The US history is chequered with instances where the United States overreacted to a situation, dragging the world into an era of instability. Now, as then, it is extending a questionable legitimacy to anyone willing to flout law. One wonders how an action may be ‘illegal but legitimate’, and how to determine where to put legality over ethics (or legitimacy) and vice versa.
Of course, there is a compelling case to bring the Syrian regime to books if its crime’s proven. But bypassing the United Nations Security Council – and following the illegal channel – will only lend weight to the notion of a world where legitimacy is, at best, an arbitrary concept.
In the first place, there are serious questions about how the US can even justify an aggressive response against the Syrian regime. Many have asked how the use of chemical weapons is different from other forms of artillery. To them, killing a thousand civilians sporadically is not very different from killing a thousand together.
The US drone strikes are estimated to have killed around 4000 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism – about 3 times the super-accurate US figure of 1,429 that perished in the Syrian attack. But even the 4000 figure is peanuts compared with the number of civilian casualties from US aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, estimated at 137,000, according to Brown University’s ‘Costs of War’ project.
Some proponents of the US intervention, however, argue that the nature of pain brought by the chemical attack is different than that brought by the use of conventional weapons. Anyone who has watched the footages of those gassed in the Syrian attack would not need to be convinced on this one. Yet, it is difficult to see how the pain from the use of Sarin – the toxic gas allegedly used in the attack – is greater than the bomb that deprived Rukia of her arm and 5 children, or a missile that deprived an ice-cream vendor like AssadUllah of his leg for the rest of his life. Rukia and AssadUllah represent a norm rather than exception in the Afghan War.
Yet another instance of Obama’s hypocrisy is the nerve to talk about human rights alongside monstrosities of the US in the Guantanamo Bay. There are detainees there locked up without charge, even their genitals are not safe – having to lend them to the US guards for ‘search’ if they were to see their counsels. They are force-fed in the most deplorable ways through tubes thrust into their nostrils when they refuse to eat in protest. Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan have served as other hot spots for US military’s transgressions.
Failure to meaningfully condemn Israeli occupation of Palestine and continuous extension of illegal settlements, inability to call the Egypt coup a coup despite massacre and political victimisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, and welcoming of Myanmar’s President in the US while the Muslims there – especially Rohingya – face the 969 movement to identify and exclude them out of the Myanmar mainstream society are some of the failures of the US on the diplomatic front in upholding basic rights.
Against this backdrop, the eagerness of Obama to reduce the Syrian regime to tatters because it allegedly killed 1,429 people is difficult to understand. Not only that, it is all ready to flout the international law yet again. In a characteristically arrogant US tone, Secretary of State Kerry was quick to declare that the US would not wait for the report of the UN fact-finding mission on Syrian chemical attacks before it strikes. A few days later, he has come up with the claim that US has its own evidence which has proved that the rebel-area in the suburbs of Damascus was indeed attacked by Assad’s regime with chemical attack. Yet, as of now, this ‘evidence’ remains to be shared, and questions about its reliability are already arising.
The US needs to be mindful of the potential repercussions of ignoring international law. Arguably, what has come to be known as ‘terrorism’ is largely a by-product of US foreign policy. When it ignores law, it lends a similar ‘legitimacy’ to anyone willing to make judgements on personal morals: whether they spring from a religious, ethnic or an expansionist mindset. Not only does this reinforce the acrimony against the US in the dissident groups, it lends credence to the hypothesis about power stemming from guns rather than intellect, breeding a new class of violent militants.
The atrocities inflicted upon the Syrian opposition by the Assad regime should not be ignored. However, an international consensus needs to be built on the nature and extent of the pressure to undermine the regime. The US should be wary of acting unilaterally and making the world yet more insecure by internationalising yet another conflict. Ironically, all that racket to flout human rights itself. If the UN fails agree on a plan for intervention, the Syrians should be left alone. Don’t bomb them to salvation!