Can you imagine being killed by a government sniper while protesting for reforms in your own country? For many Syrians, this is no stretch of the imagination.
In March 2011, during the middle of the Libyan Revolution, a handful of Syrian school-age boys were tortured by government officials for spray-painting the words “Doctor Doctor You’re Next,” referring to Syrian president Dr. Bashar Al Assad. This set in motion eight months of peaceful protests calling for freedom of speech and an end to corruption, among other issues. And for eight months, the Assad regime responded with snipers and police brutality that routinely left innocent men, women and children dead.
Right now, Congress has postponed voting on the matter, and it seems that the proposition will not pass due, in part, to a war-weary nation. I understand these sentiments, as I too am anti-war. However, in this instance the U.S. would be engaging in a conflict where an overwhelming percentage of the indigenous people are asking for assistance.
Russia has offered to diplomatically end this political chess game by offering to contain Assad’s chemical weapons, a proposal the Assad regime has accepted. However, chemical weapons experts bring up that this is nearly impossible to do in Syria’s current state of war. Furthermore, this “diplomatic solution” does not take into account Assad’s arsenal of TNT, tanks and Russian-supplied SCUD missiles. These weapons have already killed upwards of 100,000 people and displaced more than 6.1 million. The violence these weapons have caused has indirectly destabilized neighboring countries.
Most alarming is that this hell has been created for the Syrian people, who chanted for a free, democratic, pluralistic, inclusive, secular Syria, by their own government.
The national discourse on Syria is confused at best. Articles contradicting each other come out every day. But what the American public needs to realize is that our administration (along with the international community) is playing politics with what the UN calls “the humanitarian crisis of our time.”
In June of 2012, the Assad regime shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane and created a legal justification for NATO intervention. The U.S. could have put pressure on Russia to stop providing arms to the Syrian regime. We could have also put pressure on our close ally Saudi Arabia to fund the moderate Free Syrian Army with more sophisticated weaponry rather than jihadist groups. Syria has been making the news for the past two and a half years, yet our administration did not make it part of the national discourse until two weeks ago, when, almost exactly one year after Obama said chemical weapons would change his “calculus” on Syria, 1,400 people died in a sarin gas attack outside of Damascus. Senator Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, called this attack “a part of a long and predictable pattern of behavior” from the Assad regime.
The Assad dynasty continues to utilize a cult of personality, propaganda and ruthless force to keep power. The father, Hafez Assad, built the country without room for freedom of speech and crushed an uprising in 1982 by leveling entire neighborhoods. Twenty thousand people died in 27 days and were buried under concrete to avoid accountability. When Syrians began protesting during the Arab Spring, Assad claimed they were false, Western-backed movements led by terrorists and sent his army to deal with the people.
Assad has kept up his false rhetoric, and in a recent interview with French magazine Le Figaro, said the only way to deal with the opposition is to “annihilate” it. Later, in an interview with Charlie Rose, Assad coolly warned Americans to “expect everything” in the face of an American strike.
Thanks in part to Assad’s systemic terrorism against civilians, his propaganda and support from powerful countries, some wealthy, out of touch Syrians and misinformed global citizens believe the Syrian government is purely fighting extremists. The well-documented truth, however, is that jihadists entered the conflict only after the Free Syrian Army received no international support. After Assad is gone, Syrians will have to refocus their efforts on getting rid of these well-funded jihadists that have swooped into their country.
Human Rights Watch wrote an article in 2004 criticizing the invasion of Iraq and predicting future cynicism toward humanitarian intervention that would be “devastating” to peoples in need. The article goes on to outline when a humanitarian intervention would be appropriate:
1) If the people experience imminent threat of harm or genocide by their government.
2) If diplomatic options have been exhausted.
3) If the people ask for assistance from the international community.
Syria qualifies for intervention under all these points. Because the U.S. has the world’s most powerful military, I am calling upon my government to lead an international coalition that will take immediate, meaningful, decisive action against the Assad regime and in support of the freedom-loving people of Syria.
Galyon is a biology graduate from Sugar Land