A deadly game

File - A Joint Force Harrier jet is pictured high over Britain's Akrotiri military base in southern Cyprus in the east Mediterranean, shortly before the iconic aircraft was decommissioned, September 22, 2010.(AFP PHOTO/HO/ROYAL NAVY/LUIS HOLDEN)

These last few days, the drumbeat of war has become deafeningly loud. It is as if everyone have been part of some sort of virtual video game, running around like dangerous, headless chickens, acting as if the consequences of their actions have no bearing on real life.

And yet the people in the Middle East have not been in possession of controllers. The deliberations and plans made this week have not for one second taken into account the situation on the ground. None of the heads of state lecturing on the moral necessity of intervening in Syria seem to have given any thought to the effects such a strike would have on people’s lives, not just in Syria, but throughout the region.

And so, as the players battle on the big screen, the citizens of the region wait, with bated breath, to see what is coming their way. Many Syrians who live near possible military targets have already moved out of their homes. In southern Lebanon, residents brace for the punishment that would be triggered by Iran’s and Hezbollah’s touted retaliatory attack on Israel.

From the speeches made earlier this week, an observer would be justified in thinking the strike is going to happen any minute, tonight maybe. It now appears the world will have to wait – though nobody knows quite how long.

In many ways, this is a good thing. The hotheaded approach to military intervention is never the right one. If the West is going to get involved in this ever-deteriorating proxy war, the decision needs to be made carefully, in the cold light of day. U.N. backing would be the ideal, though Russia’s presence on the Security Council makes this unlikely.

In any case, the West seems to be waiting for the U.N. investigations team charged with establishing whether chemical weapons were used, with the experts expected to report back within days of leaving Syria Saturday. It seems the U.S. and its allies are playing for time in order to build their case for a punitive strike on President Bashar Assad’s regime, and this is exactly how it should be.

No amount of media hype, enraged public opinion or distressing pictures should dictate foreign policy, especially not when both lives and the stability of the region is at stake. Reason, not emotion, should be the master in politics. The West’s instant reaction to last week’s attack was drunk and hysterical; over 100,000 people have already died in this horrendous conflict, another 1,000 now is no reason to stumble in thoughtlessly.

That is not to say the world should not act. An atrocity was committed last week, and the perpetrator should pay the price. And the international community should enforce the red lines over the use of chemical weapons.

But an intervention of this sort in Syria needs facts. It needs international backing. It needs legitimacy, and it needs a completely sober mind to think it through. Hopefully world leaders can now return to this state, and figure out their next move.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 30, 2013, on page 7.




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