By Farrukh Khan Pitafi
September 6, 2013
Assad has killed civilians in his country, now it is the United States’ turn to go and do just that. If you are looking for an argument to demonise America, this interpretation fits the bill, for no surgical strike can ensure that innocent lives will not be lost in the process. But in reality, things are far from being that simple. Whatever the cost of war, there has to be a cost of peace too. And tolerating a regime that butchers its own people, gasses them, of course isn’t a tempting option. Recent years have uncovered the true extent of barbarity of the Arab rulers. From Iraq, Libya, Sudan to Syria and Egypt, we have witnessed harrowing tales of blood lust and cruelty. That the rulers can do this much harm to their own subjects explains why the Arab world is the epicentre of global terrorism.
Again, keen as we are to compare the Iraq invasion with the impending strike in Syria, just as no two fingers are alike, we know the difference. Syria is not Iraq, the Obama Administration is not the Bush Administration and Democrats are not neocons. This time, at least, an unconcerned Pakistani like me is eager to believe that if the US plans to go ahead with a surgical strike, it must have some good reasons to do so. Uni polarity is the closest one can get to the ideal of collective security and make no mistakes; the world still is a uni polar place.
But while uni polarity in good hands can prove to be a good thing, unilateralism most definitely is not. In one aspect that the Iraq invasion and the Syrian assault are similar is the isolation the US has to endure on the world stage. If anything, isolation has grown further. After the fiasco in Iraq, Washington has only lost trust of the world leaders further. If it has to be a moral leader, it will have to rebuild this trust again. If the US can come up with irrefutable evidence of the regime’s chemical attack even after a strike, it most definitely will win back a lot of credibility. However, if it fails again, trust me, next time when it has to go ahead with a perfectly rational action abroad, its own Congress may not show enough faith.
That said, it must also be pointed out that the current US position on Syria seems principled if viewed in isolation with its position on Saudi Arabia, Israel and recently, on Egypt. The three examples given here make a case that the US desire to attack Syria is not motivated by the concerns of collective security but the wish to preserve balance of power in its favour. If proven correct, this is not the perfect image of the world’s lone policeman. The fact is that the US can strike Syria without any evidence because it has the muscle and no serious challenger. But that will be akin to pulling the uni-polar system down from within. If a US strike against Syria ends up being viewed as aggression without justification, this will offer two incentives for a multi-polar world. First, an overstretched America may turn out to be a tarnished, weakened policeman. Does Paul Kennedy’s imperial overreach ring a bell? Second, since there are too many variables, this can end up igniting a new conflict that may polarise and radicalise the world as never before.
After spelling out all these caveats, I think I should mention here that if there is actionable evidence in Syria’s case, the world will eventually side with the US. The truth is we are often unfairly critical of American power. On one side, we criticise it for doing nothing to preserve democracy in Egypt. On the other, we throw verbal tantrums when it chooses to do something somewhere. A government gassing its own people is simply not acceptable. It is only that as the only power that ever used nuclear weapons in a strike that killed countless civilians, albeit in a world war, the US should ensure that its nose is clean in its other conflicts.
And finally, while a strike on Syria may resolve some issues in the region it is essential to remember that the Syrian situation is just a symptom. The real problem lies with three states — Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.