BY SCOTT TAYLOR
It has been 30 months since the armed conflict erupted in Syria. It has resulted in more than 100,000 killed and more than two million registering as refugees, according to the UN’s refugee agency.
Throughout this prolonged bloodshed and suffering, the Western powers have offered the rebels moral support, humanitarian aid and even limited amounts of weaponry — but no direct military intervention.
What had seemed so simple at first became a much murkier and very complicated equation upon closer examination and over the course of time.
To simplify the conflict into a Hollywood “good versus evil” plot line, the media portrayed the Syrian rebels as pro-democracy freedom-lovers, while the government of President Bashar al-Assad was painted as evil freedom-haters.
The expectation was that the long-oppressed Syrian populace would rise up en masse and the Assad regime would be toppled in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately for the scriptwriters, Assad and his supporters proved to be far more resilient than anyone predicted.
Despite an arms embargo and crippling economic sanctions, Assad has managed to keep his military in the field, doggedly fighting an ever more heavily armed rebel force.
The very duration of the Syrian civil war has allowed Western media to gain a far better understanding of the complexity of the loose-knit rebel factions and a chance to examine their true motivation.
While there may be, in fact, some Syrian militia groups fighting to replace Assad with a democratic government, they are few and far between.
The ethnic Kurdish rebel fighters are closely aligned with the Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq and their objective is to create their own autonomous region within Syria.
The majority of the Sunni Muslim Arab forces fighting Assad are Islamic fundamentalists seeking to replace the current secular constitution with an Islamic Republic based upon Sharia law. In those areas presently under the control of the rebels, strict enforcement of Islamic fundamentalist doctrine is already in place.
Perhaps the most startling realization for the West is the fact that the most effective unit waging the campaign to oust Assad is known as the al-Nusra Front. These fighters are foreign volunteers — many coming from Libya and Iraq — who have been drawn into this battle in the name of al-Qaeda.
Having learned from their experience fighting the U.S. forces in neighbouring Iraq, the al-Nusra Front frequently employs suicide bombers as a terror tactic in Syria’s major cities.
Perhaps the most damaging blow to the image of the freedom-loving rebels is their own often-barbaric brutality. In numerous incidents dating back to virtually the outbreak of hostilities, the anti-Assad forces have committed horrific war crimes, filmed them and then brazenly uploaded them to YouTube.
Although the majority of them are so graphic in gory detail that they are eventually removed from the site, the repeated images become impossible for Western leaders to ignore.
While rebel sources tell us of Assad’s brutality toward his own people, these same “innocent” victims have been filmed gunning down unarmed, middle-aged men in their underpants and cheering “Allah Akbar” as a 10-year-old boy lops off a prisoner’s head with a machete. Another video shows a rebel warlord eating the lung of one of his victims.
The actions, motives and ultimate objectives of the rebel factions make it almost impossible for the West to be seen openly supporting them.
This was, of course, up until the red line was crossed and chemical weapons were employed on Aug. 21 in the eastern Gout suburbs of Damascus.
Having stated previously on numerous occasions that such an incident would be a game-changer for U.S. policy, President Barack Obama left himself no option but to commit American military resources against Assad.
Obama’s justification for launching punitive strikes against the Syrian government is that by using chemical weapons, Assad violated the international law preventing the employment of such weapons of mass destruction.
With Russia and China continuing to use their veto at the UN Security Council to prevent the authorization of strikes against Syria, Obama will be forced to break international law himself should he attack without a UN resolution.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, and bombing in support of al-Qaeda makes no sense.