Crisis in Syria calls for Obama's leadership

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Earlier this week, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized U.S. policy towards the Syrian crisis: “So many [regional leaders] want greater U.S. engagement and leadership in advance of the interests and values we share and unfortunately…they are not getting as much support from the United States as they desire.” McCain went on to cite America’s lack of leadership, specifically in reaction to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime: “Everything that people said would happen if we did not intervene has now happened…growing radicalization, sectarian conflict, the collapse of the state, and now the specter of chemical or biological weapons being used.”
 
As Syria’s violence increases in frequency and intensity, U.S. sympathy and recognition of the opposition coalition is far from enough. Other nations look to the U.S. for the green light in intervention, but too often political interests get in the way of moral commitment. Accounts of massacres targeting innocent civilians, the use of schools as detention chambers and torture centers, and the use of children as shields on military tanks by the Syrian regime all have been met with reactions that override moral and humanitarian responsibilities. Sure, President Obama’s recognition of the opposition forces has intensified pressure for Bashar al-Assad to step down, but public objections to the Syrian state’s massacres will not create the necessary intervention to stop the increasing violence that threatens to spill over the Syrian borders.
 
In the politically charged capital of Washington, D.C., the administration is waiting…but for what? How many more innocent lives need to be claimed, how many women raped, how many children illegally detained and brutally massacred, before the U.S. intervenes in Syria? The violence in Syria has reached the level of genocide, defined by the Genocide Convention as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group such as: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measure intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The Syrian regime is guilty of at least three (a, b, and c) of these five violations. The conflict has targeted anti-regime rebels and opposition forces, who are predominantly from the Sunni religion. Bashar al-Assad has created and fostered sectarian conflict in his indiscriminate targeting of civilians in Sunni-majority communities. Specific incidents of regime-perpetrated ethnic cleansing in the Ramleh neighborhood of Latakia, as well as the Tel Kalakh and Houla villages of Homs, demonstrate the regime’s targeting of strategic areas along the coast. Documentation of torture and detention centers, mass graves, psychological persecution, and rape as a weapon of war have been recorded by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and UN agencies. There is no doubt that the Syrian regime has one goal: to wipe out those who speak out against the regime.

Political debates about the regime’s ties to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Russia, as well as warnings of a regional war were the U.S. to take action, have stymied U.S. intervention in Syria. Has our moral compass become so misaligned that our nation will continue to ignore the mass atrocities that occur on a daily basis in Syria? With the pending winter months and the humanitarian crisis that affects every corner of the Syrian state, the U.S. must recognize our past inabilities to react in a timely manner and intervene immediately in Syria. It is Syria’s hope, as well as the moral hope of the entire international community, that President Obama will assert greater leadership in response to the Syrian crisis. As McCain said, “If the president does the right thing, if he leads and takes greater actions to support our friends, interests, and values, in Syria, Libya, or anywhere else, he’ll certainly have my support.” 

Ko is a graduate student at American University's School of International Service. She served in the Peace Corps from 2006-2008 in Jordan and is currently studying international human rights.