Charlottesville, Virginia- MWN
Does it not seem like every news outlet is pulling its hair out about the US Congressional vote on military intervention in Syria? While this focus is understandable, given what’s at stake, I cannot help thinking that we are getting this debate entirely wrong. While discussing American opinions on US intervention in Syria is essential, where is the opinion of the Syrian people in this discussion? Where do the Syrian people come down on the US intervening to help the opposition?
All that I’m hearing is how the American public is against military intervention and that the US Congress will likely vote no based on the current vote counts. According to the US News and World report polls, Syria is “the most unpopular war in 20 years,” and just 36% of Americans approve of President Obama’s proposed military strikes to weaken the Assad regime.
The international nature of this conflict cannot be overstated. Sorting out who supports who is a challenge in itself. Russia is against military strikes until more conclusive and objective evidence of chemical weapon use by the Assad regime and army surfaces. The big stickler is found in the lack of UN support, and this is where Russia is key. Furthermore, UK Prime Minister David Cameron was brought down a peg or two when the Parliament voted against his proposal for intervention in Syria. Altogether, NATO and the UN have not supported military intervention in Syria, along with a historically staunch American ally. This hesitancy from both the American and British publics come from the bitter taste left after a decade long disaster with military intervention in Iraq, and Obama’s historical request for Congressional approval is a direct and positive result of this.
This only gets the conversation going. Turkey, Canada, Australia, and others support the US proposal, along with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, who have been supporting the rebels for some time, with an eye on Iran. Israel has also been lobbying members of Congress in support of the military strike, also with an eye on Iran. Yet I can’t help notice that the only Arab countries you hear about in this equation are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who both support the opposition. Why is there not more discussion on the overall Arab League opinion, which espouse UN backed intervention, and most alarming, why have there been such little discussion on the opinions of Syrians??
The Arab League foreign ministers stated in a meeting in Cairo that “The United Nations and the international community are called upon to assume their responsibilities in line with the UN Charter and international law by taking the necessary deterrent measures.” However even with lobbying efforts from Saudi Arabia and the Syrian National Coalition, countries like Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Algeria have demonstrated reservation about US and overall foreign intervention in the conflict for fear of its escalation and effect on both regional stability and the world economy. This means that Russia and the majority of the Arab League side with a UN mandated intervention, and only if more conclusive evidence of chemical weapon use by Assad forces is brought to the table.
Moreover, the European Union has urged “the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process,” and prefer to wait for evidence from the UN monitors who examined the scene of the alleged attacks near Damascus. Lastly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon shared his strong doubts about intervention. “I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious and tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence,” he said this Friday at a panel on humanitarian assistance in Syria.
This still leaves Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, France, and others on the side of military intervention, and the debate is far from over when Congress will likely not vote for another two weeks. But again, we must return to the overarching problem, should the international media not be more focused on the opinion of Syrians about the fate of their nation? Does it not seem like the American president, public, and congress is deciding the fate of the Syrian people?
This is particularly strange when the proposed intervention would act more as a deterrent for chemical weapon use, rather than providing a stalwart against Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah fighters? In other words, the obsession with a US intervention that doesn’t quite have clear objectives, seeks very limited intervention, and doesn’t assure anyone about its ability to prevent chemical attacks, save civilian lives, or bring the conflict to a speedier end seems particularly superfluous without a discussion of what Syrians think.
Capturing the diversity in Syrian opinion is obviously easier said than done when the country is divided as it is today, but that should be a lesson in and of itself. Yes, few doubt the horrific display of violence shown by the Assad army, and many also remain speculative about some minority al-Qaida linked affiliates in the opposition. Yet there are those who still remain invested in the Assad regime—not just the traditional Alawite and Shia community—but other groups as well, including Christians and some Kurds.
It should also be noted that the divisions are far from representing clear cut dichotomies—some Sunnis side with Assad while some Shia said with the opposition. It is not a fixed divide, which makes understanding Syrian opinion even more difficult. This does not, however, excuse the disregard for their voices in the international debate on the fate of their country, their government, their families, and their children.
I understand that the vote in the US Congress presents a significant (though Obama could approve military strikes without their approval anyway) event in terms of deciding the potential and extent of foreign intervention that could, in theory, change the fate of Syria. Yet, I cannot help thinking we are missing the most integral part of finding an end to the conflict, that is, properly listening to the desires of the Syrian people—both those still in Syria and the over two million refugees who have lost their homes to this destruction that has become the object of international news.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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