Nearly 12 years ago, in the
days immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W.
Bush sent an armada of 14 ships to the Mediterranean as he launched
the Global War on Terrorism against Al-Qaeda.
The Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan, demanded evidence that
Osama bin Laden was involved in the September 11 attacks and that
if evidence warranted, they would put Bin Laden to trial. The US
refused and on October 7, the allied forces of the United States,
United Kingdom and other allies invaded Afghanistan. By mid-November,
Kabul had fallen to allied hands.
Less than two years later, on March 19, 2003, on the pretext that
Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, Bush again
ordered an invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Saddam Hussein
regime. The US launched the invasion again with the British, Australia
and Poland. Its traditional allies Germany, France, New Zealand
and Canada refused to join the invasion, dubbed as Operation Iraqi
The invasion did not have the sanction of the United Nations and
was preceded by worldwide protests, including an anti-war rally
in Rome attended by three million people. But 64% of Americans had
approved the war action although 62% feared that war would increase
the threat of terrorism against the US.
Baghdad fell and so did Saddam. But no weapons of mass destruction
were ever found.
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush also ordered an attack on Iraq,
but it was to defend Kuwait and to punish Saddam Hussein and his
army for invading tiny Kuwait. It was an international conflict,
and the US attacked with the expressed authority of the United Nations,
and the entire world supported its actions.
And now, America has come at another crossroads: Should it punish
Syrian President Bassar al-Assad with a military strike for his
regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against the opposition
in a two-year-old civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people?
Or should it stand idly by and allow the sovereign Syrian people
to decide their own fate?
The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq achieved
its immediate objectives – to topple the Taliban and Saddam
regimes. However, the invasions obviously failed in its final objectives
– to crush terrorism and to end the civil strife in both countries.
Afghanistan and Iraq are still being devastated by deadly civil
wars and terrorism remains a worldwide problem.
Will a military strike end the civil war in Syria? Experts believe
even the most debilitating strike would only prolong the civil war.
They also feared that a military action by the US would completely
negate any possibility of negotiations between the Assad regime
and the rebels.
Although the 2001 and 2003 strikes did not have UN sanction and
was opposed by some of America’s allies, it was widely supported
by the Americans and a world wary of terrorism. President Barack
Obama is now threatening to stage a military strike on Syria even
without the authority of the UN although he is seeking the approval
of Congress. Even its longtime ally, the United Kingdom, has voted
against military action.
A poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos a few days ago showed that 56
percent of adults say the US should not intervene and 19 percent
support a military action. Two earlier surveys also showed weak
support for intervention in Syria.
Obama is going out on a limb here. He has staked his image and credibility
by insisting on a military action despite strong resistance from
the people, Congress and the world. Even fellow Democrats, who have
long been known to oppose military conflicts, are wary of supporting
the military action because of a feared backlash from their war-wary
Although the Senate panel has narrowly endorsed a military strike,
it is still expected to be rejected when the whole Senate votes
on the plan this week. The call faces major defeat in the Republican-controlled
House of Representatives despite endorsements by Speaker John Boehner
and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Syrian question has put Obama, some Democrats and many Republicans
in unfamiliar footing. Obama has consistently called for exhausting
negotiations before any military action in the past, and the Democrats
have always been against military intervention by the US. The Republicans,
on the other hand, have always stood for use of force against dictatorial
Political observers are claiming that Obama is forced to take action
after he warned Assad that if he stepped over the “red line”
(use of chemical weapons), the US would act militarily against his
regime. They claim that a military intervention is an expensive
and deadly way to save face.
But this is not just about Obama saving face or salvaging his credibility.
It is about whether America has the duty and responsibility to serve
as the world’s policeman and go after rogue dictators, or
whether it should stand idly by and let Assad continue to use chemical
and other weapons of mass destruction against its own people.
Does America have the right to intervene in an internal conflict
of a sovereign state? Or is it America’s moral responsibility
to come to the aid of an aggrieved sector of that sovereign state?
It is a dilemma that has confronted American leaders for decades,
and will continue to hound future presidents. But the US is a member
of the community of nations under the umbrella of the UN. The UN
Security Council has rejected Obama’s military action. The
American people are against it. The US Congress is almost certain
to vote against it, too. In this scenario, Obama may have no recourse
but, in military parlance, to ‘stand down’.