After a five-day wait for U.N. inspectors to access the site of alleged chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus, the unsurprising news emerged that unidentified snipers drove them off from their first attempt at investigation Monday.
Who does a further delay serve? The U.N. team isn’t even tasked with determining who used the chemical weapons – only if such an attack actually occurred. The opposition has said from the very beginning that such weapons were used. The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad called such accusations false – only switching to blaming the rebels for the attacks after the “fabrication” line quickly became untenable.
Experts say the evidence left after such an attack dissipates by the day or even the hour. Fighting continued in the neighborhoods as the regime negotiated U.N. access, further destroying the evidence. The United States has already said Assad’s offer of access was “too late” to mean anything. It is hard not to draw a conclusion about who is served by waiting, and who has an interest in ordering the snipers to fire.
Russia has called on the international community to keep waiting for the results of the investigation – a probe its ally Assad seems intent on slowing or preventing by any means possible. Considering Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the rebels of carrying out the attack on the first day, his new message that Russia will not support military intervention regardless of the investigation speaks volumes. The world knows which side Russia is on; it has been intervening for Assad since the beginning of the revolution.
The West must find a similar conviction and end its waiting game soon.
While it is understandable that the U.S. is hesitant to intervene, let alone lead operations, in Syria, this attack leaves them very little choice. There have been thousands – over 100,000 and counting – of reasons to intervene for the sake of Syrians in the past two years, but now the U.S. has a reason to act for its own good.
A stated keystone of American foreign policy since World War II has been to uphold international law and prevent and punish crimes against humanity, including by force when necessary, as it demonstrated in Kosovo. This policy is what was behind Barak Obama’s statement a year ago that the use of chemical weapons would “change his calculus” on intervention in Syria.
Obama was clearly hoping the threat would suffice – but it has not. Now he runs the very real risk of sending a message to the world’s other authoritarian regimes that they can turn such horrible methods of murder on their own citizens with impunity if he does not act.
The luxury of staying out of the conflict is gone if America intends to remain true to its word and ideals. No one expects – or necessarily wants – Western troops on the ground. But after confirming that chemical weapons have been used by the Assad regime, the international community must enforce justice for the victims of these crimes and send a message to Assad and others that this will never be tolerated.