By Shahid Ahmad
“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
These wise words, uttered by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson over a century ago, have never been more relevant than today. Two-and-a-half years ago, civil war broke out across Syria. Within this short period of time, millions have been displaced and over a hundred thousand have perished. Just recently, reports assume that approximately 1,200 civilians were brutally slaughtered in a barrage of chemical weapon strikes. This is enough.
If the US had paid attention to Emerson’s words just a year ago, this would have never happened. Thousands more would have their lives; hundreds of thousands their homes. Moderate rebels would be in control of a coalition government advocating reform and respite. And Bashar al-Assad would be punished for egregious actions.
But looking at what might have been is futile. To the future must we aim. The situation is thus: Obama’s “red-line” regarding chemical weapons has been ignored extensively by Assad. Extremists are increasingly taking control of the rebel coalition, which is itself disintegrating in the wake of sectarianism.
To tackle the former problem, we need to strike fast, and hard. If we let Assad violate the inexpressibly clear limits set, then we risk losing the dregs of foreign influence that America still wields. If we cannot force a weakened Middle Eastern dictator to give up his chemical weapons, what potential do we have of influencing the truant administrations of military behemoths North Korea and Iran? We need to not seize the chemical weapons currently in possession by Assad, but also completely incapacitate his ability to strike with WMDs again.
For the latter, we must take a two-pronged approach. First, we must move with rapidity. If anything, time is the main contributor to extremism. History proves this. The rise of communism in contemporary China took place over decades of conflict, and was accelerated in the years of warfare with Japan. Because the more moderate Nationalists failed to immobilize the threat fast enough, the people sided with the more effective extremists. Such is the case with Syria. If the US can neutralize Assad’s threat fast enough, Syrians are less likely to support Jihadis.
Second, we must use less bellicose means. Mainly, we need to win back the populace of Syria towards popular support for Western intervention. To do so, the US must coordinate with the UN to aid refugees, distribute resources across Syria, and provide relief to especially hard-hit areas.
Only by doing the above, and doing it now can we give Syrians the kindness that Emerson believed was due long ago. Only then can we ensure that it isn’t too late.