West's Strike in Syria is Folly
America's Asian allies should join China in warning against the west's planned strike on Syria, supposedly a punishment for alleged (probably accurate) use of gas in its war against insurgents. This outburst of sanctimony will do nothing to bring a brutal multi-party civil war to an end but it will show once again how western countries like to create so-called "rules of war" to suit their own interests.
For sure, the Assad regime is brutal and will use almost any means to stay in power, even if that power is only exercised in a portion of the nation while the rest becomes a fragmented group of ethnic, religious and other fiefdoms. It is indeed shocking that the regime endeavored to "cleanse" a district held by opposition forces with an indiscriminate weapon.
But it pious nonsense to throw around words such as "barbaric," "evil" and "inhuman" to describe this form of attack while high explosive bombs or napalm would have done just as much indiscriminate damage to civilian populations.
Indeed in a civil war almost everyone is engaged whether they like it or not, which explains why civil wars are always singularly brutal. It has always been the case that the mass slaughter of men, women and children has been the explicit threat behind sieges of cities just as the use of mass bombing of cities was used by the US and its allies against Germany as Germany had previously done against Britain.
Whether such terror tactics work is questionable but they are not unusual. Likewise the US drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been primarily aimed at individuals or groups of insurgents, but the collateral damage - deaths of non-combatants - is acknowledged to be a threat to the population at large not to harbor insurgents.
President Obama has so far shown commendable restraint in not wanting to become embroiled in the multi-faceted Syrian war. But the western instinct for moralizing has been aroused by the instant emotion drummed up by reference to use of "chemical weapons," as though high explosives were not chemicals.
The fact is that gas and related weapons are viewed as outlawed mainly because they are effective only in very limited circumstances because use on a larger scale cannot readily be controlled. Thus in the First World War gas attacks were known to blow back on the attackers.
This moralizing always comes easily to the Americans and British. As for France's desire to be part of the punishment team, this is a throwback to its own lingering sense of ownership of Syria and Lebanon.
These western leaders all seem incapable of thinking ahead, thinking through the consequences of knee-jerk reactions to situations leading to interventions which in the end have consequences far more damaging to them. The list in the Middle East is a long and tragic one. Lingering outrage over the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 paved the way a generation later to the rule of the Ayatollahs. The support for Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran sustained the Ayatollahs, caused Saddam Hussein to turn on Kuwait and hence to two US invasions of Iraq, a nation now almost as divided as Syria.
The worst thing about handing out punishment, as though the west was such a fount of wisdom and justice, is that it will make any peace in Syria harder to find. The reasons is not that it will make any significant impact on the Assad regime's durability. It will however infuriate the Russians, whose cooperation is urgently needed if there is to be any chance of negotiating a peace by applying pressure on Assad.
Likewise it will (rightly) be seen in Iran as yet another attempt to undermine the Islamic republic and thus make it more difficult than ever for the new president, Hassan Rohani, to engage with the west on the nuclear issue.
In short, western intervention in this region will for the nth time in 95 years create more problems than it solves, further fragmenting Syria, enhancing jihadist groups, increasing Sunni/Shia and Arab/Persian/Turkish/Kurdish divides. Asia is not engaged and will not be. But its nations are indirectly impacted and they should now have sufficient voice, and sufficient history of good relations with the US, to speak up against this planned exercise in ill-conceived righteousness.