Thursday, 19 September 2013

Have The Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan Left Britain and America With a Weary Conscience?

by Dan Breen

Russia's Sergei Lavrov and America's John Kerry
(NY Daily News)
The Syrian conflict has been dominating the headlines in Europe, and across the Atlantic. After reports of the first gas attack surfaced in April of this year, all eyes turned towards the Middle East as the familiar story of civil war and dictatorial behaviour filled column inches. The conflict then again burst into life again when more reports surfaced of chemical weapons being used in August, however this time with more fatal consequences. Approximately, 1,400 people were killed and a recent UN report written by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon described the attack as "the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988." The conflict has sent the West into crisis over what action should be taken.

President Obama has delayed a vote in Congress over whether to strike Syria and here in Britain, the House of Commons voted in favour of focusing resources on refugee aid rather than interfere with the Syrian regime using force (although it was badly mishandled by Cameron with 12 Conservatives failing to take part and losing by only 5 votes).  At this stage, France is the only nation that is willing to lead from the front, as a few days ago President Hollande issued Syria with a 15-day ultimatum, giving them the opportunity to organise a  “complete and definitive’ declaration of their chemical weapons, revealing their location as well as quantity/types used, through the UN Security Council. Obama has cited the reason for America’s lack of leadership during the crisis being down to Washington being ‘too style conscious’.
Whilst leaders and politicians bumble and stall over how to approach the crisis in Syria in a democratic and politically favourable way, extensive opinion polls have been conducted by numerous independent groups searching for conclusive public opinion as to how government should respond. Britain is firmly against invading Syria. An opinion poll conducted by the Telegraph showed 47% are in favour of no military action compared to just 19% in favour of pursuing a strike or invasion. The very same opinion poll revealed that 44% would not want Britain to intervene abroad if chemical weapons are used on a mass scale. These figures are even more exaggerated in the United States as a recent CNN poll revealed that 7 in 10 Americans were opposed to America carrying out a strike on Syria despite 8 out of 10 people believing that Assad’s regime is behind the chemical attacks.

One of the main reasons for the British and American public are apprehensive over attacking Syria is the current economic climate. Many people believe that their governments should be putting all their effort into rebuilding their economies and reducing unemployment rather than focusing on issues in far away lands that do not bear direct consequences to their nation, which can be perceived as cynical and selfish. Despite this being the main factor over a lack of action so far, there is most definitely an argument for saying that no one wants a repeat of the Iraq War, and that people do not want to see the lives of their troops risked for sake of people who are not their countrymen. Also the fact that France is approaching the Syrian conflict with new-found military ardour can be used as evidence for this. France were not major players in Afghanistan or Iraq, in fact they weren’t players at all. As a result of this ,the French public and its politicians have not suffered the same kind of ‘war fatigue’ as the US and Britain have. Britain committed 18,000 troops at the start of the war in Iraq and so far 440 lives have been lost in Afghanistan compared with 150,000 Americans stationed in Iraq and thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan. France did not suffer this kind of loss, or war scarring and this is why they appear to be dealing with Syria more efficiently and more decisively than Britain or America. 

Britain and America have a duty to uphold their roles as two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, by dealing with Assad’s use of chemical weapons effectively. Whilst diplomacy is always the preferred option, taking away Assad’s chemical weapons seems to be more of a ‘slap on the wrist’ rather than effective deterrence and this could encourage Iran in the pursuit of their nuclear programme. If both fail to act convincingly, there are serious consequences for both nations’ morality and strength when it comes to addressing violent dictators who openly violate international law. They will also have abandoned their humanitarian duty to the Syrian people, and whilst both nations do not want to be the world’s policemen, they have a duty in ensuring tyrants like Assad cannot carry out actions as he did in August. 

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