Assad’s Crimes And The Ghost Of Morality In Foreign Affairs

Assad’s most recent atrocity is yet another war crime for a man who is no stranger to such abhorrent behavior. Using internationally outlawed chemical weapons to kill anyone, let alone innocent civilians and children, is a crime against humanity and is an affront to civilized behavior. People of the world must condemn this heinous act in no uncertain term and President Assad should be brought to justice. Russia and Iran, the principal backers of the Assad regime, should also be put on notice that the world will not tolerate support for a war criminal.

Yet, and no matter how vociferous the condemnation, when the West shows its outrage at Assad’s barbaric act and blames his backers, the message is lost in many corners of the world. A country’s moral outrage at the barbaric crimes of others carries weight and calls the world to action if the accuser has a history of morality and honesty.

Yes, US Ambassador to the UN, Nicky Haley, is right that the UN must do something, and now, to put an end to Assad’s atrocities. But who has made the Security Council and the UN almost useless? The US, Russia and China along with France and the UK have used their veto power in support of their allies and interests, with little or no regard for doing what is just and supports the interests of the world. When Iraq invaded Iran, a most serious breach of the UN Charter, and the ensuing war resulted in roughly 500,000 casualties and almost 1,000,000 wounded, the Security Council did nothing because of Iran’s heinous taking of 52 American hostages. The Security Council and the UN is ruled by the gang of five who further their, not humanity’s, perceived interests.

Yes, the use of outlawed chemical weapons is a war crime. But recall that after Iran drove Iraqi forces out and was threatening Basra, the US, the UK, Germany and France supplied chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein as the “best” and only way to stop the Iranian advance. And the Western World said nothing as Saddam Hussein used these outlawed weapons to kill thousands of Iranians and then use their dead bodies in the marshes of the FAO Peninsula as a roadbed for Iraqi tanks. You still see some of the thousands of Iranians on the streets of Iran who have to use oxygen tanks after being injured by Saddam’s chemical weapons. Where was the civilized world then?

Yes, as the backers of Assad Russia and Iran must share the blame for Assad’s atrocities. But what about the financial backing of Saddam Hussein by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s financial backing of terrorists (possibly ISIS) in Syria and elsewhere—terrorists who kill and maim thousands? Where are the civilized world’s outrage and condemnation and their call to action?

Yes, civilian casualties must be avoided wherever and whenever possible. But what about the support of Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK for the minority rulers of Bahrain who have committed, and are continuing to commit today, crimes against humanity by killing and incarcerating protesters who want a little measure of freedom? What about Saudi Arabia’s ongoing indiscriminate bombing in Yemen killing civilians with US-supplied arms and intelligence?

The crisis in Syria is a great blot on the human record. Assad should be brought to justice. Russia and Iran should be held accountable for supporting a war criminal. But Western and Arab outrage carries little moral force when their own history of disrespect for human rights and support for those who commit crimes against humanity are considered. They, along with Russia and Iran, should also be held accountable for their abhorrent actions.

Politicians pay lip service to morality and honesty in their conduct of foreign policy, but follow the dictates of what they proudly call realpolitik. They rarely consider the full fallout of their myopic decisions and how these shape the future. Iran will not abandon Assad. When the world backed Saddam Hussein’s criminal actions (politically, militarily and financially), isolated Iran and shed not even a single tear for Iranian causalities, Syria was Iran’s only ally. Today, given Western action or inaction of the past, Russia and Iran are likely to give little weight to Western outrage and will continue to stand behind the criminal Assad, making the Syrian crisis ever more intractable.

If the US now takes unilateral action, as hinted at by its officials, the Syrian conflict will only spread and possibly result in a regional war. Instead, the West should turn the page and inject a strong dose of morality and consistency into the formulation and conduct of foreign policy.