Canada must not join U.S. intervention in Syria

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The drums of war are again beating in the West, their ominous clamour signalling U.S.-led air strikes against Syria and the Ba'athist regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Following an alleged nerve gas attack in suburban Damascus which is claimed to have killed at least 300 people -- mostly women and children -- the "red line" of U.S. President Barack Obama has been crossed. The result, despite a lack of any tangible evidence that Assad ordered the attack, is a jingoistic call to defend the human rights of the Syrian people with a 'surgical' airstrike. Curiously, such claims contradict American funding which has heretofore armed the rebels and facilitated numerous atrocities in which both parties are directly implicated.

There are shades of 2003 in Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry's condemnation of the chemical weapons attacks. Like the blood-curdling call for war against Iraq in the wake of 9/11, fraudulently citing Sadam Hussein's possession of WMDs, the United States has attempted to derail a UN probe of the stated nerve gas barrage, effectively averting any revelation that might prevent more violence. Sadly, the investigative moratorium has been accepted by the international community. Under the guise of the UN’s Responsibility to Protect (R2P) initiative, it seems the Obama administration has wholeheartedly (and prematurely) justified direct action against Syria. If the lessons of Libya are any indication, the consequences will assuredly produce more havoc, bloodshed and consternation.

And, for what?

To date, the Syrian Civil War has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, created over two million refugees and embroiled the sensitive region in a bloody conflict of blurred ideologies and demands.

International actors led by the U.S. and Great Britain have strategically chosen sides -- as they did in Libya and Egypt -- acting with Israel to wage a proxy war of an increasingly dire nature.

In the meantime, the many Syrians who are daily victims of perpetual shelling and gunfire from both sides, and who desire peace and rational, diplomatic reasoning, are caught in a deadly crossfire between the Ba'ath government, rebel forces and a combative Washington. In the streets of Damascus, Aleppo, Ar-Raqqah and Qamishli, body counts continue to rise while international pressure mounts.

It is of paramount importance to warn against a U.S. attack as such an operation would violate international law as determined by the United Nations Charter. As Marjorie Cohn and Jeanne Mirer wrote in Truthout:  

"The Charter requires countries to settle their international disputes peacefully. Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to either use force or threaten to use force against another country. Article 2(7) prohibits intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in another country. The only time military force is lawful under the Charter is when the Security Council approves it, or under Article 51, which allows a country to defend itself if attacked."

In a phrase, the use of chemical weapons in Syria -- proven or not -- doesn't constitute an attack upon the United States and cannot be used to justify armed intervention in any form unless approved by the UN Security Council.

Yet the drums of war beat on, and Canada's Conservative Party seems poised to join the circle. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird have stated they will move "in lockstep" with allies to provide military assistance as the political situation -- based on their perception of it -- continues to deteriorate.

Others have weighed in, too.

University of Winnipeg president and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy believes there is a role for Canada in action against Assad. In a recent editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press, the 73 year-old made dubious inferences to NATO's 1999 bombing of Kosovo to overthrow Slobodan Milošević as a precedent for action in Syria. That operation, which was unilaterally supported by the United States, violated the UN Charter and exposed the failure of U.S. 'precision strike' doctrine. In short, NATO's air campaign did not, as its proprietors assured, force Milošević to capitulate. Instead, it dragged on for over two months, killing many civilians and further disintegrating material conditions on the ground.

Such a precedent cannot be allowed to justify inhuman violence against distant nations enmeshed in complex struggles.

Killing civilians to somehow protect their interests cannot be the principle upon which international diplomacy is based. An end to violence is presently doubtful, but it will only come from concentrated political pressure for a negotiated settlement. International emphasis should thus be placed on nonviolent solutions: careful diplomacy and a call for ceasefire. Only when such agreements are made can the violent and bloody Syrian Civil War be stopped.

It is time for the United States, Great Britain and indeed Canada to learn from past blunders and honour the very same democratic tenets they espouse to avoid further violence. Only then may prudent and rational ends be achieved, those which, somehow, improve the conditions of peace for the Syrian people.


Harrison Samphir is the senior editor at The Uniter, Winnipeg's alternative weekly magazine. He holds a B.A. (Hons.) in history from the University of Manitoba. He can be reached at hsamphir[at]gmail[dot]com or followed on Twitter @HarrySamphir

Photo: Stop the War UK

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