This week, in our second edition of Urchins Take Sides, we ask ourselves (and you) whether or not the United States should intervene in the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Is it our place? Will we simply stir up further anti-American sentiment? Could this be a reenactment of the Soviet war in Afghanistan? Does any of that matter when thousands of innocent people are killed in such a horrific fashion?
For over two years, people in Syria have been living in a state of fear most of us could never even imagine.
As both citizens and politicians in the U.S. debate military intervention in Syria, it is all too easy to take for granted the simple act of voicing an opinion, a luxury not afforded to the people of Syria.
Imagine attending a rally or march in support or protest of the issue and being shot at or bombed by your own government. Imagine being so afraid of becoming a casualty of the rampant violence around you that you would be willing to leave your country, all your belongings, and the only life you’ve ever known to flee to another country in hopes of survival.
That is just what over two million Syrians, the equivalent of the population of Houston, Texas, have done since March 2011.
Meanwhile, the international community has been shamefully detached from the realities in Syria. Unlike the sanctions and interventions nations from around the world imposed on the likes of Libya and Egypt in the face of dictatorial violence, in October 2011, such action against Syria was halted by vetoes from Assad’s allies Russia and China. Another plan drafted by a UN Action Group on Syria in June 2012 and agreed upon by Russia was rejected by Western countries for not being thorough enough. It was while the U.S. and Russia were trying to figure out when they could pencil in more talks that over 1,000 Syrians were killed in a chemical weapons attack, adding to the more than 100,000 already killed since 2011.
The entire international community should be ashamed for their political dithering while what is likely the worst humanitarian crisis since the 1994’s Rwandan Genocide waged on unchecked.
As a consequence of such delayed action, the international community has now been backed into a corner by increasingly horrific violence in Syria. Rather than the rest of the world pressuring Russia and China into imposing strict sanctions on Syria and abating the crisis through diplomacy, we waited for the violent crossing of a proverbial ‘red line’ to force us into action.
Yet the idea that murder by chemical weapons is in any way worse than murder by guns or bombs is absurd. Violence is violence and when a death toll is over 95,000, another 1,000 is way too late to be a tipping point.
And so what now? While we with the luxury of freedom of expression and generally safe living conditions took our time deciding what should be done, the situation in Syria continued to deteriorate.
Is violence the only answer? As Anne-Marie Slaughter put it in an article for the Financial Times, ‘the violence itself must be delegitimised, wherever it comes from.’ That would include violence from the U.S. The people of Syria have spent long enough living in fear of violence from the Assad regime and the opposition forces without having to worry about it from a third source. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon agrees, stating, ‘We should avoid further militarization of the conflict, revitalize the search for a political settlement.’
Ahead of Congress’s vote on military intervention, increasing numbers of Syrians are fleeing across its borders hoping to escape possible U.S. attacks. With no clear force of good in Syria to support, it is hard to see what strikes from the U.S. would accomplish.
Meanwhile, countries around the world are deciding on appropriate courses of action. For Britain, whose Parliament voted 285-275 against military action, that means £348 million in aid and continued diplomatic talks. For Germany and the United Arab Emirates, it means $13 million in aid and reconstruction funds each. For Sweden, it means granting asylum to all Syrian refugees who apply and giving them permanent resident status.
The bottom line is that the world waited too long to help the people of Syria in a decisive way due to politicking and power struggles and is now faced with a moral quandary: should we kill people in Syria to demonstrate that they shouldn’t kill people? That doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Our mistake must be owned. We should have acted sooner and more decisively. The international community failed Syria. But it is not over. We still have a chance to get this right. May all non-violent options be quickly and resolutely enacted. May all peaceful possibilities be pursued as vigorously and forcefully as military action would be. But above all, we must do something. The greatest crime of all would be inaction.