"How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?"
"I think if people see this footage they'll say, "oh my God that's horrible," and then go on eating their dinners."
This scene from Hotel Rwanda stands out at me more than ever right now with the Syrian Civil War deepening and the world remaining quiet.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is without doubt one of the darkest moments for Western foreign policy since World War II. Even as images beamed into living rooms across the developed world, our leaders sat idly by as over 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered in an explosion of simmering ethnic tensions.
The sobering aftermath of the genocide led to soul searching for many on the international stage and a resurgence in the desire for intervention on the basis of humanitarian grounds, something that was affirmed by NATO action in Kosovo later that decade.
Nevertheless, fast forward 21 years the West once again is failing in its duty to promote human rights across the world. In Hotel Rwanda, a UN Colonel disgusted by the inaction of the world as he saw the bloodshed of innocents all around him nonchalantly claimed the lack of action was simply because "you're an African." However, now our embarrassing and morally perverse inaction in Syria has a far more frustrating cause: the inaccurate legacy of the Iraq War.
When Tony Blair stood in front of the House of Commons to plead the case for intervention in Iraq, he left his most compelling argument to the end, sadly buried beneath the hubris of largely baseless Western paranoia over an imminent threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
"To retreat now [would]...leave the Iraqi people to the mercy of events on which we would have relinquished all power to influence for the better," he asserted and, while we may have been so wrong over the existence of WMDs in Iraq, the grave humanitarian situation was all too real. It was not the removal of Saddam Hussein per se that was misguided, but our failure to put forward the moral case for war and the consequential domestic pressure to pull out as quick as possible. The result has been disastrous for Iraq and the Middle East, as a sectarian Prime Minister isolated the Sunni population that now rides rampant across the nation in the form of ISIS causing the country to descend into chaos.
But it has also been disastrous for Western foreign policy and so too victims of humanitarian abuses across the world. So poisoned has the legacy of the Iraq War become, there has been little attempt to defend our determination to remove a brutal and racist dictator from power in 2003. Subsequently, focus has been placed on the admittedly botched occupation by the coalition forces and the ground was thus laid for myths and conspiracies over our motives in Iraq.
It was no surprise, therefore, that the UK government's motion for military action was defeated by Parliament in 2013 with the looming shadow of the Iraq War still in the minds of parties with one eye on what was dubbed to be the closest election in history. Even with the categorical ruling out of a 'boots on the ground' strategy, Prime Minister David Cameron understood the political cost of launching executive action for intervention in Syria. The Iraq War, after all, was probably the single issue that brought Tony Blair, one of if not the most electorally successful politicians in British history, crashing down. He may have passed the vote through the Commons but he did so against the grain of the electorate, especially those people who had brought him to power.
When Cameron put forward his government's motion for war it was again unsurprising that when defeated he quickly dropped the issue and turned his focus back onto the economy at home. In doing so, such hesitancy has allowed an unmitigated humanitarian disaster to continue unabated in Syria. Since 2013, the death toll has doubled to at least 200,000 while Assad continues unfettered in his use of chemical weapons and state sponsored massacres, such as in regime prisons. On the other side, ISIS' racial policies continue to manifest as it has all but wiped or pushed out the Assyrian Christian population and butchered Kurds, Yazidis and every other non-Sunni loyalist it gets its hands on.
Yet, this may well be about to change as Israel, never one to shy away under public pressure from action it sees as necessary, prepares to take action upon request of its Druse minority. Largely located in Israel's portion of the Golan Heights, the Druse are calling on the Israeli government to protect their co-religious in the Syrian village of Hadar, which is currently under siege by jihadists and in the bloodthirsty eyesight of ISIS. The new government has duly answered their calls. Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has confirmed he will take action if a humanitarian crisis emerges across the demilitarized zone with Syria in the Golan Heights. Netanyahu released a statement earlier this month saying Israel is "closely following all developments on our borders” and that “my inclination is to take any action that is necessary”. The government has already asked the U.S. to bolster aid to the Syrian Druse and plans are being drawn up to create an IDF administered humanitarian zone in Syrian territory.
In doing so, Israel is taking a principled stance that the West is shying away from. The UN Security Council will never approve US led forces entering into Syria under Chapter VII of the charter, which deals with the maintenance of peace. This is solely down to Russia's support for a flailing Assad with its permanent member veto and military contract worth $3.5 billion. It fears that intervention against ISIS in Syria will eventually lead to conflict against their key ally in the Middle East.
Fortunately, conventional law provides the space for states to maneuver in the international arena and the right to intervene into a sovereign nation on the basis of humanitarian rationale. It is imperative that we do not fear comparisons being made to the Iraq War where no explicit UN resolutions were passed through the Security Council to authorize war. We must take a hawkish stance and prepare for intervention into this humanitarian crisis.
Intervention would mark a distinct shift in policy by the Israelis who have been a surprise beneficiary of the turmoil of Syria. By remaining officially neutral as it's hostile neighbor tears itself apart, the emerging dynamics of the Middle East have detracted attention of Israel's enemies elsewhere. Hezbollah, the Iranian backed terror group, has been drawn out of its stronghold and offensive springboard in Southern Lebanon and pulled in by Iran to prop up the failing Syrian Army. Alongside this, Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza and is popular in the West Bank, has had its funding dramatically cut by Iran. The Persian state has diverted its resources into bulwarking itself against ISIS and its regional rival Saudi Arabia. Israel has also found new friends, in particular in Egypt and Jordan, who have strengthened military and economic ties with Israel as anti-Israel ideology falls by the way side with the development of mutual security and business concerns.
But sometimes self interest must not take precedent in the international arena and while Israel needs not to drag itself into Syria, the humanitarian crises now knocking at its door has given intervention a moral imperative for the Israelis.
So, when one thinks back to Tony Blair in 2003 and how he questioned those who opposed the removal of Hussein one has to think who will be the beneficiary of our inaction.
"Who will celebrate and who will weep?" Blair asked the Commons over a decade ago.
The West's hesitancy to stop the cruelty in Syria will lead to jubilation for Assad and ISIS who profit from our weakness and grow bolder as we do nothing. But now Israel is leading the way. There can be no peace in our time without the West intervening in Syria. We must take up the mantle of humanitarian intervention alongside Israel and bring hope back to the people of Syria.