A Jordanian pilot being burnt alive. The ongoing genocide against Yazidi Christians. Recorded executions at point blank range. The brutal beheading of Western journalists. These are just a few of the horrific events that have occurred after US President Barack Obama’s comments on August 20, 2012, that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line”, and warrant U.S military action in Syria.
The “red line” made headlines across the world. But after 1000 civilians were massacred by the Assad regime in Ghouta on August 21, 2013, an attack which undeniably involved chemical weapons, no action was taken. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks in November 2015, it was expected that Western policy regarding ISIS would undertake a dramatic shift in focus, becoming more offensive in nature. French President Francois Hollande labelled the attacks “an act of war”, but at this point, it seems that the amount of dialogue and rhetoric from Western leaders far exceeds the results achieved in fighting the scourge of ISIS.
The explosion of the Russian airliner over Sinai on 31 October 2015 is yet another example of ISIS’ brutality. This was treated as a significant attack, but still, it has not been enough to warrant a more extensive strategy to counter the terrorist group. If the Russian airliner and Paris aren’t enough, one only needs to look to the crisis in Syria, where according to the United Nations, over 250,000 Syrians have died in the war in the past five years. World leaders have been rightly outspoken against the brutality of both ISIS and President Assad, but there has been insufficient conclusive action to contain the carnage in Iraq and Syria.
The crossing of President Barack Obama’s ‘red line’, and the blatant disregard for civilian life, should have been the final straw that triggered military intervention from the West. The American government was confident that Assad was responsible, with their agencies releasing assessments with “high confidence”. Despite this violation of international law, and the 90,000 lives lost in the civil war, the West did not act. It was not until the death toll more than doubled, to approximately 191,000 in 2014, that the United States began airstrikes.
The international community’s failure to prevent the slaughter of the Syrian people is comparable to inaction in the face of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The question must be asked: why was the West content to watch the merciless slaughter of civilians in Syria for four years? Why did the West fail to confront the rise of Islamic extremism in the Levant before it coalesced into a territorially valid force? ISIL and Al Nusra Front have benefited from the West’s failure to protect Syrian civilians. Inaction has enabled their military and propaganda campaigns to succeed, increasing their ability to recruit people to their cause. The West’s inaction in the early stages of the Syrian Civil War empowered terrorist groups to strike at the heart of Western Civilisation. Individuals and groups associated with ISIL have orchestrated violent attacks across the world, including in Tunisia and Paris. These incidents are the consequences of the collective lack of military action to destroy ISIL earlier. Yet, despite this, powerful Western nations remain reluctant to take real action against ISIL, particularly inside Syria.
Despite consistent airstrikes since September 2014, the United States has been unable to take back many areas under ISIL control. An international coalition and the world’s most powerful military state refuse to forcibly displace this cancer in the Middle East by deploying boots on the ground and do not appear to employing airstrikes effectively. While politicians are content to emphasise the threat which groups such as ISIL pose to Western and democratic values, they have repeatedly failed to take sufficient action to protect those values.
The West has waited too long to intervene and is still not taking the necessary extent of action to combat ISIL. Furthermore, Russia’s involvement in the war to support Assad has allowed the dictatorial regime to be strengthened. Whilst Russia is combating ISIL far more effectively than the US, it is also attacking the Free Syrian Army in order to empower Assad. Supporting Assad will not bring about political solution in Syria, it will only further damage a country whose government was the initial source of its destruction.
A viable solution in Syria can only be achieved if the coalition employs greater military force against ISIL. Areas currently under ISIL control must systematically be brought under Coalition control until their presence is abolished. Whilst this would certainly be helped by Western boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq, it is vital to effectively train and arm the Free Syrian Army and other moderate rebels. Additionally, the international coalition committed to fight ISIL should support the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, ensuring that it remains a united effort might provide Syria with the potential of a politically stable future. These actions are long overdue. Had they been implemented in the wake of the 2013 chemical attacks, they could have prevented the spread and growth of ISIL and disempowered Assad.
One cannot help but ask if the lack of action is due to the US relationship with Israel. Whilst this is an angle that’s rarely looked at when discussing the conflict in Iraq and Syria, it’s important to recognise that a strike by a Western Coalition in either of these states could make Israel vulnerable to retaliation. Furthermore, given that Israel is the democratic anomaly in the region, and that it enjoys the support of the United States, it could perhaps be argued that the current chaos in Iraq and Syria (traditional threats to Israeli hegemony) could be seen as beneficial. This might be another reason for the lack of substantive military intervention.
Ultimately, the international community has failed to protect the Syrian people from the Assad regimes violence. It has failed to combat ISIL effectively. These failures have led to horrific consequences for Syrians, and to increasing fear of terrorism around the world. The lack of immediate, decisive, action by the international community has allowed Islamic fundamentalism to spread. Certainly, this can be seen as partly to blame for the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. There is capacity for multilateral military and humanitarian action in Syria, led by the US. However, not enough is being done
After the attack in Paris, or the murder of western journalists, the world paid more attention to ISIS. These events and the actions of ISIS are undoubtedly evil by all standards, but French blood is no thicker than that of the Jordanian who was burnt alive, or the Kurds on exhibition in a cage, or of the innocent Syrians who have been slaughtered over the past five years by both ISIS and Bashar al Assad. Whilst Western politicians make long speeches about the threat ISIL poses to international democracy, Syria burns.