Syrians Want the West To Take Military Action—We Should Listen To Them | Opinion

As the world frantically tries to decode the meaning behind U.S. President Donald Trump's tweets, many of the people panicking on potential military action in Syria seem to have abandoned all sense of perspective.

Inside Syria though, many are painting a very different picture. "Tonight, there are a lot of families wide awake, hoping and praying for air strikes to happen," Baraa, a young man recently displaced from Eastern Ghouta tells me from his new home in a refugee camp in Idlib.

The response from Syrians to potential air strikes against the Assad regime, especially from Syrian refugees, is markedly different from the hysterics playing out in the Western media, as my own reporting from last year also showed.

Instead of the fiery rhetoric opposing Western intervention playing out in much of the Western media, most Syrians have a more nuanced view and want all the bombing in their country to stop. And, from my experience, the majority of Syrians I speak to, living both abroad and in opposition held areas, acknowledge that is an impossible request without serious international action.

Since Western powers put punitive military action against the Assad regime back on the table in response to the April 7 chemical weapons atrocity in Douma, the Kremlin has deployed every weapon in its diplomatic arsenal to try and protect the regime from accountability. However, the mere threat of military action has seen already 75% decrease in regime airstrikes on parts rebel held territory in Syria, according to figures passed to Newsweek by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. An indication that the regime takes the threat of a military response credibly, and is scrambling to hide its assets on the ground in preparation for punitive measures.

Many of the same politicians who lobbied against military action when the death toll was under 20,000 are lobbying against military action today, repeating the same meaningless platitudes about diplomacy and the authority of the United Nations ad nauseum. The reality is, however, that this sham of a diplomatic process is exactly what the regime and its allies want. They hope to continue talking with the international community indefinitely, while they pursue a scorched earth policy against Syrian civilians in order to emerge victorious from the country's brutal civil war.

On Tuesday (April 10), Moscow vetoed a resolution that would have established an independent chemical weapons investigation in Syria at the UN Security Council (UNSC). This was Russia's 12th veto in the UNSC on Syria, every single one designed to prevent international action against the 21st century's biggest mass murderer.

In Syria, it is not just inaction that is the biggest killer, it is the impunity. The last major chemical weapons atrocity before the Douma attack, which killed more than 40 civilians, was the Sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017. The UN's independent Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Joint Investigative Mechanism found Assad guilty for that attack last October. Russia's response was to reject its findings and veto extending the OPCW's mandate to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Russia itself is complicit in the civilian slaughter in Syria, having been found guilty of bombing a UN aid convoy in September 2016 by a separate UN inquiry. It was a convoy that Russia itself had approved entry for. On Saturday (April 14), OPCW experts arrive in Syria, stripped of their mandate to name the culprit of the Douma attack, heading to a crime scene that has been under Russian control for days now, after successfully forcibly displacing the population of Eastern Ghouta in a three-month long military campaign against a besieged population that claimed thousands of civilian lives.

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A Syrian civil defence volunteer carries an injured girl following Syrian government air strikes on the Eastern Ghouta rebel-held enclave of Douma, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on March 20, 2018. HAMZA AL-AJWEH/AFP/Getty Images

There can no longer be any pretence that accountability for war crimes in Syria can be achieved through the United Nations Security Council. Russia's veto makes a mockery of international law. It is precisely for this reason that the international community must get serious about an alternative approach if it wishes to see the bloodshed end in Syria.

International diplomacy has failed in Syria, the UN's Geneva process has all but collapsed, having achieved precisely nothing. The Russian-led Astana talks have also been an unmitigated disaster, providing a smokescreen of diplomacy for the Assad regime to reposition its assets and ramp up its campaign of submit-or-starve sieges and systematic forced displacement.

The war in Syria has been raging for seven years. More than 50% of Syria's population has been displaced. More than half a million people have been killed—we no longer even have an accurate figure for how many people have lost their lives as a result of the conflict. The United Nations effectively lost track of the death toll several years ago.

Given that the vast majority of civilian deaths are at the hands of the regime, and the vast majority of those civilian deaths have been caused by aerial bombardment, the removal of that aerial threat by Western powers would dramatically reduce civilian casualties, but this is an argument rarely given a platform in the West. Indeed, cratering the runways of Syria's military air bases would prevent the regime from being able to fly bombing raids against civilian targets and would significantly alleviate the humanitarian situation in Syria, at least for a few short weeks. There are no civilians anywhere near airfields, and precision guided cruise missiles could destroy the runways with no risk to Western troops or Syrian civilians. The same can be said for Syria's chemical weapons facilities and supply lines.

If, as some rumours around Washington are suggesting, the U.S.-Russia deconfliction line is in operation, and that Russian servicemen will be given advanced warning of the bombing raids, then talk of a potential third World War is positively ludicrous. However, in the short term at least, the humanitarian gain from destroying and degrading the Assad regime's military infrastructure could be potentially significant for the Syrians at the receiving end of these air strikes.

The discussion around Western intervention often miss two crucial factors. The first is that the West has been intervening in Syria for years now. The international coalition under Donald Trump loosened the rules of engagement and civilian casualties proliferated. The coalition has bombed civilians sheltering in mosques and the world has barely uttered a word in condemnation.

A man mourns over the body of a boy at a make-shift hospital in Douma following Syrian government bombardments on the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 4, 2018. HAMZA AL-AJWEH/AFP/Getty Images

If that factor is acknowledged, it is rarely also acknowledged that nearly the entirety of this intervention has been focused on The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, leaving the Assad regime to slaughter civilians with impunity backed by Tehran and Moscow.

There has never been any meaningful international intervention against the Assad regime. It seems Western intervention against non-state actors and civilians in impoverished cities in Eastern Syria do not cause as much outrage as the potential targeting of the Assad regime's flying death machines.

It is no accident that Syrians are rarely seen on television discussing their own country. Many journalists who are in daily communication with Syrians will tell you the same thing—the vast majority of them have been seeking protection from the international community for years.

"Of course if the targets are exact and accurate we support the strikes," Baraa told Newsweek. "They will help get rid of the terror we have been suffering for many years."

"We want them to stop the massacres."

Meanwhile, the same conversation keeps playing out in the West with the same tired cliches deployed endlessly. While Western diplomacy has failed, the Assad regime, Iran and Russia are in the ascendancy. Since the Russian intervention, the Assad regime has gone from the verge of capitulation to recapturing vast swathes of territory thanks to Russian air superiority and the merciless and ceaseless bombardment of Syria's civilian population. While Western politicians loudly proclaim that "there is no military solution in Syria," the Assad regime is busying itself trying to ensure that military solution turns in its favour. Indeed, a military victory for the forces responsible for more than 90% of civilian deaths in Syria looks ever more likely.

As it stands, we have no leverage over the Assad regime. We have no means of enforcing international agreements, we have no system in place to hold war criminals accountable and we have no international bodies to turn to when humanitarian law is broken. We cannot negotiate with a side that is winning a war through the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians to stop using the tactic that it has employed since 2011. Any claims to the contrary after seven years of the Syrian bloodbath are frankly an insult to the intelligence of all decent human beings.

The truth is not that there is no military solution to the war. The truth is that there can be no diplomatic solution to this war without a military component to it. If the international community chooses to continue abrogating its responsibility to protect civilians, then the death toll will continue to rise and children will continue to be slaughtered with barrel bombs and nerve gas until Bashar al-Assad is declared King of the Rubble.

The other option is that the international community finally acts to bring the Assad regime to heal and force it to the negotiation table, which it cannot do without a show of force. There can be no diplomacy without leverage. These are the only two options available to the world, and both of them involve a military action, and both options will likely end with human blood on our collective consciences.

Baraa ends our conversation by telling me he hopes to one day see Western troops topple the Assad regime, something already knows in his heart is far-fetched.

"If they did intervene I expect all the Syrians will throw rice and flowers at them in the streets," he said, before returning to a more sombre tone, "But, with all the announcements that the West has been saying till now, and they let Assad continue to get away with it, they will lose all faith and hope," he says. "They will hate the West forever."

Oz Katerji is a writer, journalist and filmmaker with a focus on the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.