Front-page news is occupied by action in Syria once again. Earlier this April the city of Douma, a Damascus suburb and the main city in the Siege of East Ghouta, was rocked by a chemical weapons attack. The standard geopolitical quagmire for Syria then unfolded, with the United States and its Western allies formally blaming Syrian Head of State Bashar al-Assad, while the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran have denied this claim. This attack serves as the second time Ghouta has come under chemical assault, with the first attack taking place in 2013.
The International Community’s reaction to the attack is lackluster and jingoistic. In the United Nations, Russia and the United States squared off against one another, which ultimately led to a Russian veto of a resolution proposing an investigation into the attack. The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Fifth French Republic have proposed an intervention into the Syrian conflict, a policy which history shows us has failed repeatedly and only further escalated regional crises.
Despite condemning the actions of the Assad regime, arguably the idea of regime change in Syria would be a grave mistake made by Western leaders.
Regime change is a policy that has failed tremendously in the past 18 years. Our first example is Iraq. In 2003, the Bush Administration invaded Iraq under the entirely false claim that the Saddam regime possessed WMDs and was a threat to peace in the Middle East. What ensued was a U.S. occupation and exploitation of the Iraqi nation and their resources. When the United States entirely exited Iraq in 2011, a power vacuum and sectarian conflict sprang to life in the state, leading to the rise of ISIS and increased tensions between the Shia and Sunni populations.
Our next example is in Libya. A foreign policy disaster that was conducted under the guidance of President Barack Obama, the 2011 regime change operation saw the overthrowing of Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi. In its aftermath, a weak Democratic government was installed and, similar to Iraq, the state plunged into a multi-factional Civil War that has been noted for its immense humanitarian atrocities, such as the developing Slave Market and rise of Islamic terror organizations.
Other notable examples of failed regime change include states such as Yemen, where a majority of the population is undergoing a famine and the American backed Saudi coalition targets civilian infrastructure.
The track record and results of this policy are humanely terrifying, economically destructive, and often lead to the long-scale decline of a human nation. The conditions in Syria are ripe for political and social chaos, which is highlighted by the rise and fall of several Islamic militant groups, such as ISIS and the former Al-Nusra Front. All it takes is the removal of a powerful figure and the lives of the Syrian people could be thrown into utter disarray, which will inevitably drag the conflict out further while also escalating tensions between NATO, CSTO and its partners.
In the midst of me writing this article, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom attacked Syria with coordinated Air and MLRS strikes. The justification for the attacks lay with the Western accusations of Syrian President Assad’s use of chemical weapons. This strike comes a little over a year after the US took a unilateral decision to strike Syria in response to the 2017 chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun.
As stated above, the strikes targeted Syrian infrastructure that is supposedly linked to chemical weapons development. In short view, these strikes may seem beneficial: the job is done and Assad’s ability to produce and deploy chemical weapons is crippled for the time being. However, the strikes have a much deeper meaning that goes far beyond the physical destruction of these facilities.
One of the targeted cities, Damascus, is a major Arab cultural center and the capital of Syria. The projection of hard power on the city by foreign Western-states and any casualties that come with it can be turned into a nationalist symbol by the Syrian Government and Islamic Terrorist Organizations to fuel a recruitment drive and motivate active personnel. The strike will also culturally and diplomatically impact Syria’s Arab neighbors – some of whom are key American partners. The Syrian Government is also a key figure in the fight against ISIS, thus making the strike a double-edged sword. In essence, these strikes have tremendous long-term consequences, as the areas targeted can be rebuilt and Assad’s propaganda machine bolstered, while his ties with Putin’s Russia have been left unharmed and intact. Trump’s “Mission Accomplished” statement may very well harbor a strategic failure, similarly to George Bush’s.
Regardless, the Western assault on Syria highlights that Imperialism isn’t dead, and that the West is out of touch with humanitarian solutions. Instead of choosing to further escalate the conflict, the utilization of Western soft-power and diplomatic pressure to create conditions that benefit the Syrian people and stability in the region should be the number one option among Western leaders. Unfortunately, it appears we are headed into a costly and diplomatically dangerous conflict that has already claimed the lives of 500,000+ people.
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