The United States is at war once again and in its favorite battleground, the Middle East. This is despite the fact that they are facing a lot of trouble in withdrawing from Afghanistan in a respectable manner after waging a long war set off in 2001. Their performance in Iraq, where they initiated another war in 2003, has not been something that they could be proud of either. So, why then, is a country facing grave economic crises at home hell bent on inviting more trouble abroad?
There are many explanations circulating in the mainstream and social media. I have here tried to summarise these for you and highlight the ones I find the most plausible.
The humanitarian case:
The US wants to free the Syrian people from a tyrannical regime.
Please, don't laugh. There is whole class of liberal interventionists who think that way and they are entitled to their views. They believe that the US and its European allies have selflessly rendered priceless services to humanity earlier too.
But, I think that the script writers for the western powers have lately been suffering from writer's block and no one wants to watch the same old soap anymore. The important indications are - One, UK parliament has voted down their country's support to the new war. Two, President Obama too understands that the act is highly unpopular, and is thus aiming to legitimise it by seeking prior approval from Congress.
Protests against the Syrian government had started in 2011 and were initially seen as a logical extension of what was termed, the Arab Spring that resulted in regime changes in many countries. But unlike elsewhere, it lingered on in Syria and converted into a protracted and bloody civil war. Humanitarian workers and human rights organisations from around the world have been regularly reporting human rights violations being committed by all parties to the conflict.
The Syria chapter of the Human Rights Watch Report 2013 quotes opposition sources claiming that around 35,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict from end 2011 to November 2012. Most media organisations now quote 100,000 as the total toll of the conflict. And if you have the heart, you may read the CNN report about a ghastly video showing a Syrian rebel eating the heart of a government soldier.
They say everything is fair in war. The Geneva Convention, however, disagrees and has set out some red lines. One such is the use of chemical weapons and the US believes that Syria has just crossed that line. There is conclusive evidence that chemical weapons have recently been used in Syria killing hundreds of civilians. This statement of the international medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was the first report of mass killing by chemical weapons near Damascus on 21 August.
But there is nothing that could substantiate that the chemical weapons have been used by government forces. In fact, there are reports that point towards the other side, accusing the rebels of using this, the meanest of weapons. Read this BBC report that quoted a leading member of the the UN Commission of Inquiry telling Swiss TV in May 2013, that is much before the recent use of the killer gas,
I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got ... they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition.
And if you are interested in a full-fledged conspiracy theory about how the chemical weapons incident has been set up, you will love this.
The UK parliament voted on the question of whether or not to support the US attack on Syria, while the United Nations team mandated to ascertain facts about whether the chemical weapon incident was still in Syria. The parliamentarians decided to instead rely on YouTube evidence and experts' interpretations of what could be seen in those videos. The United States officials have in fact designated the Syrian government as the culprit even before the UN team arrived in Syria. The US is in hurry and forcing its way.
Even if the Syrian government did use the killer gas against its civilians, shall it be the US who should lead the punishing act? There are many who argue that the US has no moral standing to lead this 'crusade'. It has been itself complicit in many such incidents in the recent past and the killing of a few hundred civilians in this region has not always invoked similar responses from it. The International Crisis Group in its statement on Syria, on 1st September 2013, questions these grounds and argues that the proposed military action will solve nothing.
The sectarian case:
The Saudis want to see an end to the Alawite Shia regime in Syria.
Syria is ruled by the Assad family since the 1970s, they belong to a Shia Islam sect known as the Alawites. The country itself was carved out of the Ottoman Empire, like most others in the Middle East and North Africa, when it fell to the European forces in World War I. The new 'national' boundaries delineated by the world powers cut across sectarian and tribal boundaries and that complicated the power struggles in the countries to a great extent. Here is a map of the region showing areas inhabited by various sects of Islam.