04 September 2013

Should NZ support a military strike on Syria?

We all want to see an end to the Syrian civil war. There are more than 100,000 dead, and about one third of the population either in refugee camps or internally displaced. And the Syrian government is now accused of resorting to chemical weapons.
No-one wants to stand by and watch, but the fact is that we have been standing by and watching for a long time now, and the western powers are still being indecisive. The English parliament has voted against Mr Cameron's proposal to act against the Syrian government, and Obama is referring the matter to the US Congress. The UN Security Council won't back any joint military actions, due to support for Syria from Russia and China. And NATO won't act either.
Mr Key has confirmed that there was an approach from US Secretary of State John Kerry seeking 'moral support' for a military strike now that Syria has deployed chemical weapons. But what would the military objective be? If it is to retaliate or to punish the Assad regime for the use of chemical weapons, which are banned in international law, then that will not be enough to end the civil war. It will presumably target some chemical facilities and military bases, using cruise missiles perhaps, thus degrading Assad's military capabilities. But the war will go on and Assad will hardly be persuaded to step down by such an intervention.
If the objective is more ambitious – say, regime change – then the extent of the bombardment would need to be much greater, there'd be much greater risk to innocent people, and neighbours, notably Iran, threaten to get involved. Why would the US give Iran another free pass to increase its influence in the region, as it did with Iraq?
If the objective is to give the rebels a better chance of advancing their goals, then presumably a no-fly zone would need to be enforced, using US air power, as in Libya. But there are literally hundreds of rebel militias, some of whom are fighting among themselves. Many are allied with Iran and far from western-friendly. 'Victory' for the rebels would lead we know not where. It may just lead to more civil war.
The US is looking impotent because it is impotent. 
Any moral persuasion from New Zealand should be targetted at China and Russia, urging them to reconsider the support they are giving to the Syrian government. American bombs are not going to help. There is no sensible case at all for New Zealand to morally support an American military intervention in Syria.


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