by Jac Bergenson
The United States went to war against Iraq 10.5 years ago this week. Commander in Chief George W. Bush launched a preemptive strike against the country. The term used for the attack by the United States’ armed forces? “Shock and awe.”
For 10.5 years now, the United States has been dealing with the fallout of its attack on Iraq. Though the military has entered a state of withdrawal, its soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines still face the dangers of war— bullets, improvised explosive devices, and suicide bombs.
However, the imminent threat in Syria does not fall under category of “conventional warfare.” No, the largest threat to Syrians and Americans alike is chemical.
On Aug. 21, the Syrian government, led by President (read: dictator) Bashar al-Assad, killed 1,429 people, according to the Obama administration, using the nerve agent sarin. Nearly a third of those killed were children. Why would Syria launch an attack on its own people?
Syria has been at war with itself since the spring of 2011. In April of that year, demonstrations turned into massacres as the Syrian Army launched a barrage of attacks on demonstrators across the nation.
A former member of the army’s special-forces unit Division 47 told Al Jazeera in June 2011 that he was ordered to “kill peaceful and unarmed civilians in the most brutal thing that has ever happened to me.”
In the two-plus years since, rebels and the government have fought each other vehemently. The death toll surpassed 100,000 a few months ago, according to estimates from the United Nations.
One of the most infamous rebels of today is Abu Sakkar, a commander in the Free Syrian Army. Sakkar, just 27-years-old, has invested everything into the war. BBC, who spoke with Sakkar in July, says the commander lost multiple brothers, relatives, and many of the men under his command to the war.
But Sakkar seems to have committed travesties of his own. A viral YouTube video shows Sakkar standing over the corpse of a deceased Syrian soldier. He threatens the dictator’s army in the video and proceeds to cut out the heart and liver from the body. He appears to eat them, threatening the same fate for the rest of his opponents.
Justified or not, the man commits an act of cannibalism on video. The Free Syrian Army has yet to place the commander under arrest or implement any other form of discipline, and given the public statements by the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States would give arms to this man and his comrades.
5 and 2.
The U.S. is gearing up for an attack on Syria. On Sep. 4, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize the attack. The resolution in question would authorize “60 to 90 days” of “limited hostilities,” USA Today reports. The 10 members of the committee who voted in favor of an attack beat out the seven who would rather stay on the sidelines.
Though it is easy for the public to paint an attack on Syria as a partisan issue, no partisanship is involved. Of the seven who voted against the resolution, five were Republicans and two were Democrats. An additional Democrat voted “present,” choosing to abstain. It is easy to paint George W. Bush and the Republicans as a scapegoat for the events in Iraq, whether or not they deserve the blame.
But what party will be blamed for an attack on Syria when there are opponents on all sides?
Though the committee passed a resolution authorizing an attack on Syria, the public opinion is of a different tune. Only 36 percent of Americans favor an attack on Syria, as released by Gallup on September 6.
This is the lowest percentage of Americans in support of attack of any of the United States’ recent conflicts; this includes all conflicts from Kosovo to Iraq.
Even out of that context, the question lingers: why is the United States about to take military action, when two-thirds of the people it represents do not favor it? The Constitution does not read “by the people, against the people.”
In his primetime address to the nation Tuesday, on the eve of September 11, President Obama gave a formal statement, detailing the United States’ plan for action against Syria.
For now, it is just more of the same.
Obama says we will strike, but he doesn’t plan to put “boots on the ground.” He plans to cripple Assad’s chemical program by force, but only after he delays voting on the action in the sake of diplomacy. He says this situation is a matter of national security but fails to clarify why. He says the United States is not the “world’s police,” but if that is so, why are we about to take action?
A speech that was supposed to give clarity to the situation only made it more muddled, and the whole thing is looking more and more like that of early 2003, when President Bush called for action against the chemically-capable regime of Saddam Hussein.
The speech seemed naught more than a patchwork mess put together to ease the country’s clamoring – the scrambling of a man who spoke of Syria’s crossing a red line then denied that the United States had drawn that line. It left us with more questions than answers.
The Syrian conflict must be looked at not only in the context of itself but in context of all of our recent military conflicts. The people of the United States have spoken: they do not support military action, but our president and his staff continue to weigh such an action as an option.
The situation in Syria, and Obama’s response to it, raises a number of questions, while answers are in shorter supply. Engagement could very well begin and end briefly, but there is no way to promise a limited strike since the president’s proposal does not state what happens when Syria and its allies fight back. The populace’s only viable option is to stay informed and make its voice heard. Why? Because if history is doomed to repeat itself, the United States could very well occupy another country for another 10 years—for better or for worse.