09.02.2013 08:02 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: the right response in Syria

If Syria’s regime is permitted to continue gassing its own citizens to death – and, rest assured, it did just that last week, killing hundreds of men, women and children – then George W. Bush and Tony Blair share some of the blame.

Already, the effects of Bush and Blair’s ill-advised war in Iraq are being seen. Western efforts to cobble together a military response to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad are falling part, in Britain and elsewhere – because of Bush and Blair’s disastrous quest for non-existent “weapons of mass distraction” in Iraq a decade ago.

Late in the week, Britain’s Conservative government was obliged to dilute a Parliamentary resolution authorizing military action against the Hitlerite Assad. Skittish Labour Party members – as well as Conservative MPs – now insist on United Nations approval first. That effectively means all that Assad will be facing, for the next while, is stern words.

The civilized world’s approach to the Syria crisis has devolved into tragedy and farce. When Assad can gas children to death with impunity – contrary to every known international law, contrary to whatever human decency is left – then all of us share in the blame.

Bush and Blair, as noted, can lay claim to a greater share. Their WMD misadventure has given too many faint-hearted legislators – on the Right as well as the Left – the excuse they need to delay and deny firm action.

The outcome will be more slaughter – more than 100,000 are believed to have been killed in Syria’s ongoing conflict – and, likely, more use of chemical weapons by an emboldened Assad.

Barack Obama may choose to go it alone, as Republican leaders in Congress have favoured military intervention in Syria for many months. If chooses discretion over valour, however, he runs the risk of reducing his international reputation to tatters. His fabled “red line” will be rendered a joke.

In order to remain human, the novelist Graham Greene once said, one must choose sides.

It is time to choose military intervention in Syria, as limited as possible. Barack Obama and David Cameron are right to push for it.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair were wrong to start a war over weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

But it is manifestly worse to use Bush and Blair’s mistake to justify doing nothing now in Syria. Inaction in the face of such a calamity, per the truism, is complicity.


  1. Kelly says:

    Why are attacks with chemical weapons worse than bombs and bullets? Answer…they aren’t. This is a proxy war against Iran. After losing two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing fiasco that is Libya plus the quietly supported coup in Egypt US and UK citizens have had it. Western intelligence is incompetent and we can’t trust the evidence. For all we know people on the CIA or Saudi payroll did it. Assad is more than capable of course — he’s already butchered thousands and thousand of fellow citizens, but this particular bit of slaughter is nothing special in the scheme of things. If western powers want to fight Iran they should just say so and try it. But that likely won’t end well either.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      So right. It`s been going on for a couple of years – the gassing. Why now to retaliate?

      I kind of think it would just kill a whole lot more of the innocents.

  2. Other Hockey Dad says:

    Spin, spin, spin – Obama is always good, Bush is always bad. So predictable.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      Obama flunked on closing Guantanamo, flunked on stopping “renditions”, flunked on just about everything he “promised”.

      Rather embarassing after winning the Peace Prize too.

      Mouthing off about a red line was about the worst though.

      He was the best of a bad lot. So sad.

      • JH says:

        It has long been claimed he was only an empty suit, with a talent for rhetoric, but little experience of the real world and the need to make tough political decisions. He was long propped up by advisors, who knew how to play the people. Now in a time of real crisis the facade is wearing thin.
        There’s a lesson for us all in this.

  3. Rocker Portwell says:

    Why should I “rest assured” that Syria’s regime is gassing its own citizens to death? For all I know, or you know, the Syrian government may in fact have used poison gas in their country’s civil war, but there is precious little credible evidence that this is the case in these particular circumstances. All we have is the word of the usual crowd of suspects who sold us the Weapons of Mass Destruction fabrication a decade ago when they wanted to knock off a similarly odious regime in Iraq. Let’s say, though, that the Assad regime was going to use sarin gas on its own citizens. Why would it do so in a neighbourhood that was in government hands? Why would it do so in a neighbourhood that contained its own supporters in larger numbers than its opponents? And why would it do so at a time when United Nations weapons inspectors were in the country? Dr. Assad may be a nasty piece of work, but there’s little evidence he’s stupid. So why would his regime do something as stupid as this? There are reports that the gas was provided to the rebels by the Saudis. I don’t have much confidence in that story either, for obvious reasons, but it’s as likely as the other one given the flimsy evidence we have seen to date and the fact it’s been presented by a bunch of known liars in NATO, the U.S. and U.K. governments and their spear carriers in the media. Mr. Kinsella, we expect better from you than faith-based calls for war. Inaction in the face of calamity may amount to complicity, but how will murdering innocent civilians who have the misfortune to live under a totalitarian regime help?

  4. patrick says:

    Interesting argument: a war crime (the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan) is preventing the stopping of a war crime.
    I guess suggesting that Syria is a minor producer of oil and isn’t worth an 800 billion dollar war like Iraq, or even a piddly 400 billion war in Afghanistan is a tad cynical and suggests that American political decisions have not totally been made for mom and apple pie and, oh yes, freedom.
    No one believed there were WMD’s. Not Powell, who could barely hide his embarrassment at the UN, not Rumsfeld who wanted all “terrorism” spun towards Suddam, not Cheney and Haliburton, no one, except compliant reporters shilling for their masters, you work along side some of them.
    The search for WMD’s was not a “misadventure”, an oppsy, a “my bad”, or even a fuck up, it was a war crime. A war crime that decimated a country, destabilized the region, perpetuated terrorism, and killed over 100,000 civilians.
    None of which has anything to do about a decision to intervene in gas warfare.
    Those who make these decisions consider only if it’s worth it, can it be afforded, and if it’s spinnable to the public and with no oil, multiple wars and an over stretched military, a good reason isn’t going to be enough.
    10,000 gased? Yeah, whatever.

  5. .. evidence based .. factual .. findings
    critical & accurate reportage & analysis ..

    I know you stand for those criteria ..

    ‘gassing its own citizens to death – and, rest assured, it did just that last week’
    Well sorry .. n all that .. but ‘rest assured’ aint cutting it for me
    You got anything more to go with or validate that ?
    I’m looking very hard via mass media sources
    and I aint resting assured

    And .. I’m not assured at all on reading our prissy PM Stephen Harper conferred with Obama
    and agreed that immediate retaliatory action was necessary in Syria
    as I have zero idea on who briefed Harper.. it could have been a hysterical John Baird
    or a PMO underling just out of typing school, agriculture college or Western ..

    The shocking tragic deaths are confirmed .. unarguable.. murderous
    The who dunit .. seems .. unconfirmed .. murderous
    5 to 7 million displaced refugees as well ..

    The knowing of .. seems paramount ..
    The firing of cruise missiles (at whom ?) is secondary to that knowledge ..

    No ?

    • davidray says:

      Well said. I have a new manifesto for the 21st century. “Do no harm Dammit and stop lying.” Seven new words you can’t say on television because it seems to me the human race is doing the exact opposite. Using that as my yardstick I don’t get fooled much anymore.

  6. !o! says:

    More emotional than usual…

    Since when is BOMB THEM!! BOMB THEM NOW!! THEY ARE BAD!! a rational response?

    That chemical attacks took place is fairly clear. What there isn’t clear evidence for is that the regime itself was responsible, or what exactly bombing them would accomplish… If you’re Assad, you know you’re on thin ice, and that the US has been pushing for regime change, arming rebels for years. Why would you authorize a chemical attack in a tactically inconsequential area that all but assures an invasion?

    Also, it was reported in JANUARY, that the US backed a plan to launch a chemical attack in Syria, and blame it on Assad: http://in.news.yahoo.com/us-backed-plan-launch-chemical-weapon-attack-syria-045648224.html
    The daily mail also reported on leaked emails saying the washington approved use of chemical weapons in Syria: http://web.archive.org/web/20130130091742/http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270219/U-S-planned-launch-chemical-weapon-attack-Syria-blame-Assad.html

    This is not a simple story, and sounding the war horn is hardly a productive reaction.

  7. Rene says:

    As pertains to your military interventionist argument with respect to the ongoing Syrian civil war, I would concur with the views expressed by retired Concordia University history professor and former director of Alliance Quebec Graeme Decarie in his blog The Moncton Times@Transcript.

    In response to assertions ” that Assad of Syria is a brutal monster, and the we have to help the freedom-livng “rebels” to get rid of him and establish a democracy” professor Decarie asserts in his blog on June 17:

    “There is no mention that major supporters of the struggle for democracy are the dictators of the two most intolerant dictatorships in the world, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”

    ‘I’m sure Assad is not a nice guy. But he almost certainly has more popular support than the “rebels” do. For openers, the “rebel” forces are largely made up of people who aren’t Syrian. Large numbers are hired mercenaries … many members of or connected to Al Quaeda and other groups that this paper usually calls extremist and terrorist.”

    “There is not the slightest chance of a democracy emerging out of this. In fact, the “rebels” are so divided against each other that there is not the slightest chance of forming a government of any sort. And the US knows that.”

    “The US is committed to nothing but war for the foreseeable future to establish military dominance so that American business can enjoy world dominance. The purpose of the war in Syria is to destroy Syria as a functioning country. The result has been to plunge the whole region into a chaos that could well draw in Russia and China.”

    Professor Decarie continues with a further contribution June 19 on the Syrian civil war :

    “Obama has taken a giant step to bringing about a confrontation in Syria that could involve a total of at least six nuclear powers facing each other down. The declared reason is that the Syrian government is using poison gas. Obama is almost certainly lying…”

    “That whole region is collapsing into chaos, largely the result of the walking disaster we call American foreign policy. Obama is Bush. And both Obama and Bush are puppets of big business in the US.”
    “The reality is that the disastrous US foreign policy of world dominance has created chaos, deadly suffering, profound chaos in the whole Moslem world as it pits Shiites against Sunnis. The west, with the Arab dictatorships has been supplying the weapons and the money to hire mercenary thugs. Whole nations are being destroyed.”

    “The geniuses behind this are the same geniuses who planned the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of them tragic failures – the very, very wealthy want the resources and cheap labour of those countries – and damn the consequences. The “victory” in Iraq killed over a million, destroyed the infrastructure, and the country is now collapsing. The war in Afghanistan never had a clear purpose. It has won nothing despite appalling cost.”

    and on June 29 professor Decarie argues :

    “Recently, a Christian monastery in Syria was looted and burned by “rebels”, the side that we support. The bishop was taken to a public square where he was beheaded. The ‘rebels’ then announced they intend to kill all Christians in Syria. Counting Catholics, there are some nine million Christians in Syria.”

    “These are the rebels that the US, Saudi Arabia, Quatar, Turkey, Britain, France have been supporting and supplying since the beginning of the war. In fact, it is those countries that set up the war in the first place. The US is now stepping up the shipment of weapons to the ‘rebels’ – pretending it has never done so before, and assuring us all that weapons will not be sent to ‘bad rebels’. The bad rebels also have close ties with Al Quaeda, the organization that Mr. Obama has declared evil, and the greatest threat to the western world.”

    “The assurances that the weapons will go only to ‘good rebels’ are ridiculous. Once those weapons hit Syria, they’re up for grabs.”

    “As well, the ‘rebels’ almost certainly have acess to chemical weapons, and even nuclear ones. ” ….

    Professor Decarie continues on July 6 with the assertion:

    “And that may explain why American foreign policy has been such a slow-motion train wreck for the last fifty years and more. In the Moslem world, for example, the west, led by the US for the last half-century, has created sectarian wars of the sort that has blown Syria apart, and seems well on the way blowing Africa and much of Asia apart.”

    “Indeed, the existence of what some people call ‘extreme’ Islam owes almost everything to the century-old abuse of Moslem countries by western business, then really set aflame by a hatred campaign against all Moslems encouraged by the George Bushes of this world, and by western news media to justfy the indiscriminate killing of Moslems to open the way to profit for big business. That’s why we now have civil wars between the ‘extreme’ Moslems that we have created, and the more moderate Moslems.”

    • davidray says:

      If life were fair and it isn’t Warren could negotiate a twofer. Assad for Bush and Cheney. Alone. No protection. On a main street in Baghdad. Hell, Evil Knievel would rise from the dead to watch that one. You could make a fortune televising that scenario. Yawn.. Mffmff snfrfff whoops I just woke up… so waht did I say.. really. Oh shit. Ah fuck it.

  8. Bill From Willowdale says:

    America must stop involving itself in foreign wars. Nobody made them policemen of the world.

    • Ottawa Civil Servant says:

      And yet, the world blames them for every wrong and demands that the US make everything right. Canada, Europe and all of Asia bridle at American intervention, yet they demand Pax Americana in the face of Russian (nee Soviet) and Chinese ambitions.

      No police force in the world is perfect, but I gladly accept the American version over any other.

  9. It seems likely that Assads forces used sarin to win at leat one battle. While that by itself is horrific, it is the wider implications of that use that are truly unsettling. If there are no direct consequences for the use of sarin, then the use of the damned stuff will be assured in other places and times. The next tinpot despot who wants to win a battle the quick and easy way will perhaps decide that the UN, or US will sit by and watch. In my view that is the real issue, deterrence of gas use in war. Gas wapons are owned by any government that wants them. They are easy to make.
    The problem right now is that the credibility of the evidence has to be un-impeachable. A second problem is that the gas cannot be directly targeted, as a direct hit will release more nerve gas. SO what is the US going to aim at? The US does not want to get involved in another ground war, but in the absence of a real opposition army, no amount of aerial bombardment is going to oust Assad. At a minimum, there needs to be iron clad evidence that Assads forces were directly responsible, there needs to be an effective resoponse that deters future use, and politically it needs to limit US engagement in the war. A pretty tall order.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      Will someone please explain to me the difference of kids in being killed by “quick targeted direct hits” or gas?

      • Ottawa Civil Servant says:

        Horrible, writhing, indiscriminate death which cannot target the military in the most rudimentary level, as opposed to selective, targetted attacks which may cause incidental casualties but are not specifically designed to terrorize an entire population.

        Elisabeth, your moral relativism is revolting. You likely equate “cop killer” with “a cop who killed.”

  10. Paul says:

    The words of Henry Kissinger come to mind here. When asked who he was rooting for in the Iran-Iraq war, he replied:

    “It’s too bad they both can’t lose.”

    I’m afraid that there are no “good guys” in Syria to support. Only bad guys and worse guys, and it’s up for debate which side is which.

  11. Balconies says:

    Now that you are back to criticizing Conservatives and Republicans, your column is back to being just 400 words long? You should ask SUN for a little bit more space EVERY week. Those last couple longish columns were really great.

  12. Mary says:

    Why should we believe that Assad gassed his people? Because the US says so.

    Sorry, that’s not good enough, for obvious reasons.

    • Ottawa Civil Servant says:

      UN, France, NATO, UK, Russia, Canada, European Parliament: All agree the evidence is damning and irrefuteable.

  13. Heric says:

    The issue is with regime change not the information about chemical weapons.

    No one wants Al qaida to form government.

    Assad is seen as the best worst alternative. The west will not replace him with a friendly alternative or a strong constitution.

    We have been funding a proxy war and now don’t like the outcome.

    I don’t know how the west didn’t see this as an issue. Israel didn’t want regime change in Turkey, Syria, or Egypt.
    Israel supports both Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

  14. steve says:

    A healthy skepticism is in order. Who has the most to lose in a gas attack, Assad! Now mass murderers make mistakes every day but this one would be a doozy.

  15. davidray says:

    George Carlin nailed this twenty years ago in an HBO special. So prescient. Even the country’s are the same.

  16. Michael Bussiere says:

    I was last in Syria in 1995 (I had 3 grandparents from there). There were huge portraits of the old man Assad everywhere. The streets, markets and restaurants were bustling. You could buy alcohol, unlike neighbouring Jordan. People were always inviting me into shops, homes, cafes to sit and chat. It felt tense but alive. I was constantly being pestered for help to emigrate to Canada. The Christian community was probably more respected in Syria than in any neighbouring state including Israel.

    So, is blowing shit up with drones from some ship in the sea going to make lives on the ground any better, or end the conflict? Can anyone advocating this action calculate that the odds are high that this will be the outcome? I sure as hell can’t say after walking those streets.

  17. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    WMD was nothing more than a pretext for invading Iraq. Bush went in because Saddam tried to off HW after The Gulf War. Ask Iraqis if they would like to have Saddam back in power. Should be a mixed response.

  18. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    A cornered animal will fight to the death to delay its death as long as possible. That is precisely what Assad is doing.

    He knows his downfall is probably inevitable but he will do whatever it takes to survive. That’s why the U.S. will ultimately do whatever is necessary to bring the regime down.

  19. Sean says:

    100% agree with this piece Warren. Exactly what I have been thinking this past week.

  20. Tiger says:

    I don’t think it’s morally WRONG for the US to bring Assad down. Didn’t think it was wrong to bring Saddam down, either. Both are/were thugs who’ve put themselves outside civilized society.

    But the question is whether it’s a good idea for us to do it. And I don’t think it’s at all wrong for legislators to use the Iraq experience as evidence of whether it’s worthwhile and/or how Western intervention will go.

    I don’t mind if the US heads in, but were I a congressman or a senator in Washington just now, I’d vote nay on the president’s request.

  21. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Put simply, I would always vote for intervention where genocide is concerned. As for that other “g” word — geography — doesn’t even factor into the equation.

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