Last Wednesday opposition activists in Syria reported over 1,000 dead after a gruesome attack in which rockets with chemical weapons were launched into the Ghouta area of Damascus.
Doctors Without Borders reported that they accommodated 3,600 patients in less than three hours of the attack in their hospitals in Damascus. The patients were suffering from symptoms typical of toxic agents – choking, with foam frothing from their mouths and nostrils.
Assad has consistently denied using chemical weapons in the conflict in Syria; instead he has blamed the rebels who, for almost three years, have worked on removing him from power.
The west, meanwhile, is convinced that the Syrian government is to blame. And they’re determined to do something about it.
Over the weekend, America and the UK stepped up their position on Syria and opposition leaders in Syria were told to expect military strikes against Assad.
“There is a reason why, no matter what you believe in, the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again” said Secretary of State John Kerry.
British Foreign Minister William Hague has said that “there must be a serious response by the international community” and that military action “may be the only remaining response.”
The pressure is on from France. In the words of Foreign minister Laurent Fabius “France’s position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force” if it is confirmed that chemical weapons were used.
But whilst the three may agree on how to proceed with Syria, their views are out of line with the public in their respective countries.
According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of the American public have opposed US intervention in Syria since the start of the conflict. Support for military action, they say, rose when participants were asked how they should respond if chemical weapons were involved. But still, only 45 per cent are for and 31 per cent against. The Center also established that more than two-thirds of the French public were opposed to arming the rebels.
In an article by the Associated Press, America’s top general Martin Dempsey said in a letter to a congressman that whilst the US military could take out Assad’s air force, and shift the balance of power, it would place them right the centre of a war with no strategy for settling the sectarian conflict.
Former US military officer Charles Kohl said to Hareetz, “The United States has become too much of the world’s policeman” and advised against intervening in Syria, even in the face of a chemical attack. He added that a no-fly zone would cost more than $1 billion a month without the guarantee that the situation would change. Instead he supported upping the current policy, which is providing increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance.
YouGov research for the Sunday Times – carried out after the last chemical weapons incident – reveals that the British public is largely against British military intervention in Syria. 9 per cent support it whilst 74 per cent are against. Only 16 per cent support supplying arms to the revolutionaries and 77 per cent sending food, medicine and humanitarian supplies.
It was Britain and France who, in May, forced the EU to lift the arms embargo on weapons to the anti-Assad forces, despite opposition from the other countries. Not long afterwards, Obama sent fighter jets and missiles to Jordan “to enhance regional stability.”
If they further their campaign, they do so against public opinion, just like Iraq where less than a third of Britons are said to have supported the intervention there. Given what we have learnt from this disastrous war, what the west should be pushing for is a negotiated settlement, not another destructive crusade.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.