avid writer.