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The Arab view: Syria’s chemical weapons do not merit a U.S. attack

Daoud Kuttab, a former professor of journalism at Princeton University, is director of Community Media Network in Amman, Jordan, and is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor.com.

AMMAN

In dealing with the Syrian crisis, many people and countries in the world are split into one of two camps: those who believe Bashar al-Asaad used chemical weapons and therefore should be attacked, and those who deny Asaad culpability and believe the deaths were caused by rebels to embarrass Asaad while U.N. investigators were in Damascus. There is a growing third group, one that believes, although the use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21 came on orders of a commander loyal to Asaad, a U.S.-led attack is not the accepted response for this atrocity.

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The Baathist Syrian regime of Hafez and son Bashar al-Asaad is not new to brutality towards their political enemies. Cruelty against their political opponents was evident in the destruction of the Syrian city of Hama and the Palestinian camps in Lebanon of Tel al-Zaatar and Nahr el-Bared. The Asaads’ viciousness was also evident in the assassination of Lebanese and Palestinian leaders such as Kamal Jumblatt, Rafiq al-Hariri, George Hawi, Samir Kassir and Ghassan Tueni and the Palestinian Liberation Organization military commander Saad Sayel (Abu Walid).

Unlike Iraqi Baathists, who are known to publicly celebrate killing their political opponents to deter others from standing in their way, Syrian Baathists are said to shed “crocodile” tears on the death (caused by their allies) of their rivals and then simply accuse “Israeli Zionists” or “American Imperialists” for such “cowardly” acts.

So while the Syrian regime and its Russian allies deny responsibility for the death of hundreds of Syrians, including children, from chemical weapons, many in the Arab region don’t trust in the denials of known political assassins who have spent the past 2½ years killing and maiming their own people.

Despite this conviction of the Asaad regime’s brutality, many have a problem with the attempts by the United States — almost unilaterally — attacking Syria without any international legal support. The claims by America that Russians and Chinese are blocking a resolution in the U.N. Security Council with their veto power falls on deaf ears in our part of the world.

Since 1970, when it first used its own Security Council veto, the United States has blocked 79 resolutions — 40 related to Middle East issues, almost all on behalf of Israel. While the Soviet Union used the veto power more often (129 times), since 1991 — when the Russian Federation took over the old Soviet seat at the Security Council — Moscow has vetoed only eight resolutions.

While it can be argued that many issues, such as the current one, never made it to a vote because of the surety that one of the council’s permanent members would vetoed it, Washington can’t pretend to be innocent in regards to the disabling of this important international body.

What is further troubling in this push to “punish” Asaad is the concern that it is motivated by ulterior motives. The idea that it is being carried out to restore credibility to Obama and the United States is not very convincing to Palestinians who have seen Israel rub in their face American words about the illegality of Jewish settlements, announcing settlement activities at the very time as U.S.-led peace talks are taking place. In fact many in the Middle East feel that Israel, which wants to weaken (but not destroy) Asaad, is the real party behind this idea of a surgical limited attack on the Syrian dictator.

The atrocities, war crimes and brutalities committed by the Syrian army, shabiha (thugs) and their Hezbollah and Iranian allies should not be allowed to stand. Killing over one hundred thousand of your people, causing two million to be displaced outside the country and having millions others displaced in Syria should not be allowed to continue one more day.

Recognizing the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian governments war on its own people should not deter the world community from stopping the larger carnage that has been carried out using classical weapons. Also the world community should not let the rebels off easily as their side has carried out many atrocities in their fight to overthrow Bashar al Asaad.

The Syrian conflict can be solved politically but that requires unified and persistent regional and international resolve.

Barack Obama’s decision to strike Syria’s cruel dictator has forced the world to think hard and fast as to its international obligations. America claims all political options to end the crisis and reach a political settlement have been exhausted.

Many disagree.

Arab, American, European and Russian leaders can and must meet nonstop until they find a political solution that will stop the carnage without allowing war criminals on both sides the punishment that they deserve.

Such an agreement should allow for a civilian transfer of power to a genuinely elected government of a united Syria that can be the home of all sects, denominations and nationalities. Such an agreement should also include steps to decommission weapons of mass destruction from the entire region including Syria’s chemical weapons as well as Israel’s nuclear stockpile.

 
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