Amollo: Caught between a rock and a hard place, the West must still help Syria

Benson Amollo

There have been high-profile apologies from high profile sections of society regarding how the rest of the world fails to answer the call that would avert a humanitarian crisis. Governments like that of the United States have, in moments of need and more than once, looked the other way when pressed to lend a hand by human civilizations engulfed in conflict.

In the case of Syria, it is more likely that we are readying ourselves for some apologies from stable democracies that do have the ability to do something, but for some reason we are standing by.

In “Bystanders to Genocide,” an essay by Samantha Power appearing in the Atlantic magazine in Sept. 2001, the American writer and academician talks of the sorry neglect by the world powers, led by the United States, in the 1994 Rwanda genocide that led to the death of an estimated 800,000 people. Several years later, President Bill Clinton summoned the courage to apologize for “cheering” the worst human terrorism since the Nazi-led extermination of the Jews. The government-led human butchering in Syria is nothing removed from genocide.

The gridlock in the U.N. Security Council has given the big nations of the West a legal excuse to close their eyes, block their noses and stay back. The dramatic assertion of the Security Council veto presents a murky road to humanitarian intervention.

Positing grave danger and utmost fear for this Arab nation is the continued aggression on civilians leading to the worst massacres in the city of Homs where mortar and tanks are being used to bombard the unarmed civilian population. So far, more than 6,000 have been killed and a further 12,000 to 14,000 held in detention, subject to torture and abuse.

But if the figures would charge the ire of diplomats at the U.N. headquarters in New York to action, the recent watered down resolution wouldn’t make it through the final chamber. It’s a pity the draft that even failed to urge Assad to hand over power to his deputy did not win the confidence of the chamber. It was all about international commerce and vested interests, not the dying civilians. Russia’s reasoning was it couldn’t support any resolution that ‘took sides’ in a civil war and the resolution made too few demands of the anti-government armed groups.

The assertiveness of the Arab League on this issue should stand as a stark difference between this uprising and Libya. Previously considered more of a ‘talk-shop’, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey now have stood up, and the fact that the League is taking a stronger position would supposedly give the move, as a whole, greater credibility. This would ward off arguments of Western imperialism and hopefully including into the debate those who advocate “Asian solutions for Asian problems.”

Hope now rests on the Arab League to increase pressure for political change. If we consider the futility of economic sanctions so far, the supposed humanitarian alternative which inflicts more pain on an already suffering civilian population and has shown boomerang effects, numerous European energy companies have already had to pull out of the region, causing a loss for European economies and consequently pushing prices up in Europe.

And whence this isn’t like Libya, some commentators are hinting a possible attack fronted by the United States and/or the United Kingdom to force Assad’s regime to backpedal on the killings. But such an intervention may be in the worst interests of the West that is reeling under tough economic times and several elections coming up in Europe and the United States.

The complications for a possible West-led intervention raise the question of what nature of supports would be granted to the Arab League in this crisis. Whereas it is a tough call for the rest of the world, the League’s involvement might strengthen the opposition to becoming a proxy of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. That, precisely, the West won’t palate.

The West is careful to avoid being party to an Arab stand-off stoked by Russia. Assad believes himself to have secured an ally in Russia and to have Iran on his side. This coupled with the militarization of opposition forces, who have been gaining support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar as Arab countries lose patience, could ultimately induce a proxy war between the Gulf States and Iran.

But as the rage continues and the confusion reigns, the West will always stand accused. There is a need for some humanitarian action. There must be a way to deliver help to the many civilians doused by the trigger-happy Assad regime. They need immediate medical care, food and water. Just some little assurance from the big brother — hope!