To the editor of THE EAGLE:
Since the August 21 chemical attack in Syria there’s been no shortage of denunciations from the Obama administration and members of Congress. The barbarism of the Assad regime has led some to advocate "punitive" strikes on Syria in order to preserve the lives of Syrian civilians. A noble goal to be sure, but I’ve yet to hear someone explain how cruise missiles will achieve such an end. A close look at the likely consequences of U.S. intervention leads one to the conclusion that much more harm than good would be done.
The Assad regime has had a lot of time to prepare for an attack, and its preparations have taken the form of moving military offices and equipment into populated areas. Not only are the likely targets now interspersed within the civilian population, but residents in Damascus have reported seeing buses filled with prisoners being taken to likely bombing sites to be used as human shields. Since the start of the uprising in 2011 many thousands of protesters and dissidents have been arrested, so the regime has no shortage of human shields.
Another overlooked factor is the likely Russian response to an attack. Russia has been a major supporter of the Assad regime since before the uprising began and despite Assad’s brutality that support hasn’t diminished. Russian interests in Syria aren’t unsubstantial, and any threat to those interests will in some way be responded to. The only remaining Russian naval base in the Mediterranean is located in Syria. The base, after a long period of disuse, is being refurbished and is considered an important strategic outpost. Russia’s commercial interests are also substantial with contracts to sell arms to Damascus valued in the billions, along with even bigger investments in tourism and energy. This combination of both strategic and economic interests practically guarantees Moscow won’t be idle in the case of military intervention.
Moscow has suspended the shipment of parts for S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, a suspension that would likely be lifted. Its predictable that the flow of other weapon systems would increase as well. Such an escalation of the Syrian civil war would have catastrophic effects on not only the population of Syria, but on the surrounding countries as well. The flow of refugees, already a major burden on the region, would only increase as a result.
The argument given for intervention is that a U.S. attack will deter the future use of chemical weapons. The implicit assumption is that using other munitions is somehow morally superior to chemical weapons, an assumption that should be challenged. Obama has asserted he wishes to send a message to Assad. Apparently that message is if you’re going to kill civilians, make sure you use approved weaponry.
John Kerry’s apparent slip of the tongue and the Russian and Syrian response to that slip has at least delayed and possibly averted a military response by the U.S. One can only hope that the recent diplomatic overtures will be successful. The diplomatic route is not only the best option, but the only good option available.