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The burden of proof should lie with those wanting the international community’s endorsement for an attack, says Kuseni Dlamini.
Johannesburg - The attempt to launch a “limited punitive attack” on Damascus this past week, in response to the use of chemical weapons in the killing of more than 1 300 Syrians, with many more injured, has polarised the global community in ways not seen since George Bush and Tony Blair left the White House and Downing Street respectively.
During the Bush era the world was told “you are either with us or with the enemy”. Implicit was that if you opposed a US and UK-led military attack on Iraq at the time, you were with the evil forces of global terrorism. Consequences abound, especially for poor countries in the developing world that were largely dependent on aid from Washington and London.
The big question confronting the world on the catastrophic Syrian conflict is: to war or not to war? The polarisation that we saw this week was markedly different from the usual “West against the rest” or “right against left” dichotomy.
In the UK, 30 Tory MPs voted against the war, a massive humiliation for Prime Minister David Cameron when members of his own party ganged up with the opposition Labour Party to defeat a motion for war. In the US, Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary under the Bush administration, came out against the war and argued there is no clear “national interest” for the US to launch a military strike.
The outcome of the UK parliamentary vote complicates things for President Barack Obama, who is now alone in the war camp. Obama has to be careful not to be a prisoner of his own “red line”. Obama warned the al-Assad regime last year that the usage of chemical weapons in Syria would be tantamount to crossing the “red line” and trigger an attack by US and its allies.
Those urging him on in Washington, such as the Oxford-educated head of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, and Senator John McCain, argue it will be a sign of major weakness for the US president not to enforce action after the breach of his “red line” by the al-Assad regime.
They are wrong. Obama should ignore them. We don’t need war. Obama should instead focus on the intensification of diplomatic efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis.
Those in the trigger-happy camp in Washington and London must be isolated. We have been here before. We were lied to. Not again. We need evidence, not propaganda and doctored or flawed intelligence. We need fact-based decisions to underpin any attack on Syria. The UN should take the lead. Not Obama or Cameron. That is not their job.
Brics and other powerful emerging market economies should threaten to impose economic sanctions on them if they disregard the UN and go it alone. The effects of an attack on Syria (without a compelling factual basis) will destabilise the fragile Middle East.
South Africa, working in concert with the AU and its Brics peers, must take the lead in opposing any attempt by Washington and London to bully the world into another reckless war.
It is encouraging to hear voices of reason from the inner circles of both London and Washington, demanding a compelling and plausible case based on facts to be made before any action.
This is largely because of embellished or flawed intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. It also has to do with the misuse of a UN Resolution imposing no-fly zones in Libya to execute regime change.
After having been misled on Iraq and Libya, we should demand more compelling, conclusive and plausible evidence to justify any decision to launch an attack on Syria. The burden of proof should lie with those wanting the international community’s endorsement for an attack.
Global peace and stability are public goods that all the people of the world deserve. That is why a thorough weapons investigation, led by the UN, is vital to ensure that the truth behind the unleashing of chemical weapons on innocent Syrians is established. I strongly believe the international community needs to be actively and fully engaged with the Syrian situation with a view to finding a peaceful and lasting solution.
The West has immense leverage on the Syrian rebels and they should deliver them to the negotiating table to find a political solution to the conflict.
A diplomatic and peaceful solution can and must be found.
Obama should not go it alone in attacking Syria as that would isolate him and the US in ways that may make him turn from being one of the best US presidents since John F Kennedy to one of the worst. The choice is his to make but the consequences are not his to determine.
* Kuseni Dlamini is a member of the national council of the SA Institute of International Affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.ya