A call for intervention in Syria after an era of ‘negative neutrality’
Fifty-one State Department diplomats recently signed an internal memo urging the US to carry out military strikes against the Syrian regime to halt its daily crimes
US President Barack Obama thought he was being “different” when he chose to ignore the Syrian crisis since its outset, out of his desire to avoid previous mistakes committed in Iraq. However, many have begun to speak out against policy of "negative neutrality," and say it is important to reconsider the concept.
Fifty-one State Department diplomats recently signed an internal memo urging the US to carry out military strikes against the Syrian regime to halt its daily crimes. The memo reflects the increasing number of those in support of intervention and highlights the gravity of the mistake when dealing with an unmatched terrible tragedy.
Senator John McCain was pretty much the only one at the beginning of the conflict to demand confronting the crimes of the Assad regime and he warned that ignoring the crisis will create an even bigger one and that the ISIS threat will extend beyond Syria's borders. Today, many military figures, politicians, human rights activists, intellectuals and diplomats share his opinion. Despite the several crises and tragedies across the world, what happened and what's still happening in Syria is beyond comprehensible, even by the standards of mass crimes committed during many other wars. Around half a million Syrian people have been killed in the fighting, most of whom are civilians, and more than 10 million others have been displaced, one third of whom are refugees outside Syria.
Negative neutrality has not been limited to rejecting military intervention against the Syrian regime to deter it since the start of the violence, but it has also included preventing US allies in the region from supporting the opposition with advanced US-made arms.
Fifty-one State Department diplomats recently signed an internal memo urging the US to carry out military strikes against the Syrian regime to halt its daily crimesAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Since the beginning of the conflict, no one asked Washington to send troops or participate in the fighting or give away arms, but what was required from it was not to set restraints against operations to arm the opposition. Arming the opposition would have given targeted areas the chance to defend themselves against the frequent destructive operations which were responsible for the death of tens of thousands of civilians. However, since advanced arms were not provided, the murder and displacement of Syrians became easy as these atrocities were committed systematically, purging entire areas of their residents. Meanwhile, the Iranians and Russians filled the vacuum and formed a new military coalition that also included sectarian militias brought in from different parts of the region.
Amid these bleak circumstances, it should have been expected for Syria to become the most dangerous place in the world. It should have been expected for terrorism to spread there and to expand and threaten the region, Europe and the world. The damages resulting from the Syrian tragedy cannot be tallied and the spread of the ISIS and its ideologies are only some of them. The destruction in the country and its demographic composition will make it difficult to achieve any peace, regardless of whether global powers agree to a solution. Remaining silent over the fact the Iran is turning into a regional military power that's fighting outside its borders is a dangerous development which we first saw in Syria and we are now witnessing in Iraq.
The chaos which we see today is a result of the policy of neutrality and this is why US State Department diplomats signed that memo - which is pretty rare - to demand intervention as they're aware that the size of the damage in Syria exceeded all estimates.
In addition to this stance, there is an increasing number of intellectuals and academics who also reject negative neutrality regarding Syria. Is it a good stance? Yes. But is it influential? No, especially that time is not in their favor as the US will be busy for a long time with its domestic affairs, considering the upcoming presidential elections. Following that, it will spend months inaugurating the new presidential term and forming an administration.
A year is a long time of waiting for the US to alter its policy. This calls on the region's countries not to depend on the US to end the tragedy in Syria. The increasing support for intervention may make it easier for regional countries - if they want - to increase their support for the Syrian opposition and thus push the negotiations towards a reasonable, peaceful solution.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 19, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed