Those in the West who have reservations about launching a military campaign against the Syrian regime are elected parliaments, societies and the general public, not governments, states and armies.
The world is facing a cut and dry case of an executioner and victim set-up and yet convincing outside parties to support the Syria opposition is proving to be very difficult. Somewhere, something has to have gone wrong. The world has admitted to knowing that Assad and his regime are killing Syrians, using chemical weapons multiple times. There is decisive evidence to prove that the Assad regime is behind the recent killing of more than 1,000 Syrians with chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.
The British House of Commons has refused to intervene to punish the tyrant. President Barack Obama is confused about his decision to intervene, as more than 59% of the Americans are against a strike on Syria. European public opinion is more conservative regarding the involvement of NATO forces in the fighting in Syria. We are not talking about governments, which measure their interests with their international relations and with gain and loss calculations, but public opinion and directly elected boards.
The worst thing is that those who have reservations over a strike are certain of the identity of the executioner in Syria. They are also certain this executioner has the tendency to commit even more murders. But, one cannot condemn the hesitant governments after what has happened in the past two weeks. It's not the governments that are hesitant to aid the Syrians. The issue is more substantial than that: it is an issue linked to countries' interests and calculations. Obama, against American public opinion, decided to punish the regime in Syria according to calculations linked to the interests of the U.S. and its allies.
Unfortunately for the Syrians and for us too, we must admit that one of the major motives behind the decision to strike is Israeli zeal and Western fear of the presence of chemical weapons on the borders with Israel.Hazem al-Amin
From now on, “conspiracy” theories must be ruled out when interpreting the world's hesitation to attack Syria. The world is hesitant because the general public does not want to intervene. Efforts made to interpret and explain the “conspiracy” must be made to understand the world and its hesitancy. A failure has struck the revolution in Syria. It no longer works to attribute this failure to “the world's delay in saving us.”
One must not say the West is with Assad as this is totally false. Western discussions of the Syrian affair addressed the following fears: terrorist Islamists, the new regime to be established after Assad's collapse and the stance on the Arab-Israeli peace process. The Western public’s suspicions, revealed via discussions, are predominantly linked to the last three mentioned points. The Syrian opposition has not really dealt with any of these points and when it has, suspicions have been raised.
The issue of extremist Islamists has been the most prominent during discussions in the West. The identity of the Syrian opposition is very complicated for the Western public and all attempts to simplify it have resulted in the belief that the Islamists are the opposition. Made up of different groups, the Syrian opposition has not revealed enough sensitivity towards a “western conscience” that sees destructive possibilities - equal to the Baath's tendency to commit murders - in these takfiri-jihadi groups.
Syrian revolution zones have repeatedly been victims of the imposition of takfiri governance models. The Syrian revolution has not questioned the origin of these groups entering Syria from and why they arrived in it. Statements that they came for the purpose of fighting the regime were a little vague. Most of them came through Turkey, and the alliance with Ankara prevented prior questions. These groups committed practices that targeted the revolution's essence and civil identity, and they were not confronted by anyone. They controlled the city of ar-Raqqah, established camps for non-Syrian “immigrants” and the revolution avoided confronting them. They kidnapped Father Paolo and western journalists, and the opposition does not seem to be able to control their activities.
It's difficult to talk about the identity of the Syrian state and the form of the regime without taking into consideration the weakness of the opposition and their inability to confront takfiri advancement towards opposition-controlled areas. This issue was brought up in Western parliament discussions about the Syrian crisis following the regime's use of chemical weapons in Ghouta. Discussions included questions on guarantees that the attacks do not target toppling the regime. The opposition is not ready to manage a transitional phase and extremist Islamists currently stand at the doors of Damascus. Regardless of how true this is, demands of guarantees not to topple the regime out of fear of the opposition must be a huge lesson for the rebels. This time, the Western public is demanding intervention because it feels that Assad must be punished, but at the same time it's afraid of Assad's departure.
Out with the old
The document issued by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood concerning its vision of a pluralistic regime after Assad's collapse is no longer enough to reassure anyone. The Brotherhood's experience in Egypt has killed this idea. The Syrian Brotherhood falls within a non-Syrian Brotherhood context that has raised suspicions regarding the group's intentions. Therefore, a “post-Assad regime” is immersed in mystery, strengthened by the opposition's clear weakness to address the issue of minorities - a core issue when it comes to Western fears.
An issue which is perhaps at the bottom of the West’s list of priorities is the status of the Arab-Israelis struggle. Of course, this issue is present in public western opinion. The Assad regime figured out what to say: the suspension of war in exchange for the guarantee of peace. The Syrian opposition has nothing to say regarding this and postponing the issue until after Assad falls has led to more suspicions. Postponement is a luxury that the regime doesn’t have. Rami Makhlouf's statements to the New York Times daily were the clearest of them. But the Israeli also said more than once that “Assad will not fight us” and that he has not responded to the Israeli jet raids.
Unfortunately for the Syrians and for us too, we must admit that one of the major motives behind the decision to strike is Israeli zeal and Western fear of the presence of chemical weapons on the borders with Israel. This is a political given, not a moral one, and ignoring it will once again make us fall into a web of conspiracies.
For these reasons, this time we must stop at the truth: public opinion, not governments looking out for their interests is obstructing the ousting of Assad. The reasons of failure must be also be specified.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on August 8, 2013.
Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.