Syria

PM David Cameron lost the vote in Parliament to go to war against Syria after president al-Assad may have used chemical weapons against his own people and it seems the PM was even surprised a majority voted against the war. Now some MPs are calling for a harder party line to force every MP into following one line.

Afterwards, some newspapers were ridiculing the PM, writing he lost authority, not only in his own party or country but worldwide as even the USA now praised their ally France but not the UK for wanting to go to war in Syria (how friends are changed whenever it suits power is quite impressive. And the US knows this hurts the UK that always wants to be known for their special relationship with the US). Still, the PM defends his right decision to ask Parliament. Indeed, should a decision about going to war depend on the opinion of one person as it can kill many? On the other hand, can any country accept people are killed by chemical weapons and leave that unpunished? Quite a dilemma.

Also President Obama was ridiculed for apparently making a U-turn after his decision to go to Parliament (Congress) so MPs can vote about whether or not to attack Syria. However, I don't think he should be ridiculed because first, he spoke about the possibility of going to war with certain (war-hungry) Republicans. Indeed, many Republicans would already have gone to war long ago against many countries in the Middle East (e.g. against Iran but also Syria) as they find strong leaders go to war to show their country is strong while they find weak leaders talk to find permanent solutions. Many love weapons, making money and being remembered in history books, and winning wars will ensure they end up in the books (while wars can also be lost). As they are the greatest party in Congress, and the leadership may have suggested support for the President, after winning the vote President Obama may look like a strong President who can even convince the opposition party (would be first time since his re-election) to support him to fight an evil regime in Syria that kills its own people and destabilises the whole region. Still, as many from the opposition party (and certainly those from the Tea Party) hate everything that is not white, they may still decide against their own principle of going to war, simply to demonstrate President Obama is a weak President.

Don't understand me wrong, war may be a necessity to prevent countries use chemical (and other) weapons in future. Indeed, it can't be accepted that leaders use chemical weapons to defend their own position, certainly when the UN forbid their use (thus their use should trigger actions although that doesn't always need to be war). It seems many were surprised when over one year ago President Obama promised action if gas would be used. He may have done this to demonstrate his opponents he is a real man who can also start wars, certainly after the many attacks from the (extreme) right that claims he takes too little action and hesitates too long. Still, I think he made the comment because of a real believe that one can't cross a red line unpunished. Nevertheless, many countries are not willing to start a war and I understand very well why because it means sacrificing the children of their own country as one never knows how war may end (and al-Assad already threatens with major revenge actions if attacked). However, taking no actions can also be difficult, not only because dictators may think they will not be punished but also because al-Qaida may defend the people against al-Assad, and then war may still come to us. (That is why I have sometimes problems with anti-war demonstrators when they are against defending victims of war criminals). Still, finding other solutions than war may also be an option.

Thus, leaders can't kill their own people to stay in power, certainly not with weapons of mass-destruction (although we have to be sure it was president al-Assad who used the gas and not opponents). But I think first we should go via the UN as many (European) countries claim this is the way to go forward and then they may help the USA. The UN, the much-hated organisation by the hawks as it tries to find permanent solutions amongst countries without making war and with respect towards opponents while it also give (some) power to other countries. I think one should play open card and show documents about the attacks so allies as well as opponents can only agree on one thing: either al-Assad used or didn't use chemicals weapons against his own people and thus needs or does not need punishment. Then Russia, China and others will have to chose side. But many countries may not even accept evidence and question if it is real as they distrust the US. And a neutral person can lead the negotiations.

In the meanwhile, Russia and its President Putin should be involved and not side-lined in finding a solution as they are important players in this game. Indeed, not wanting to meet someone does not work very well with major powers, often quite the opposite. As the Cold War should be over (not for certain people), why not invite Russia to send scientists to join finding evidence so no-one can claim evidence is fabricated? President Putin says chemical weapons are not acceptable, thus when evidence is found (including by his own people), he will be forced to condemn. If evidence shows the Syrian government indeed used the weapons and if even then supporters of president al-Assad continue to claim he didn't use them, then by choosing the wrong side they can forget for many years any trade with Syria after the fall of president al-Assad as Syrians will hate those countries that supported their enemy. President Putin also has an idea: place the chemical weapons under international control in return for not attacking Syria. Take this idea serious unless President Putin proofs the opposite and let the Russians join with the removal so they can be part of the international community. It seems even Russia will benefit as the weapons can no longer fall into the hands of terrorists and threaten Russia. If president al-Assad then attacks, he will also kill Russians and thus President Putin will normally condemn al-Assad. Still, each country should be allowed to decide for themselves what to do because forcing countries will only result in a weak coalition with possible enemies within the army. And when the evidence is there, then countries will have it much more difficult to claim no actions are needed. And the UN can only be given a limited time to consider their decision if the evidence against the Syrian government is obvious. While in the past weapons were sold to the Middle East, they may now start returning to hunt us, thus the UN has a duty to stop weapon trait with dictatorships.

But as with Iraq, already the division between good countries (those who are willing to fight) and bad countries (those who want evidence who used the gas while trying to find a solution) is returning. Nevertheless, countries that don't want to fight (even the US wants a short war without ground troops) may want to provide e.g. gas masks and medicines so the population can protect themselves. But we can be sure, the hawks want a solution for the Middle East, and not via peace talks, and thus war may come eventually, if not under President Obama when he may loose the vote in Congress, then under the next president, maybe a Republican, maybe from the Tea Party. Unless President Obama handles it well.

In summary, what do I think President Obama should do? First, show evidence to the members of the UN so countries can't claim they didn't know. Make sure Russia is involved and not neglected (and President Obama already reached out). It is not good to re-open the Cold War although many think they would gain by doing so. Still, that doesn't mean we should be careless. Second, it seems sarin was dropped and as antidotes exist (atropine and pralidoxime, see New Scientist 31/08/13), how can they be provided to the people so they can cure themselves if sarin is used again but in such a way they don't get an overdose because people may have to use the antidote without the help of doctors. Here too Russia can help because whatever side used sarin, at least people receive help. People should also receive information that sarin is heavier than air and thus people should stand higher (although then they are more vulnerable to snipers). Still, other chemical weapons may be used later. Providing protection means people can survive without too much weapons in the region because the potential that extremists gain power scares the rest of the world in helping the people. And president al-Assad should be convinced to step down and live elsewhere. Finally, war should be a last resource as it has many dangers, both for those who attack and civilians. E.g. I'm not sure bombing the storage place of chemical weapons will be a good idea as then gas may be released in the air, killing more people and as a result the US may be considered as being an enemy, not someone that wants to protect people.

Thus, apart from discussing war with politicians, the President also needs to speak with the army and with scientists about possible consequences of war, what may happen if more gas is released and possible cures to minimise the suffering of the people.

If President Obama is still his old self, then I am convinced he is talking with many people to find ways of defeating president al-Assad. Then he may find a way to work together with Russia. But it will be difficult because not many people want their son or daughter is killed in a war that is not theirs. In addition, in the future we should limit the trade of weapons and punish countries economically when they export weapons so that the possibilities of war will be smaller.

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