When looking at the pictures coming out of Syria, one must resist the temptation of resigning from the human race in disgust. Never again will we allow a crisis to escalate to the point where crimes against humanity are committed on a large-scale basis – so the promise of the international community following the tidal wave of atrocities in the conflict-stricken 1990s.
Yet we have a situation in which 30,000 Syrian men, women and children have already lost their lives and another 1, 5 million people have been wounded, tortured, detained and displaced over the past 18 months. There are not enough words in any idiom to encapsulate the shame the international community once more brought upon itself by standing by and remaining silent, while Assad is mercilessly butchering and raping his people and country.
The window of opportunity for the West to engage in principled humanitarian interventionism in the face of utter destruction is rapidly closing. We have long passed the point of a political solution and now the only way to stop Assad is by military action. The immediate enforcement of a NFZ and the creation of humanitarian corridors are essential to ensure the safety of civilians under siege. It is our ‘Responsibility to Protect’, in a situation in which the state on whose territory the assault takes place is unwilling or incapable of providing security for its subjects.
The idea that the hands of the international community are tied, as a result of the Russian and Chinese veto in the UN Security Council, must be wholeheartedly rejected as a hideous obfuscation for inaction. It relativises the moral responsibility of those who decided to endow Assad with a blanco check for killing with impunity. When in the past controversies over the question of legitimacy arose in the UN Security Council, coalitions of the willing never considered them as ultimate kisses of death for action, as for instance in the case of Kosovo and Iraq.
Syria’s on-going violence is the product of a lack of political will combined with an absence of leadership and moral authority. Apparently, the incentive to intervene cannot compete with a complex matrix of domestic and international political, economic and strategic interests. The Obama administration’s ‘red line’ policy stands out in particular. It is s a deeply cynical, reactionary, and risk-averse approach for righting a humanitarian catastrophe. Not only does it send out a message of indifference and incompetence but the logic behind is that it is acceptable for Assad’s crime regime to kill with conventional weaponry as long as no chemical or biological agents are involved.
Instead of pushing for a robust internationalism, the West has embraced an amoral isolationism: an isolationism the world cannot afford and for which the Syrian people pay the price in blood. For now, they are left to the mercy of their killers and the question remains how many more innocent lives will be lost.