Why we’re failing to hold Bashar al-Assad to account

Michael Petrou on tears at the UN, and the failure of the 2013 agreement aimed at eradicating Syria’s chemical weapons

(Khabieh Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

(Khabieh Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

Members of the UN Security Council cried after watching a video that shows doctors unsuccessfully trying to revive child victims of an apparent government chlorine gas attack in Syria last month.

One hopes they were tears of shame.

Samantha Power, America’s ambassador to the UN, pledged those responsible will be held to account.

Nobody believes her. Nobody should, anyway.

It was not even two years ago that evidence of poison gas attacks by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces inconveniently became too persuasive for America to ignore.

In August 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama had declared that the use or transfer of a “whole bunch” of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for the United States. This didn’t stop Assad from gassing Syrians to death on several occasions after that statement was made, but he did so in sufficiently small numbers that Obama must have felt safe hiding behind his “whole bunch” threshold and did nothing.

Then, in August 2013, regime forces slaughtered some 1,400 Syrians in a sarin gas attack, including more than 400 children, according to White House figures. That, finally but temporarily, pushed Obama toward action.

America and some of its allies prepared to bomb Syrian regime targets in response. Britain backed out after Prime Minister David Cameron lost a vote in the House of Commons endorsing military action. Today, British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, campaigning for an upcoming election, bizarrely cites his 2013 opposition to military action as proof that he’s tough enough to be prime minister.

Strikes might have gone ahead without Britain, led by America and France. But Russia stepped in with a plan that would see the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and spare Assad’s regime from air strikes. Washington hailed the deal. “Ensuring that a dictator’s wanton use of chemical weapons never again comes to pass, we believe is worth pursuing and achieving,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time.

Even if the deal did that, it was still an obscenity because it implicitly permitted non-chemical attacks, which Assad continued to carry out with renewed enthusiasm. His air force rolled barrel bombs out of helicopters and onto civilian neighbourhoods in broad daylight—because really, what was anyone going to do about it?

The group managing the destruction of Assad’s arsenal, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was consequently awarded the Nobel Peace Price. They can’t really be blamed for this. They are committed to the laudable goal of eliminating chemical weapons, and in this case did their job well. But the award went some way toward legitimizing the sordid deal. On the other hand, it also meant that giving Obama the Peace Prize in 2009 was no longer the stupidest choice the Nobel Institute had recently made.

But now, even by the limited and morally perverted standards originally applied to it, the 2013 agreement stands exposed as a shallow fraud. It’s true that chlorine is not specifically banned as a chemical weapon, but the OPCW defines chemical weapons as: “any toxic chemical or its precursor that can cause death, injury, temporary incapacitation or sensory irritation through its chemical action.” Chlorine meets that criterion.

Assad is still gassing children to death. We’re still letting him get away with it. Those wondering why the West has so few friends among Syrian rebels might want to start there.


Why we’re failing to hold Bashar al-Assad to account

  1. I myself do not believe it was Assad using chemical weapons…I believe they were stolen and a so called rebel faction tried to smear him to blame…

  2. Why has no one done a damn thing about 200 kidnapped girls ? Why is no one doing anything about this Dictator Bashar killing his own people ? Because world leaders are the puppets of the 1 percenters. Money means everything now and lives , or the loss of them mean nothing unless dollar signs are attached. They give each other grand awards for peace , but there is no peace. We use words like leader instead of muppet or pacifist moron. When will we say enough is enough. When will we demand help for the poor, the downtrodden the victims of a morally bankrupt and broken society, and by help I mean Real help ,today damn it, not after more studies or inquiries and confabs. Real help, by real men ,unafraid to commit to the the populations for whose care they are charged and pretend to be so concerned about but do next to nothing for. When will the church leaders open the floodgates of the billions upon billions of dollars and treasures they have amassed and unleash assistance to the people they claim to Love so much but do so little for considering the grotesquely great wealth we know they have amassed. Maybe if we took an hour to look up from our phones and tablets and had a good look at what isn’t happening, we would see the game being played..you know the one…Bury your head in the sand or should I say bury your head in the world they have made for us , the one where we are constantly distracted while they extract ever larger sums from our pockets for useless trinkets while people still starve to death and die by the hands of our own so called leaders in the name of the almighty deity whose name is Dollar.

    • To Sand D Reil – Or perhaps a calculation has been made that while the spectrum of rebel factions doing battle with Assad for control of Syria, are busy with him and each other, they will leave the rest of the world alone. And yes, there will be those that are innocent and uninvolved caught in the crossfire, collateral damage as it were, but the survivers can be helped afterwards, when the pieces are being cleaned up and put back together.

      • By yhe way, Sang, I quite like your Profile picture. Nice one.

    • The 1 percent thing is a real issue, but I don’t think it has anything to do Syria or Nigeria.

      Really, what can the West do?

      The West, particularly the US, can blow things up at will, but beyond that we’re fairly limited.

      We’ve seen the difficulty of nation building in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and those were both stable countries before the invasions. What should we do in Syria? There’s no real good guys to put in charge, it’s essentially a choice between Assad, ISIL, or other Al-Queda offshoots. Do you want to occupy Syria with Canadian troops until we put a friendly government in power? Even if it weren’t an illegal invasion on our part the starting point is even worse than Iraq.

      As for Nigeria it’s the same problem. It’s 200 girls somewhere in Northern Nigeria. Those regions aren’t controlled by the government they’re controlled by Boko Haram, and even you somehow assassinated every Boko Haram member someone else would pop up to replace them.

      We just don’t have the power to simply fix the planet. We can’t even be certain that Assad is the one who used the chemical weapons.

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