As the US and Britain make preparations to punish Bashar Al Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons, reports from both countries speak of the herculean task their leaders are facing to convince their skeptical public of the need for an attack. It’s the fallout of Iraq war and other Western interventions in the Arab world. Western leaders may be willing, but the people aren’t easily convinced. Having squandered their opportunities in the past and burnt their fingers, the US and British leaders are struggling to sell their idea even though they have a convincing case for intervention in Syria. Reports say that Western doubts are growing about military intervention in Syria. Western politicians and the public alike were shocked by the use of chemical use in Syria, but the initial outrage has subsided and support for a punitive strike is not universal.
British Prime Minister David Cameron faces a parliamentary revolt as he seeks backing for British participation in allied counterstrikes, which the opposition Labour Party and many in his own camp oppose. The Labour party has ‘increasing doubts’ about Cameron’s plans, which “does not mention anything about compelling evidence” that the attack was launched by Assad’s troops.
The British public is wary of getting bogged down in a drawn out war like in Iraq, which was based on faulty intelligence and therefore wants more proof about Assad’s role before supporting an attack. A YouGov poll found that support for British participation in an attack against Assad had dropped to 22 percent by Wednesday, while opposition rose to 51 percent. Cameron will have to try harder to win public support, and will feel miserable if he can’t do so having argued the case so vehemently.
The French public too is split, according to two polls which put support for an intervention, even one with UN backing, at only 55 or 45 percent.
In the US, leading newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post have warned that Obama is yet to make a convincing case for action against Syria. The president had previously warned that use of chemical weapons would be a red line Assad not cross, and by doing so had boxed himself into a precarious situation. In the current situation, the United Nations must be given more time for its inspectors to complete their investigation of chemical use by Assad’s forces. If the UN finds out that Assad is directly or indirectly responsible, the Western public will feel convinced.
It’s unfortunate that even after such war crimes by Assad, Western leaders are struggling to win public support for action against him. That’s the cost of walking into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as if it’s a picnic•