The war no-one wanted

No one wants a conflagration. Neither did anyone want the Assad regime to use chemical weapons. But it did – the conflagration is upon us.

Forces loyal to assad 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Forces loyal to assad 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
No one wants war. No one wants to go out on the battlefield, or organize the rear command, or sit in a bomb shelter with a gas mask on at a time when there's a holiday to be celebrated – a new year to bring in with all its well-wishes. But war is here. It has been here for two and a half years. It is not our war. But it is on our doorstep.
This war that is not ours has threatened us more than once – and each time the defense establishment took action. Now this war has presented humanity with a horrifying precedent and an infinitely difficult dilemma: whether enough callous wickedness been exhibited for the world to get involved – whether the insanity that has been exposed poses an escalated danger to innocent civilians not only in Syria but in the rest of the world.
It is repeated that for the last two and a half years over a hundred thousand people have been killed in Syria, and that in that time the world has largely stood by. This is tragically true in the sense that the so-called multipolar nature of the current international powers – roughly split into East versus West, with the Middle East caught in the middle – has made it difficult to put forth a major effort to stop the fighting. It is not true in the sense that parts of the West and the Middle East have been more or less quietly supporting various rebelling militants while parts of the East have continued to support Syrian President Bashar Assad regime. Either way, Syria has become a proxy war no one really wants, and it seems that the superpowers behind it have had no strength or desire to face off in a geopolitical showdown.
The chemical attack on Aug 21, 2013, seems to have changed that status quo. There is moral outrage among leaders in the world, such that the public has not seen for years. Some public sectors see this as a sign of world leadership waking up from its lull of war-exhaustion. Others perceive it as an excuse to undertake more military campaigns. Some express a desire to understand why this attack should be treated differently than previous attacks on civilians undertaken by the Assad regime – of which many have been reported – why this is the time to get involved. People want to know why everyone is outraged by this specific attack when it was preceded by so many heinous crimes.
Perhaps a bit of morbid statistics will put things in perspective. The current death count as reported in the world press is approximately 120,000 people. This means that an average of 132 people have died per day in Syria since March 2011 – when what started as anti-regime protests followed by a regime crackdown turned into an all-out civil and sectarian war. However, the death count from the alleged chemical attack on Aug 21 hovers around 1400 people. Multiplied by 913 days of unrest that results in nearly 1.3 million people. Even if such an attack were only undertaken every other day the result would be 640,000 dead. This is five times the death rate we have seen in the conflict until now.
The potential human annihilation possible with this weapon – a scale of annihilation not previously undertaken by the Assad regime – combined with its actual use on the ground should be a worrying specter for anyone either in the vicinity of such weapons or who may find themselves targeted by them. What would stop Assad's regime from undertaking such a death program now that it has shown itself capable of starting it? Humanitarian concern?
There are strategic dangers – this is to be sure. In addition to potential casualties on the battlefront and at home, one of the many worrying prospects of an attack on Assad's forces, beyond our own fears of reprisals, is that regime forces will use foreign intervention as cover to undertake precisely the kind of death program that the intervention is meant to deter or prevent. Perhaps these are the "catastrophic consequences" of which Russia has warned, in which case foreign powers may find that an attack of limited scope and duration is not enough.
No one wants a conflagration. Neither did anyone want the Assad regime to use chemical weapons. But it did – the conflagration is upon us. The question now is what to do when faced with such a conflagration.
The West is as weary of itself as it is of the enemy. The United Kingdom's vote has shown that Parliament prefers inaction to taking on new moral, political, and military responsibilities. That is their right. But it gives the impression that, rather than bringing the international powers to act together, the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons – undertaken with Russia's political backing and with Iran's and Hezbollah's tactical support on the ground – has succeeded in deterring members of the West from responding at all. If this trend continues then Russia, Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah have already won the war that no one wanted – but got anyway.