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Obama's 'Assault On Human Dignity'

Yousef Abu-Ghazaleh |
September 1, 2013 | 11:20 a.m. PDT

Special Reporter

A group of Syrian refugees make their way through a camp on the Turkish border (VOA via Wikimedia Commons)
A group of Syrian refugees make their way through a camp on the Turkish border (VOA via Wikimedia Commons)
On Saturday, President Obama announced his commitment to an American military intervention in Syria. Responding to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime on civilians, he described it as “an assault on human dignity.”

Although I cannot fathom a warm-blooded human not being affected by the horrifying images of victims, innocent in every respect, I am equally unsettled by the military action proposed by Mr. Obama. His plan for intervention, as described by his address, seems more geared toward upholding a false image of American empathy rather than a true concern for those suffering on the ground, rendering such a plan an assault on the human dignity of every Syrian.

Holding Assad Accountable?

For those who have been calling for the United States to intervene in the Syrian civil war, this is not an answer to prayer. Our Commander-in-Chief intends to hold Bashar El-Assad accountable solely for the use of chemical weapons, not for the atrocities of the past two years. An intervention that is “limited in duration and scope,” as the president put it, without troops on the ground, is by design an inconsequential plan. It is devised for the expressed purpose of deterring the use of chemical weapons and “degrading their capacity” to continue the use of such weapons.

There is no mention of helping the suffering of the Syrian people on both sides of the conflict.

There is no mention of the 100,000 Syrians that have lost their lives since March of 2011.

There is no mention of a plan to bring peace to a broken nation. Such an intervention is primarily symbolic, because the use of chemical weapons ‘requires a response.’ 

Flouting an International Norm

What shall we say then? Shall we stand idly by and allow such heinous acts to be carried out in violation of international condemnation of the use of chemical weapons?

Certainly not.

A response that values the enforcement of an international norm over the dignity of all human life, however, is of little practical benefit in a warzone. Such a response tells Assad, essentially, that as long as conventional methods are used, we will continue to turn a blind eye. Innocent women and school children have been killed across Syria by bullets, bombs and rocket shells for two years, with no international outcry for a response. The entire global community bears the responsibility for not intervening; not this week after a chemical attack, but for the past 30 months.

The Obama administration has expressed openness to greater cooperation with the international community since the early days of 2009. It has gone to great lengths to convey a shift in how we view our place in the world: no longer an arrogant big brother, but an open, mutual partner in a community of nations. In the case of the Syrian civil war, the best response would have been an early international intervention led by the United Nations Security Council, as in the Libyan civil war of 2011. Although the dynamics of the UNSC have not allowed for such a united front in Syria, the United States is not obligated to act unilaterally.

If the U.S. is truly entering an age of engagement with the nations of the world, embracing a new era of cooperation in which it welcomes other partners as global leaders, then it should allow the international community to decide how and when to intervene. This is true even if it comes in the form of a coalition separate from the UN.

Too often, the U.S. has been the self-assigned moral torchbearer, for better or for worse, in such humanitarian crises. If we truly believe in greater openness and international cooperation, then the global community should bear the responsibility of intervention, as well as the responsibility for inaction. 


Contact Yousef Abu-Ghazaleh here.



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