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Syria stance pushes the uneasy envelope

Posted on September 18, 2013 by Taber Times

An internationally-brokered deal to secure and eventually destroy Syria’s remaining chemical weapons stockpiles has been trumpeted in many circles as an effective solution to a desperate situation drifting inexorably towards a possible military confrontation between the United States and Syria.

And while diplomats involved might be patting themselves on the back today in Russia and elsewhere around the world, it tends to obfuscate a larger hypocrisy inherent in the international reaction to reports of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against their own people.

Abhorrent and frightening though their use might be, the fact a confirmed use of chemical weapons represents a tipping point for international indifference to the conflict in Syria must hardly be comforting to the tens of thousands of victims that have already fallen due to the use of conventional weapons over the past two years.

The brutal Assad regime’s unwillingness to surrender its grip on power has led to a pitched battle between rebels and regime loyalists that has already devastated the country. The international reaction speaks volumes about nations in the West that can seemingly accept a regime indiscriminately slaughtering its own citizens, as long as it only uses lead bullets and incendiary bombs.

But once it starts gassing them to death — as international reaction has proven — that’s a whole different canister of chlorine gas.

It’s a powerful and disturbing message to send to all the aspiring tin-pot dictators the world over — human rights abuses will be grudgingly tolerated as long as people are being executed with a machine gun and not choked to death on mustard gas.

File that one for future reference in the handbook for “How To Sidestep an International Incident and Still Commit Genocidal Acts.” Consider the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Would the world have stepped in if they were gassing civilians to death rather than hacking them with machetes?

Not that the Assad regime in Syria should not have anticipated the overwhelmingly negative international reaction to their use of chemical weapons. Perhaps they didn’t really care, or perhaps they expected their stalwart ally in Russia to come to their stout defence. Whatever the reason, use of chemical weapons should be illustrative of at least one point — the ruling regime in Syria is becoming increasingly desperate to bring a resolution by force to the bloody conflict.

If one ascribes to a rational explanation of world events, that could mean the Assad regime literally have their backs to the wall. But that doesn’t necessarily mean good things for the people of Syria. Brutal dictatorships pushed to the breaking point by civil conflict can sometimes unleash a final orgy of extreme violence — witness the death throes of the Ceausescu regime in Romania in 1989, as decades of entrenched Communist leadership did not go quietly into the night.

Setting aside the hypocrisy of international pressure for a moment, the prospect of sending American cruise missiles showering over the Syrian desert, taking out military stockpiles like a fireworks display on July 4, is now considered to be unnecessary in the face of a peaceful international solution.

Just how peaceful it will be remains to be seen. Most independent observers have pointed out the proposed timetable for an international take-over of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is hopelessly optimistic. And there are no guarantees the Assad regime will not use endless delaying tactics like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to hamper international inspections teams. Not to mention wholesale destruction of the weapons by force would prevent them falling into the hands of terrorist elements active in Syria and extremely hostile to the West.

There is something else to be said for leaving the Syrian military machine in ruins — the quicker a resolution to the conflict can be forced or achieved, the sooner more civilians in Syria stop falling victim to conventional weapons, let alone sporadic gas attacks.

International acceptance of the deal to hand over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile — whatever good it might be seen to be doing — also opens the door to a conventional escalation of the conflict for a regime that has realized just how far it can push before it gets pushed back.

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