by Boaz Bismuth
The world has been thinking out loud about the expected Western attack on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. The question is no longer if, but rather how and when. The media is inundated with pictures of victims from the regime's use of chemical weapons.
And now it is not only the generals who are preparing for the strike, but opinion makers are preparing the world for it as well. U.S. President Barack Obama would obviously prefer to be dealing with other things. Truth be told, so would we. But since when has the Middle East ever promised us and the world that it would be quiet?
Four of the most powerful and central countries in NATO -- the U.S., France, Britain and Turkey -- have ramped up their rhetoric in the past 48 hours. In their eyes, the U.N. chemical weapon inspectors' work in Damascus, set for Wednesday, has already become pointless. Assad crossed the line this time and needs to be punished. The question of whether an alternative to Assad is preferable is not even on the table. The answer to that is clear, and no one is fooling themselves into thinking that if and when Assad falls Syria will be come a better place for the region and the world as a whole.
No one believes that after this attack -- the scope of which has yet to be determined -- a democracy will arise in Syria. After Western actions in Muslim lands such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, it has become clear that the day after will not be pretty.
But the West does not have much choice. Standing idly by as chemical weapons are used would make the West look like a pointless and impotent moral force, even in its already limited capacity. The West would turn into an all-bark, no-bite entity. The age-old global divide between good guys and bad guys would make way for a world split into bad guys and weaklings. Washington understands this cannot happen. Secretary of State John Kerry's speech on Monday night was something we expected to hear from America.
The question is how Assad's friends will react in case of an attack. Tehran has recognized the use of chemical weapons, but is a staunch opponent of any attack on Syria and has threatened dire consequences if one takes place. It is fair to assume that Iran will not become involved. It is the last thing it should do during a time when it wants to keep a low profile and allow its centrifuges to continue spinning. Tehran is more concerned with its own regime's survival and its nuclear project. It is likely that Iran will do as it did during the U.S. invasion of Iraq: Keep its head down, and perhaps advance its illegal nuclear project until things settle down.
The real test is Russia. This is without a doubt the biggest confrontation between the U.S. and Russia since the end of the Cold War. While we have seen disagreements between the superpowers over Kosovo and Iraq, this time the clash appears to be much more serious. Since the beginning of Syria's civil war on March 15, 2011, Russia has become Assad's guard dog. It will be interesting to see just how far Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to go in his opposition to the slated attack on his last ally in the Middle East. Let's not forget that this diplomatic showdown is taking place on the heels of the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden affair.
Clearly, there is some set of actions that could accommodate both Russia and the Obama administration: One such scenario could be a surgical strike by the Americans using cruise missiles on Syrian targets -- something which could be carried out over a very short span of time -- while at the same time moving up the scheduled talks between the U.S. and Russia in The Hague, originally set for October, before the second round of Geneva talks. It would be very convenient for Obama to attack, it would fulfill his obligation while not going overboard, and now he has the international green light and the means to a quick diplomatic solution. Assad can also live with this scenario, especially if he gains Russia and Iran as active members in the second round of the Geneva talks.
The winds of war have blown as far as Australia, which is now stepping in line with the U.S. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke with Obama over possible NATO plans for a strike on Syria.
Assad, just like Saddam Hussein in 1991, is threatening to set the region ablaze. He has no choice. But a united world has no reason to fear Assad, and a united West needs to stop fearing him as well. Even the ailing Arab world, in a fragile state after the events of the past two and a half years, is unable to prevent an attack on Syria. There may be no democracy in the Arab world, but the will to live in freedom has grown and so has the sway of the Arab street, which has long ruled on Assad. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah did not see this and nearly lost everything as a result.
Assad is long due to be the sixth Arab leader to be ousted since 2011. The pictures we have seen for months of children's bodies in Syria have it made it clear as day: He has to go. But the West will presumably be satisfied with simply preventing the use of chemical weapons, something which the U.N. Security Council should have taken upon itself from the beginning. Removing Assad from power was not supposed to be part of the plan.
Success for Obama in Syria spells success for us as well. Woe to the world which stands silent while unconventional weapons are used. And to think we still have a regional madman striving to get nuclear weapons.
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