A strike to end the war in Syria

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 11:33 PM

My family and friends in Syria are calling on America to save them from a regime that massacres its own people. More than 100,000 Syrians have lost their lives at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, with another 6 million displaced from their homes, a third of whom are finding refuge in neighboring countries.

Syrians now believes that the world cares little about them or the international norms of warfare that preclude the use of banned chemical weapons. To many people, they are just numbers and their deaths mean nothing.

Most of those who have perished were not jihadists, extremists, or any chosen label that carries some justification for inaction. They had names, families, jobs and dreams.

Assad is desperate, and as evidence now indicates, his forces appear to have used large amounts of sarin gas to clear disputed areas surrounding Damascus. But we can’t say we didn’t see this coming. There had already been more than a dozen confirmed smaller chemical attacks in Syria before the most recent atrocity.

Many observers view with skepticism Russia’s latest proposal for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. As Assad continues to deny responsibility for the brutality of his own forces, how can we trust him to allow such control over his chemical stockpile? He likely will maintain access to hidden sources of chemical weapons and later blame his opposition for their use. It is also a stalling tactic to delay any outside military action.

As long as this conflict is allowed to continue and the Assad regime remains in power, the situation will only grow worse. I would hope our elected leaders in Washington remember that as they debate President Barack Obama’s resolution authorizing military force in Syria.

Ideally with support from other Arab nations, an American strike to weaken the regime is a message to all tyrants around the world that chemical weapons are a crime against humanity and their use will be punished.

And the international community must not stop at American-led limited military action. A strike should be accompanied by a focused strategy to enable the Supreme Military Council, which represents the moderate Syrian opposition military forces, to gain advancement on the ground.

The SMC has committed itself to a pluralistic, civil future Syria. It needs to be empowered, trained and supported politically and militarily. This will force Assad’s officers to sit at the table with opposition forces as they negotiate a settlement to the violence.

Please don’t believe those who say the United States is only “starting” a war. War already exists.  Assad is a growing danger to his neighbors – our allies Israel, Jordan and Turkey – and we would certainly act when violence spills across borders. Why wait at the expense of innocent lives?

We also know that ultraconservative jihadists from other parts of the world fight against Assad in the hopes of one day establishing an Islamist state. In the absence of international action, groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah will grow stronger, while moderate factions like the SMC are marginalized.

The Syrian National Coalition and the Supreme Military Council have been preparing for years for a transitional period after Assad’s fall. They are ready to be deployed with the aim to preserve government institutions and unite the national army.

America must weaken the current regime to a point where rebel groups supported by the United States can make progress. The longer we wait, the more Syria is another Iraq. We have a window of opportunity and the price we will pay in the long run for inaction is much higher than the price of action.

Once Assad is removed, all Syrians must come together and with international support deal with the problem of lingering extremism and sectarianism.

I seek this intervention with a heavier heart than anyone as family and friends still live in Syria, but I know that is the only way to end the violence and destruction. I have always been anti-war but intervention is the only way to stop the Assad regime from killing more people.

Write your congressman to urge decisive American military action in bringing an end to the conflict. Let’s stick to our American values and show the world that we care and that we will save the oppressed from the tyrants.

That’s a “red line” worth fighting for, Mr. President.

Haya Ajjan is an assistant professor of management information systems at Elon University. She can be reached at hajjan@elon.edu.