THE BLOG

Syria: A Tipping Point, Or Not Yet?

10/04/2017 12:07 BST | Updated 10/04/2017 12:07 BST
Carlos Barria / Reuters

I suppose that I am guilty! I am guilty for speaking out a tad too hastily about those 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles that caused considerable damage to the She'eyrat airbase in the Homs Governorate of Syria - one of six airbases, incidentally, that are used by the Syrian regime for its redoubtable operations.

Mind you, I had seen it before: after all, the 2013 chemical attack in the besieged Eastern Ghouta (that has become synonymous with former President Obama's infamous red line) had cost the lives of some 1400 victims. So I suspect my hastiness was due in part to the deep sadness I felt when looking at the pictures of those victims who had succumbed to the sarin gas attack at Khan Sheikhoun. And not only the victims themselves, but also their families who were grieving the loss of relatives in this criminal and sadistic attack.

But my initial Pavlovian reaction was understandably short-lived, and my splenetic rants to colleagues came to an end too, as I dwelt on four guiding realities.

• I am not readily impressed by President Donald Trump's sober comments when he talked to reporters about his outrage at the killing of beautiful babies. I suppose somewhere in his inner psyche as a dad, he did experience a twinge, but much of his outrage in my opinion was tantamount to political grandstanding. He wanted to order this attack in order to look not only 'presidential' but also different from his predecessor. He also wanted to deflect attention from other investigations that were taking place in DC and tarnishing his popularity. Crucially though, he also needed to sell this attack to his electoral constituencies who were espoused to his slogan of America First. Referring merely to the evil deeds of Bashar Assad would not have washed down well with the Rust Belt states. He needed the emotional human wrench to make it a marketable proposition.

• Let us not forget that President Trump could have paralysed the whole Syrian air-force if he had wanted to stop those attacks. He did not do any of that. Instead, he targeted She'eyrat alone, and only partially at that, and he informed the Russians who in turn alerted the Syrians. As such, the manpower and hardware were redeployed from this base prior to this attack. In fact, it is already operational again.

• I respect those pundits - let alone demonstrators such Stop the War Coalition in London - who have voiced strong opinions against this attack. They cite Palestine, Iraq and Libya to claim that this attack was yet another example of US rampant imperialism that has rendered our world unsafe. I do not disagree with them about the egregious errors committed by various US Administrations. But I would also invite them to distil their biases and examine the human (and material) cost of those past six years in Syria. And whether they like it or not - and they probably would not - the main culprit remains the Syrian president who has rained all manners of horror on a majority of his own people.

• Let me add an axiomatic statement here. Following this attack, we will either witness a return to the political ploys of the past six years so the Syrian regime and various terrorist groups continue killing and maiming innocent men, women or children. Or else, the Trump Administration uses this attack as a way of exercising global leadership by devising a fresh strategy that would coerce all the players to come together - in Geneva, Astana or elsewhere - to stop the carnage and apply a solution.

I also suggest three critical afterthoughts.

In order to achieve an enduring peace in Syria, it is necessary to build a clear architecture for addressing the challenges of population returns. Any agreement over Syria will simply collapse without an effective repatriation of refugees and internally-displaced persons - alongside significant security or protection guarantees.

It is equally important to understand that any strategy aimed at staunching the haemorrhage in Syria must inescapably include Iraq too. We usually address one country or the other, but both Syria and Iraq constitute extensions of each other's conflicts and they should be viewed and tackled together.

Finally, International law makes a distinction between chemical and conventional weapons. However, I would argue that natural law, a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct, cannot ignore the terrifying fact that half a million have been killed and 11 million have become refugees or internally-displaced persons in Syria Have those statistics benumbed us? Is there not a ceiling anymore when politicians forget their war games and think of those men, women and children as human beings?

The real victims have been the Syrian people who rose up six years ago to gain their basic freedom and right to political participation. So will they be allowed to exit this dark tunnel, and are we witnessing a tipping point?