As the West speaks in disparate voices on planned US military strikes against Syria, Arabs have spoken in one voice, at least in the resolution passed at a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers held in Cairo on Sunday. The meeting urged the international community and the United Nations to take deterrent action against the Syrian regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons. The meeting said the regime of Bashar Al Assad was responsible for the August 21 attack.
It’s unlikely that the Arab League plea will influence Western public opinion on the Syrian issue. Unfortunately, the public and lawmakers in the West are viewing events in Syria through the prism of their countries’ previous experiences in the region, especially their participation or support for Iraq war which was a dismal failure. The war in Afghanistan is another bad example scaring countries away from taking the plunge on Syria. But Syria is not Iraq and Afghanistan, and the case for intervention in Syria has been successfully argued even before the alleged chemical use by Bashar Al Assad. It’s this point which Arab League has stressed at its meeting. Umpteen times before, some Arab countries have called for Western intervention which has fallen on deaf ears and a failure to heed the latest call by the international community will amount to not just rebuffing the League’s call, but Syrians’ desperate cry for an end to the bloodshed, which can be achieved only through Assad’s ouster. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal told the meeting that “opposition to international action only encourages the regime to pursue its crimes”. “It is time to ask the international community to assume its responsibilities and to take deterrent measures” against the Syrian regime,” he said. The Syrian opposition too repeated their call for intervention.
At the same time, the League members haven’t been unanimous on Syria. Some influential members of the bloc, including Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia and Algeria, are said to have expressed opposition to foreign military intervention. Those Arab countries supporting the military strike need to exert pressure on the dissenting countries to support a strike, which though limited in objective, will send a strong signal to Assad that his war crimes will not go unpunished.
Though the US action against Assad is almost a certainty, the latest developments will only help minimize any positive fallout from such strikes. Barack Obama is said to be dithering after talking tough, and reports say the divergent views and opposition from some quarters have undermined Washington’s credibility.
Arab League leaders must try harder to change western public opinion against Syria strikes. A failure to act will have disastrous consequences•