This has of course been on the cards for weeks, if not for two years. The Guardian reported in August 2012, for example, that the U.S. was ‘considering imposing no-fly zones and other steps on Syria to help rebel forces’.
Covert – although I use that word lightly, given it was an open and widely reported ‘secret’ – military support for certain rebel groups within Syria has also been ongoing since at least early Spring 2012. This support has taken the form of the provision of weapons and training.
In the coming weeks and months, and to compliment the airstrikes, it is due to be stepped up, and will take on a more ‘official’ feel.
Those pundits and analysts who’ve spent 3 years arguing that the U.S. has been sitting on the sidelines, fiddling while Syria burns, were therefore always mistaken (if they weren’t being deliberately dishonest).
Indeed, the provision of arms to elements within the opposition over the last few years has helped exacerbate the conflict in Syria, and made a negotiated settlement far less likely than it might have been.
In May 2013, for example, Oxfam reported that:
providing more weapons will mean prolonged fighting and more civilian deaths, more long-term damage to infrastructure and the economy, and greater poverty in Syria.
In June 2012, Navi Pillay, who was the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time, said that:
The provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents is fueling the violence . . . Any further militarisation of the conflict must be avoided at all costs.
In June 2012, Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. Observer Mission at the time, said that:
We are pretty sure, through our dialogues, that there are supplies of both money and weapons and also presence of other parties on [the] ground. They have not come from the villages in Syria. We believe we have seen parties from outside Syria contribute to the spiral of violence in a very non-constructive way.
And in April 2013, Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General, was quoted as saying that:
More arms would only mean more deaths and destruction.
There is even a rather well evidenced theory that the U.S. et al have been providing the Syrian opposition with just enough weapons to allow them to avoid defeat, but not enough to allow them to win, which would constitute a *deliberate* policy (rather than the incidental effect of policy) of prolonging the civil war.
These voices warning against the provision of arms were roundly ignored in the rush by much of the punditocracy, including sections of the left-liberal punditocracy, to Out Hawk each other on Syria. ‘Give the rebels weapons! No, give them more and heavier weapons! And then bomb Assad regime troops on their behalf! It’s the only way to save lives!’.
Well, how has that one turned out for you?
To be clear, i’m absolutely not saying that the provision of weapons to rebel groups by the U.S. and their GCC allies is the sole factor driving the conflict in Syria. It likely isn’t even the main factor, and the regime and its international backers, such as Russia and Iran, also have to take much of the blame. But it certainly hasn’t helped, to put it mildly.
Now that the overt military intervention phase has begun, it might be worth pointing out that similar warnings have been voiced, many of them from people who you would hardly call anti-war activists or anti-Imperialists, about the potential deleterious effects of it.
In March 2012, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had concluded that any:
. . . military intervention would be a daunting and protracted operation, requiring at least weeks of exclusively American airstrikes, with the potential for killing vast numbers of civilians
Already, there are reports of civilians, including children, having been killed in U.S. airstrikes, and the assault is not yet even 24 hours old.
In June 2013, Javier Solana and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, two former Secretary Generals of NATO, authored an article for The New York Times, in which they warned that:
Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country. The idea that the West can empower and remotely control moderate forces is optimistic at best. Escalation begets escalation and mission creep is a predictable outcome if the West sets out on a military path .
In August 2013, Christian Aid warned that, in the event of airstrikes being launched:
. . . the number of people fleeing Syria will increase dramatically, with catastrophic effects on the already desperate humanitarian situation in neighbouring countries. An escalation in military engagement within Syria will worsen an already precarious humanitarian situation
While the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that:
Further escalation will likely trigger more displacement and add to humanitarian needs which are already immense.
So there’s a very good chance that these airstrikes will end up escalating the conflict further, deepening the already grave humanitarian crisis, and killing large numbers of civilians.
For those who would dismiss these warnings as ‘alarmist’, it’s perhaps worth remembering that the ‘alarmists’ – or what you might call people who simply have no faith in a serially criminal, abusive and self-serving U.S. government to sort out the world’s problems – were generally proven right in regards to the military interventions in Iraq and Libya, where ‘worst case’ type scenarios have actually prevailed.
One might hope that they don’t prevail in Syria, but given the horrific historical and recent track records of the protagonists, that hope could turn out to be quite badly misplaced.