Syria, back to square one

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

With the Russians’ recent suggestion that Syria place its chemical weapons under international control, it can be said that the Syrian dilemma is now back on its normal track, one marked by perplexity, uncertainty, indecisiveness, reluctance and absurdity.

That is all opposed to the long-awaited decisiveness on the side of the United States to solve, not manage, the more than two years of unrestrained civil war in Syria.

The Russians’ initiative – or it is better to say “political maneuvering” - has shifted priorities, absurdly giving the focus to “who” over “what” in handling the Syrian dilemma.

I mean here that the whole Syrian crisis is now portrayed and viewed with regards only to “who was behind the chemical attack?” whilst disregarding the question; “what is the Syrian crisis?" In other words, Syria’s two-and-a-half-year year of civil war is to be handled as an “incidental” matter and in “reaction not action” method.

Sorrowfully, humanity is absent.

The U.S., the world’s super power which has showed eagerness over the few past days on Syria, is now seemingly hesitant, probably having its call for a military strike against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad unheard and opposed within its borders.

For many observers, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprise plan for international control of the Syrian chemical arsenal was akin to a “saving face gift” to the U.S. President Barack Obama, who is described in his country’s press as a “reluctant war president.”

It is true that a military intervention in Syria would leave horrible consequences behind, but leaving the Syrian crisis unsolved risks worse outcomes.

Tragically, the discourse on Syria has become centred on saving face more than saving lives.

The U.S.’s shifting strategy

After the so much talk about a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria, a political solution to the Syrian crisis has begun to resurface again.

It is all probably due to the possibility of the U.S. Congress disapproving Obama’s bid to intervene militarily in Syria and the growing anti-war voices in America.

Tragically, the discourse on Syria has become centred on saving face more than saving lives

Raed Omari

Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry might have fears about their incapability to build a convincing case, rationalizing the use of force against Syria in a Congress that is already concerned about replicating the example of Iraq in 2003.

Russia’s proposal has come as a “mercy bullet” to Obama, who probably wanted a way out of his war threat yet must act to punish Syria for crossing his red-line warning.

Obama, as once expressed by Reuters’ White House Correspondent, Matt Spetalnick, “was the peace candidate who became a war president, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has regularly ordered executions by drone.”

But I can’t see the Russian proposal drafted aside from the U.S consent, especially since it was announced right after the recent G20 summit in St. Petersburg, where the Syrian crisis was the top of the agenda foe Obama, Putin and other leaders.

The U.S is seemingly now re-shifting its strategy on Syria to advocate a political solution to the more than two years of bloody struggle there. Still, no answers on how and when they will act are provided, which means simply more bloodshed and suffering for the Syrian people.

It would not be that astonishing to hear voices in the U.S. in the coming days, probably from Obama or Kerry or even the Congress, advocating patience until the U.N. chemical weapons inspection teams disclose their findings on the Aug. 21 Gouta attack.

But how are they going to convince the Russians, who are already unconvinced that Assad’s forces were behind the attack.

So, the Syrian issue is back at square one, again engulfed with uncertainty and absurdity, thus we start from the beginning as if nothing happened.

All in all, the Syrian conflict has moved well and truly outside of the lines drawn up by the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition – it is now being played out more in the international arena by the U.S. and Russia, bringing to life echoes of the rusty Cold War tensions.

Although all eyes were on Damascus on Aug. 21, when images of the alleged chemical weapons attack shocked the world, Syria has proved itself to be yet another pawn in the age -old clash of the titans.

Humanitarianly not chemically

The issue of the Aug. 21 chemical attack against Damascus’ suburb of Ghouta and its accompanying narrative has turned into a focal point upon which the whole Syrian dilemma is rested. There is no doubt that the entire world was horrified by the shocking videos of children’s and women’s bodies piled up after the claimed nerve gas attack, but the scene was just part of Syria’s misery and not its final episode.

So many are wondering why the U.S.-led international community has decided to move decisively on Syria after the poison gas attack that claimed the lives of 1,300 Syrians, according to opposition provided figures, and has shown disinterest of the more than 130,000 victims of the ongoing war. Was it all because of Obama’s red-line warning?
People here – I mean in the Middle East – and elsewhere keep asking: is it legalized to kill with traditional weapons and somehow worse to kill with weapons of mass-destruction? Killing is killing and can not be classified into lawful and unlawful, except maybe during a war between armies.

But, by giving focus only to the chemical attack – again to underestimate its risks – I feel like that the whole Syrian dilemma has been “minimized and miscalculated.”

Recently, a U.N. report was released containing the number of Syrian refugees who fled the ongoing violence in their country to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and elsewhere.

According to U.N. figures, the number of the Syrian refugees has exceeded two million, with half of them being children under the age of 11. Of course, this is the latest number of refugees registered with the U.N. refugee agency, but there are thousands not registered yet or stranded along the borders awaiting entry permission.

Needless to say, there are also a large number of homeless Syrians seeking refuge somewhere within their war-torn country.

The Syrian suffering is better expressed in such reports, more than in the Security Council or in other closed rooms.

It is better to hear the UNICEF Representative in Jordan, Dominique Hyde, talking about the Syrian crisis than to hear a pragmatic politician discussing the matter from only an interest-oriented perspective, with no regard to human suffering whatsoever.

In recent remarks to the Jordanian press, Hyde, commenting on the U.N. figures, said: “This is not just a number… we are talking about real lives, children who witnessed conflict, ripped from home and deprived of their rights to go to school.” For politicians, Syria is just a number but we must remember it is also a humanitarian crisis.

In a recent op-ed for The Guardian, Prince Hassan of Jordan summarized the humanity vs. politics issue on Syria when he said: “while we condemn absolutely the viciousness and immorality of the use of chemical weapons, at this moment we must also remember that this war has already claimed 110,000 lives and shattered those of millions more. Our traumatised youth will carry the scars forever. Syria has been ripped apart, and without effective international aid, the stability of both Lebanon and Jordan hangs in the balance. The reality of this war is found not in the theatre of high politics, or attention-grabbing headlines in the western press, but in a simple tragic story of human suffering and wasted lives.”


Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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