Opinion: Barack Obama and Syria – When morality trumps ethics

by Adeolu Ademoyo

               president_official_portrait_hiresPresident Barak Obama has established the moral point against the use of chemical weapons and against its use in Syria. He has established that Iraq and Syria are not the same. Therefore, he   is right in his moral objection to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict but it seems the world is not ready to be on that same moral high ground.

The complexity of the Syrian problem defies a straight jacket either /or analysis. On one hand it looks like an internal Syrian conflict such that President Bashar Assad is fighting for the survival of his regime. On the other hand, given the use of chemical weapons, and the threat of attack the picture changes from an internal crisis to a regional and more global one.

However, despite this complexity, the following facts create a basis to engage Syria. The conflict has a history, which can be easily lost due to the usual human amnesia. Due to the complicated Middle East un-ending crisis, many of the regional armed groups in the region are clients to President Assad’s regime just as Assad’s regime is a client to other countries such as Russia and China.  Sale of deadly arms for profits are part of the negotiation tools in this multi-level relationships.

The Syrian uprising erupted in March 2011. The conflict has produced a civil war with about 100,000 Syrians dead. Syrian population is 7 million. Since 2011 the Syrian civil war has internally displaced 5 million Syrians while 2 million Syrians have crossed the border to neighboring countries.  Syria is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic state. Syria is not a democratic state.

The Syrian government has been accused of using chemical weapons on her own people in the Syrian uprising and civil war. This use of chemical weapons is factually dated August 21, 2013. The use of chemical weapon on this day is alleged to have claimed the lives of 1,400 Syrians. The United Nations is investigating. Independent source such as US has produced blood and hair samples to prove the use of chemical weapons at least once on August 21, 2013. These are strict rational categories (dates, acts, samples, figures etc) in analysis that ought to be factually verifiable. None of the regional and global parties for or against President Bashar Assad of Syria and parties to the Syrian problem has denied these facts and categories.

However, there is a context, which all parties to the Syrian crisis interpret and evaluate differently. Certain things define this context. First, the use of chemical weapons is banned by known International laws and conventions. These are under the auspices of a UN convention. Second, such International laws are framed within the context of an International morality.

One may disagree with the idea of an international morality, but it is assumed by presumably civilized world that laws are framed within the context of some moral assumptions. Therefore to hold that there is a law without some form of moral assumption, and therefore a moral sanction against its breach is morally and legally problematic. Third, when a law is breached it is assumed that such breach attracts punishment in order to stop the continuation of such breach.

It is part of the immorality in the world and the immoral paradox in the world that this context is interpreted and evaluated differently by parties and countries because ordinarily there ought not be any disagreement with this morally straightforward context.

The question therefore is: if it is true that Syria has used chemical weapons against its own people what should be done? And by who? Should the Syrian government be held accountable? What kind of accountability? And how should the accountability be dispensed? What justify such act of holding Syria accountable? Is the justification law? Is the justification ethics? Or is the justification both?

There are vested international and regional interests in the Syrian crisis. These interests are political, religious, economic and sectarian.  While it is incontrovertible that chemical weapons have been used (this has been factually confirmed by both Syrian government and its allies), who used it had been spinned by Syria and her allies. While the United States has accused Syria of being responsible, Syria, and her allies such as Russia and to a lesser extent China have accused the Syrian opposition in the local and regional Syrian conflict of having used chemical weapons

In light of this disclosure, it would seem that those who draw an analogy between the Syrian conflict with the Iraq conflict are drawing a false analogy.  They are wrong because while there was factually no nuclear weapon in Iraq (at least none was said to have been found), yet President Bush led America to a bad war, in the Syrian case, the Syrian government and its ally Russia confirmed that there is use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict but that either the user of the weapon is not known or that it was used by the local Syrian opponents of President Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war.

It is a morally dubious that the world agree that there has been the use of chemical weapons in the local Syrian civil war, but that the user(s) of such weapon is unknown! Those who object to holding Syria accountable must do two things. First they must deny before the world that there was use of chemical weapons in Syria on August 21, 2013. In this regard, they will be going against the public disclosure and admission of President Bashar Assad of Syria himself who has confirmed the use of chemical weapons.

Second, given that it is factually true that there is use of chemical weapons in Syria, those who are against holding Syria accountable must tell the world why President Assad of Syria should not be held accountable given that it is incontrovertible (as admitted to by the Syrian government and its allies including Russia) that there was the use of chemical weapons.

Thus, there are three possible positions that can be taken on this crisis.   The first is that Syria has used chemical weapons, but it is unnecessary to hold her accountable. You may appeal to all kinds of reasons including a war weary and tired world. But outside these reasons to simply hold that Syria should not be held responsible and accountable for violating knows laws and ethics will be sensible only if there are no laws on use of chemical weapons, and if ethics and morality mean nothing to the world.

But there are international laws against the use of chemical weapons, and ethics still has meaning for at least some people in the world. It would seem problematic therefore that we would   have laws that are useless because they are not enforced out of narrow interests and dubious geo-political calculations such as we have presently in the Syrian conflict.

The second possible position is that Syria has used chemical weapons and Syria should be held accountable but we need to decide what form of accountability, and who should hold Syria accountable. In this case the question is: should a country hold Syria accountable or should such accountability be under the auspices of   a group of countries or the United Nations the world body that formulates and ought to enforce its own laws against the use of chemical weapons?  This is the legal and moral lacuna the world must answer. It is not fair and it is morally problematic to shy away from this due to dubious, inhuman and evil geo-political and economic calculations we have in the Syrian conflict today.

The Syrian crisis has again exposed the underbelly of international moral order. The most horrible culprits here are Russia and China.  By her own admission, Russia is aware of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. But given their own support for the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, Russia and China have immorally looked the other way. Such complicity by China and Russia is un-ethical. Chemical weapons are no toys. Let us put aside the well documented International law and convention against the use of chemical weapons and focus on its impact in the short and long term. Use of chemical weapons means physical death in the short run for victims who do not survive and total perdition in the long run for victims who managed to “survive” on half limb and no-life.

The short-term effect is obvious. It is physical instant death. What is not obvious is the long-term effect. The long term effect are perdition, both permanent physical and mental disability, re-configuration of genes and transferred disability, disfigured, disabled and reconfigured genes onto unborn generation. This transferred disability is what explains the birth of disabled children in what appear to be “normal” birth situations. And   this becomes deadly because given the nature of the Syrian conflict and the allies and opponents of the Syrian regime in the region the potential of transfer of chemical weapons to terrorists is high and highly probable. Any citizen in and of the world that lives under the deadly breadth of terrorists (like me a Nigerian) will strongly object to this high probability.

This is why I believe that the objection of President Obama to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict is ethically legitimate, morally and politically justified. Also, given that it is factually established that there has been the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the view that Iraq and Syria are the same is false. Let us speak to the facts and not the sentiments.

But should America punish Syrian regime if it is established that the Syrian regime was the one that used chemical weapons? I think this is a false question. I think the right question is: what should the world do if the party that used chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war is established?

The hesitation of a section of the world in holding Syria accountable for the use of this evil weapon of human destruction seems to show that a morally problematic paradigm is emerging in the world where International laws are broken with complete impunity without any sanction. This is a result of active support countries that break laws receive from others. In this case Syria receives this unethical support from China and Russia.

This may be cynical, but in a world, and international moral order gone roguish, cynicism may be a legitimate trope to center the issue and for once wake the world up to its moral responsibilities.  So? One major way to expose the dubious nature of this emerging paradigm is to allow the world for once to reap the deadly consequences of allowing rogue countries to get away with their roguery.  Perhaps the world will learn some lessons from the evil repercussion of allowing such rogue act as we have in President Bashar Assad of Syria case.

This is why if I were President Obama and if other countries   fail to see the evil nature of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and if the world is ready to live with this intense immorality of having a law the world is not ready to enforce, I will – to send a strong moral signal home- let the world for a while roast and sink in its own moral duplicity and immoral juice in Syria by holding off Syria after I have established the unimpeachable moral argument against Syria as President Obama has done. Perhaps when the world sees the evil consequences of the use of chemical weapon in Syria we all will stop playing politics with a deadly situation with unquantifiable proportion.

President Barak Obama has established the moral point against the use of chemical weapons and against its use in Syria. He has established that Iraq and Syria are not the same. Therefore, he   is right in his moral objection to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict but it seems the world is not ready to be on that same moral high ground.

Given that ethics is stronger than politics, and given that the world is willing to live with its own immorality, I think (I agree that this is cynical but it is a deliberate cynicism) America should let Syria explode in the world’s face. This may be the right thing to do in a situation where the world wants to reconcile itself with evil in Syria and elsewhere, which the use of chemical weapons on innocent people, the vulnerable, the displaced, the sick, women and children represent. And when such weapons are eventually used by terrorists, then “Do Not Say I told you” we all should stand by our immoral complicity in its use in Syria for what is good for the goose ought to be good for the gander.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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