Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

On Aug 21 the whole world became a captive audience to the civil war that has been raging in Syria for the past two and a half years. Overnight, graphic videos of victims suffering from what appeared to be a chemical weapons attack flooded the internet. Immediately, the whole world tuned in to watch the horrific tale unfold, and in the last two and a half weeks, the media has been overwhelmed with story after story ranging from U.S. Russian relations to congress deliberations to graphic evidence of the event. Now, for those who have not caught each story in passing, here is the gist.
The Syrian conflict began in March of 2011 with peaceful protests, but escalated into a civil war after harsh government response. Now, two and a half years since the war began, the numbers have staggered to unforeseen heights. According to reports from the United Nations, there are now more than 100,000 dead, more than 6 million forced from their homes, and 2 million who have fled to neighboring countries, increasing tensions there and depleting much aid. To put those numbers into perspective, Syria’s population, according to data from the World Bank, is only about 22 million.
Last year, with rising conflict, President Barack Obama said that use of chemical weapons by the Bashar al-Assad regime would be a “red line” that would provoke U.S. action. The chemical weapons attack on Aug 21 appears to have crossed that line and stands as one of the most lethal points of the conflict, with a death toll of 1,429 people, including 426 children.
Ironically, a team of UN chemical weapons experts was already present in Syria, investigating other incidents when the attack occurred, and gained access to the sites 5 days after the attack. Several western powers are currently awaiting the report and results of the blood and urine samples, along with other evidence collected including the analysis of medical experts who observed all the tell-tale signs of nerve agent poisoning, thought most likely to be sarin. The findings will not be public until the week of Sept. 15 or later. Even then, though the UN report will solidify the use of chemical weapons, it will not place blame for the attack.
Meanwhile, western powers have conducted their own investigations of the use of chemical weapons, speculating as well to the party responsible for the attack. The UK assessment stated the Assad regime was behind 14 separate chemical attacks in Syria and there was “some intelligence to suggest regime culpability” in the Aug. 21 attack. France’s investigation made similar claims, concluding the launch zone for the rockets was held by the regime and only the Syrian government had the weapons and means to complete the attack. The Obama administration’s intelligence analysis also made the same conclusions, citing satellite evidence of rockets launched from the regime-held areas 90 minutes before the first report of the attack.
The Syrian government, however, relentlessly denies any use of chemical weapons, claiming the rebel opposition was responsible for the attack. Russia and China, siding with Syria, have blocked any possible UN resolution. Russian officials support Assad, suggesting Syrian rebels used the attack in an effort to provoke international military response against the Assad regime, noting the peculiarity of the attack occurring as the UN chemical weapons inspection team was already present in Syria.
Despite the many investigative conclusions, and a previous joint statement from the US, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, and the UK calling for “a strong international response,” a vote from parliament shut down any possibility of UK military involvement and French President Fancois Holland has backed down from his previous call for intervention, saying he would rather wait for the UN weapons report before making a decision. Turkey, on the other hand, is poised to join international action as soon as the United States decides.
President Obama is pushing for action, but made the decision to seek approval from Congress before allowing a military response. A vote from Congress is expected sometime this week. The BBC and ABC News conducted a poll suggesting the majority of already decided Congress members intend to vote against the President. Perhaps this should come as no surprise with most Democrats opposing military force and most Republicans opposing Obama. Meanwhile, it appears as though the majority of the public also opposes military force with videos of constituents urging Congress to vote against Obama flooding the web and news casts.
Of course, Obama reserves the option of acting with or without Congress’s approval. The strike itself would be as Obama declares, “limited,” probably attempting to eliminate more chemical weapons in Syria and punishing the Assad regime without actually overthrowing all of its power. In fact, regime change would likely mean more trouble for the U.S. with conflicting forces likely being even more hostile as many extremist groups have become key in the fighting. However, Obama has also said an attack would be part of a “broader strategy” to “allow Syria to ultimately free itself.” The question of what exactly an international military intervention would achieve certainly weighs in on the ultimate decision.
Another factor to consider is the possibility of response from Syria if an attack were to occur. Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad made it clear Syria would “defend itself against any international attack” and warned such an attack would trigger “chaos in the entire world.” Russia’s involvement is another consideration as it would likely increase weapons supplies to the regime.
With so many factors weighing in, there is no wonder Congress, much less the American public, is so confused about what to do in Syria. Unfortunately, whether to support or not support limited strikes against the Assad regime may make little impact on the bleak outlook of long-term Syria. With no foreseeable victory for either side, the killing will likely continue for years, and could possibly leave Syria a broken society for a generation or more. In the meantime, perhaps the most humanitarian action anyone can take is to support the refugee camps taking in lost and tired Syrians, men, women, and children alike. Organizations like CARE, Concern Worldwide, Doctors Without Borders, and the World Food Programme can use all the help they can get as they reach out to Syrian victims.
Joy Wilson is a fourth-year student majoring in communications with a minor in studio art. She can be reached at 

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