On Syria: Why the Philippines Should Oppose War

As we inch closer to a prospective Western intervention against the Syrian regime, many are still confused over its circumstances and justification. And this has, quite understandably, raised a set of uncomfortable questions for many of us here in the Philippines.

syria_warOn the one hand, many have been appalled by the prospects of an embattled regime ruthlessly using chemical weapons (CW) against its own population. By flagrantly violating our most fundamental moral values, such alleged acts tend to encourage people to sympathize with any military intervention that could (a) punish the perpetrators and (b) deter further use of chemical weapons against civilians. On the other hand, from a consequentialist point of view, looking at the impact of actions rather than their principled justification, many could take the (semi-automatic) stance of opposing any form of inherently-destabilizing military intervention, regardless of circumstances.

In our case, matters have become more complicated by the fact that reportedly up to 2,920 Filipinos are yet to be repatriated, with 142 of them currently in the custody of Philippine representation in Damascus. The security as well as the safe repatriation of our OFWs will require not only a stable Syrian regime, but also its cooperation and goodwill.

The Question of Motivation

As of this writing, the fundamental problem, however, remains to be the lack of incontrovertible evidence to implicate the top Syrian leadership in a deliberate campaign of using CW against the civilian population.

Despite the release of two declassified intelligence reports by the U.S. and France, the West is yet to provide any credible information to prove that the Assad regime was in fact, and beyond reasonable doubt, culpable for any chemical weapons attack against the civilian population.

In fact, there are scant strategic reasons to expect Assad resorting to such despicable act. Recent months have seen major advances by the Assad regime, while the opposition has been not only weakened by growing internal divisions, but also hit by divisions among their external patrons, primarily between Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, on one hand, and Turkey and Qatar, on the other. Russia and Iran, however, continue to support the Syrian regime.

Meanwhile, we have seen a surge in the activities of Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, who have been engaging in vicious clashes with more secular, moderate as well as Kurdish elements in the opposition to impose their own ultra-conservative version of a post-revolutionary Syria.

Most crucially, there have been indications that the radicals have gained access to CW. For instance, in May the Turkish police reported that they ceased 2 kg of sarin gas in the possession of the al-Nusra members, allegedly destined for Syria in the city of Adana. With hordes of supporters among Arab Sheikhdoms, extremist groups have enjoyed both material and logistical support to wage war against Alewite Shia Assad, who is treated as an infidel and a stooge of (Persian) Iran by more puritanical religious groups in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Folly of Intervention

The ongoing conflict in Syria is by no means a straightforward clash between forces of democracy against a tyrannical rule. The complexity of the Syrian civil war rests in the undisputable fact that a sizeable portion of the Syrian population, especially the ethnic-religious minorities and residents of Damascus and other major cities, continues to oppose the ongoing rebellion.

It is not so much about them wholeheartedly supporting the Bashar Al-Assad regime, which has so viciously muzzled any calls for democratic reform and failed at providing basic welfare for much of the population since inheriting power from his father Hafez Al-Assad in 2000, but instead their legitimate and deepening fear of how extremist forces could dominate the post-revolutionary context.

Washington’s expressed plans to “punish” the Syrian regime for allegedly using CW against his own population, but with no credible evidence to back up such claim, is eerily similar to the equally unjustifiable 2003 unilateral Western intervention in Iraq, which was based on fabricated evidence alleging that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons and supported Al-Qaeda groups. This is precisely why Western citizens are opposed to another intervention, and why the English Parliament unequivocally opposed Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a direct British participation in any proposed military strike against the Syrian regime.

Today, Iraq is all but failed state, where sectarian conflict and suicide bombings are a regular affair. The more recent military intervention in Libya, deposing the Ghadaffi regime, has let to not only regime change, but also the collapse of the nation-state. No wonder, the combustible mixture of secessionism, rebellion, and rogue militia has gripped the nation.

In addition, any military action could decisively extinguish prospects of a “negotiated solution” to the Syrian crisis, which is pivotal to ending the ongoing civil war, while inviting counter-intervention by Syria’s supporters. The military intervention will not only strengthen the hands of extremist elements within the opposition, which have consistently sought Western military support, but it will also undermine efforts by moderates on both sides of the conflict to pave the way for a peaceful, resolution of the ongoing civil war.

What Syria needs today is not military intervention and a cycle of violence pitting multiple communities and factions against each other. This is precisely why I have supported the Philippines’ expressed position against any unilateral intervention, and our calls for the resolution of the Syrian crisis through multilateral arrangements such as the United Nations.

[This piece was originally published on GMA News Online. Photo courtesy The Dish.]

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About Richard Javad Heydarian

Richard Javad Heydarian is a Manila-based analyst focusing on economics and international security issues in Asia and the Pacific, whose work can be found in the Asia Times and the Huffington Post, among others. He is the author of the upcoming book, The Economics of the Arab Spring: How Globalization Failed the Arab World, Zed Books, 2014. He can be reached at jrheydarian@gmail.com

Post Author: Richard Javad Heydarian

Richard Javad Heydarian is a Manila-based analyst focusing on economics and international security issues in Asia and the Pacific, whose work can be found in the Asia Times and the Huffington Post, among others. He is the author of the upcoming book, The Economics of the Arab Spring: How Globalization Failed the Arab World, Zed Books, 2014. He can be reached at jrheydarian@gmail.com

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49 Comments on "On Syria: Why the Philippines Should Oppose War"

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Johnny Saint
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The critical error the Western democracies and their allies have made with regards to intervention in the Middle East lies in not having a comprehensive plan for nation building for the post-revolutionary period. And a failure of the revolutionary forces on the ground to produce a credible alternative to the regimes they oppose. Any intervention in Syria that ousts Assad will likely pave the way for the more organised militant groups — such as those supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda — to seize control of the country afterward. Syria post-Assad will devolve into sectarian violence with the… Read more »
Bjorn
Guest

It is not a mistake, they do it on purpose. As long as the guy who they want removed is removed, they do not really care what happens next, especially to the citizens of whatever country it is. The next ‘guy’ will deal on the West’s terms or he will be removed, see? If you doubt this statement just check out what is going on in Egypt right now. Even Mubarek is out of Jail. HO-SNEE MOO BAR ECK!
Sounds like an intestinal disorder.
“Waiter, clue,please.”.

Neocon
Guest

Support Obama!

Sometimes a politician needs to be courageous and make unpopular decisions that will be seen as wise 100 years from now.

Join the movement to start WWW3:

christy
Guest

This is what happens when masses aren’t properly educated. Poor education in these parts of countries results in moronism creating potential fatalities. These people in the Middle East (just like ours) are plagued with closed-mindedness, especially when you’ve got leaders who really still possess this feudal mentality.

They just don’t want to move on. And so you build up on this pile of ignorance, until it becomes a monster in itself.

James
Guest

With the propensity and readiness of the Islamists in shamelessly sacrificing anyone, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were behind this CW attack, designed to put the blame on the Assad regime. Afterall, they would benefit the most in an event of a military strike by the west. Besides, the US should learn the lessons of disasterous outcomes of the recent history of their interventions.

Gerry
Guest

C’mon GRP, Do you really expect people to believe anything that either side has to say about who is winning the internal struggle in Syria?

If you do not already know the biases involved and what is at stake then you really should not even comment on the situation. The two sides are open for who-ever wishes to join their respective ranks. Have some ‘Nerve/BALLS’ for a change and declare who you support.

Hint:
The RP is seriously involved with the country that represents the ‘Rebels’.

mohamad
Guest

I don’t know if our country has the nerve to openly oppose the USA.

Also, I don’t see why the USA always has to intervene as something like ‘the bringer of justice.’ It gives me the impression that they have vested interest or are just making the war on Syria as a scapegoat for it.

Johnny Saint
Guest
Mohamad, EVERY nation-state has their own foreign policy, i.e. geopolitical considerations that govern their relations with other countries. It would be naive to assume that states interact with one another out of altruism. The primary objective is to gain something that will be to one’s benefit. If the United States decides to intervene in a conflict out of, as they say, a desire to ensure that the use of weapons of mass destruction does not proliferate, it would benefit the Syrian opposition in that this will somewhat limit President Assad’s belligerence. The immediate effect it would have for the United… Read more »
mohamad
Guest
Exactly, so why intervene now if they didn’t do so in other events like you mentioned? And why by the UN security council? Still, I don’t believe that any country should act as if it is above everyone else. Their intentions are good (“to enable Syrians to resolve the conflict and rebuild their country”) but doesn’t it sound too good to be true. Like how you put it, “It would be naive to assume that states interact with one another out of altruism.” Anyway, all we can do is speculate. I just hope Syria doesn’t end up like Iraq in… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest
It isn’t really speculation. All you have to do is observe. Watch and listen; apply a little critical thinking. The US president, like any politician is beholden to his constituencies. He may be accountable to the American people in principle, but in practice, he has to answer to the liberal political establishment that got him elected. And one of those factions (which includes the likes of US Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi) believe firmly in using the military power of United States in situations that offend their sense of morality. In this case, Pelosi, and those of her stripe, are… Read more »
mohamad
Guest

Even if we observe, watch, listen and think, I think that we could never really tell what’s on their minds. That’s why I said it’s speculation.

Anyway, I share this view of yours: “Unfortunately, when you dissect their beliefs, you will find that they have a vision of how the world should be and what everyone’s place in it should be.”

And I also believe that any country with the capacity to act should act but that country shouldn’t violate international laws in doing so.

Bjorn
Guest

As I read the above response I have to ask, Whose objective? as in, ‘WHO’ do you think has the ‘objective’ to rebuild Syria? and why do you think that is anyone’s objective?

The USA wants to prop up Middle-Eastern leaders to have access to Oil, and to control the flow of that Oil. After Syria it will be IRAN’s turn. The only other ‘objective’ is that the Israelies want to make sure that IRAN gets rid of its Nuclear weapons ‘program’ and so is pressuring the USA to attack Syria. Why would you ever think this is about anything else?

Bjorn
Guest
@LEB,I thought you might say something bordering on having a clue, close..but NO. @ Johnny, you get more and more clueless with each post. You say that America or Obama did nothing in Libya or Egypt and you are completely wrong. NATO, led by the Americans toppled the Khaddafi regime, OR DID YOU MISS THAT ONE? Toppling the Khaddaffy regime is EXACTLY what they wanted to do and they did it and, AGAIN, it was never in their plans to re-build the country, it just wasn’t. They could but do not want to. Do you actually think that any Western… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest
First let me point out that the use of profanity rarely conveys the proper emotion that a writer wishes to impart. More often than not, it is merely foul language. Its use usually communicates nothing more than the writer’s limited vocabulary and lack of critical thinking. — The second thing I wish to point out is that Bjorn is a liar. Or as he might put it — A FUCKIN CLUELESS LIAR. Bjorn states that the United States took the lead in efforts to intervene in the 2011 Libyan civil war. This is erroneous. US involvement in Libya was, from… Read more »
OnesimusUnbound
Guest

@Johnny Saint

It’s strange that US, perceived as champion of democracy, will support some dictators (Marcos as an example). It’s evident that US’s (and perhaps all contries’) foreign policies are simply rooted on self-interest.

Johnny Saint
Guest
OnesimusUnbound, That’s the whole point of foreign policy. When we send ambassadors to the US or China or Saudi Arabia, we expect them to represent FILIPINO interests. NOT the interests of foreign nationals or their own personal agendas. We certainly don’t expect them to seek sexual favors from returning Filipino expats. (The Philippines is unique in that we have bent over backwards to give our RICHES to other countries. Particularly under Marcos’ agreements with the US/IMF/World Bank during Martial Law. Their policy completely wiped out the economy. Yet we put the blame solely the Marcos regime.) It is indeed very… Read more »
Jim Arndt
Guest

All of this maybe be for not. The US congress officials are now saying as many as 300 in congress already oppose the use of force so if President Obama strikes it will be without the consent of the people.

@ Johnny Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid support the use of force along with most of the Progressive lawmakers. They are going all in on this. If President Obama does that it will seriously damage his second term.

Johnny Saint
Guest

I believe I said as much, Jim. I believe that is going to be the problem going in if the US decides to follow through with a missile strike. To date none of these progressive politicians have articulated clear objectives in undertaking this action, much less a comprehensive plan for its aftermath. It isn’t the damage to Obama’s second term that concerns me. It’s the situation down the line if the Syrian conflict worsens and draws in more players in the region and the relationship the Middle East has with Western democracies and their allies.

Jim Arndt
Guest

That is my fear that it will spill over into Jordan then to Saudi Arabia. Iraq is a mess but I think it would be a good idea to split the Kurdish area of Iraq off into a separate country as a balance in the region, maybe take some of the Kurdish area of Syria. They have oil and other resources that can support them. They are also western friendly and stable.

Either way the US should just stay out of it unless Saudi is threatened.

Johnny Saint
Guest

The conflict could spill over to the south into Israel. That would be more problematic, I think.

Jim Arndt
Guest

I don’t think it would simply because it would be stopped before it would start. Israel is already on alert and would squash any attempted attack

Leb
Guest
When a powerful nation, like the US, intervenes in the affair of a troubled country practically almost always altruism is mixed up with the desire for political and economic stability, minimize death and destruction through military intervention and the preservation of both the interests of the intervening country and the countries involved in a conflict. On the current internal conflict in Syria, the desire of the US leadership to get in and stop the carnage will have domestic political implications which cannot be avoided. Whether the president is effective or not on foreign policy relations, whether he is popular or… Read more »
terry
Guest

The Americans should help us with our problem in China instead of going to Syria.

Gogs
Member

Philippines wants handouts even if their internal values are messed up?

terry
Guest

The attitudes of Filipinos will change eventually because of the new K+12 program. You must believe in the Filipino spirit and halt attacks.

ImpalerTriumphant
Guest

No. K-12 programs are not enough to change the attitude of Filipinos. The change has to occur at the sociocultural level, not on policy level. Yes, we believe in the Filipino spirit, a Get Real one.

NeoGeo
Guest

“The Americans should help us with our problem in China instead of going to Syria.”

LOL. I guess the Philippines never did truly gain independence.

terry
Guest

I used the term “help” which means the Americans will not resolve for us the crisis in Spratlys in full.

NeoGeo
Guest

And without help from the USA, do you think the Philippines can resolve the Spratly issue alone and independently?

Bjorn
Guest

No, They did not. The gov’t. personalities in the country are quite amusing. Treacherous too.

Leb
Guest
One last thing. I submit that ANY country that has the capacity to act SHOULD act. Especially if the situation morally compels you to confront an evil similar to what is happening in Syria. To reject the call to action is a show of feeble-minded cowardice. But if one is to act, it should be for the right reasons with the proper response. This planned action by the US president is far from being the correct response. ========== Again. confusion has marred the above statement. First, it says, if a country has the capacity to act it should do so… Read more »
Jim Arndt
Guest

Easy because there is no clear good side the US can take. Who do you back and will they win. Also no skin in the game, meaning there is no direct threat to the USA. It would be a feel good strike and oh yea kill a few innocents along the way.

Johnny Saint
Guest
Leb, The only confusion here is your own. Pardon me for saying so but you have a tendency to mouth off without understanding the issues. And when others take time out to respond, you act offended. All of that could be avoided if you took time to analyze the topic of discussion and THINK before posting. — With regards to your statement that the comment I made was confused: this is a classic example of your failure to understand the topic of discussion — the Syrian civil war. Let me be clear: there is nothing inconsistent with my statement. The… Read more »
Bjorn
Guest
@Leb, and now John Saint is going to tell you how confused you are!W-W-W-W-W-W-WHAT? Leb, really? Do you really not know: There is a lobby in the USA ,called AIPAC, and it is lobbying hard to get Obama to attack Syria. This lobby represents a country that denies having nuclear weapons, but it is a given that they do have them. That country is a tad bit nervous about its survival in the Middle-East and so having a big buddy like the USA really helps a lot. They also have considerable political clout inside the USA(for such a tiny country)… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest

Afraid of Israel are you? Why the cryptic innuendos?

Leb
Guest
Oh, believe me I understand the issue. In fact I so understand it that I’m not going to argue with the narration you made because there was really nothing new in what you said. It was merely a recap of what has been said, analyzed, speculated, assumed, predicted, etc. about Syria the past years. I never act offended, I think it’s the other way around. I defend or explain, yes, but offended no. – Correct me I’m wrong, I don’t think I read the word ‘evil’ in your post above. That is the operative word you used in implying justification… Read more »
Johnny Saintq
Guest
Leb, You say you have heard similar arguments and analysis to the one I presented here. I find it unbelievable that you are unable to make the distinction between the need for intervention (which I support) against an evil act (please note the use of the word “evil” which for some reason you insist I use in this discussion) and the proposed action of the United States (which I oppose). “Intervention” does not automatically signify a military strike by the United States or NATO. I reiterate — this limited “shot across the bow” with NO corresponding efforts on the ground… Read more »
Leb
Guest
J.S. – You say you have heard similar arguments and analysis to the one I presented here. I find it unbelievable that you are unable to make the distinction between the need for intervention (which I support) against an evil act (please note the use of the word “evil” which for some reason you insist I use in this discussion) and the proposed action of the United States (which I oppose). “Intervention” does not automatically signify a military strike………. If you still find a contradiction here, I must also question your ability to comprehend.” ——————————— What distinction is there to… Read more »
Bjorn
Guest
@Leb, HINT: it is not about human rights, OK? Not the Syrians human rights anyway. Syria is backed by Russia, who also backs Iran. The destabilization of the Middle east and the propping up of USA puppets is a big part of one side of this. Russia has considerable resources invested in Syria and it is also located in a strategic stronghold Moscow wants to keep is another part of the picture, but it doesn’t stop there. BUT……. I repeat, this is not about the Syrian’s human rights. I am sorry to have to break the news to you, but… Read more »
Leb
Guest

You mean it’s strictly politics? I think it’s a combination of everything that is bad in Syria.

Johnny Saint
Guest
There’s always a political dimension to international relations. That isn’t necessarily “wrong.” Each nation — whether it is a small country like the Philippines or a superpower like the United States and China — deals with other nations in the international community from the perspective of “what we as a nation can gain from this relationship when transacting with other nation states.” Then there’re also the practical considerations against intervening. As I pointed out several times earlier (from a humanitarian standpoint, if you want to put it that way) a limited, unfocused, unilateral strike by the US could pave the… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest
Mr Heydarian, Your article implied that there are three courses of action that may be employed by the international community with regards to Syria. First, that the conflict simply be allowed to continue and let the belligerents sort the matter out. That is problematic. With the support each side is receiving, the war will degenerate into a Shia vs Sunni conflict with Assad, Iran and Hezbollah on one side and Saudi Arabia and Iraq on the other. Unless one side gains the upper hand, the war will split the country in two and possibly drag neighboring countries into the conflict… Read more »
Bjorn
Guest
@ Saint, I really did not give more than a cursory glance at your rantings but you seem to think you have the market cornered on critical thinking AND YET, Nowhere in your posts did I see you mention who the real players are here, as if it has flown right over your head. This actually is a pretty serious issue right now that could led to a Full scale regional war or even a World War, and the major players are certainly not the Syrians or the Kurds the Sunni’s or the Shia’s, but your oblivious to this fact.… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest
So — you didn’t bother to fully read, much less comprehend, the post and yet you feel it is appropriate to post lies about the US role in the Libyan intervention as a response. If anything that only amplifies your ignorance about an event that happened only two years ago. Sad. — Are you so utterly enveloped by your conspiracy in the grand chess game between France, the US, Russia and Iran that you lose sight of the fact that there are actual Syrians dying right now? The number has exceeded 110,000 as of this September 2013. Add another 130,000… Read more »
Sahaquiel
Guest

@Saint – spread you’re delusional propaganda elswhere.

Johnny Saint
Guest

Propaganda for what? For whom? You think Russia doesn’t have it as an objective to re-establish a presence in the Middle East? Or that the west doesn’t want to maintain their own sphere of influence there? Do you believe that people aren’t really dying in Syria? Or perhaps you prefer to let clouds of poison gas spread throughout the Levant? Do you think this war will resolve itself among the players involved?

Bjorn
Guest
@Sahaquiel, Saint is a self-righteous flip-tard. He fancies his-self a ‘know-it-all’ but is really a ‘know-nothing’. the flip-tard thinks this is about the Kurds,Sunni’s,Shia’s and Syrians human rights and has no clue what it is really about. This is a battle between The USA, Israel & Saudi-Arabia on one side and Russia, Iran and Syria on the other w/China sitting in the Russians corner…for now. The Flip-tard Saint dreams of everyone getting along, living in peace and imagines scenario’s involving the populations in Syria( the kurds, Sunni’s, shia’s etc,etc) actually deciding what happens next in their hell-hole country. Clue-less/delusional to… Read more »
Bjorn
Guest
@ Saint AKA/insulting idiot Now that Russia and the USA are meeting to discuss what will happen in Syria, MAYBE YOU UNDERSTAND? That the Kurds,Sunni’s, Shia’s & Syrian’s are not the ones that are going to decide the fate of what is now Syria. YOU are the one who makes the “vacuos statements” and are the “IGNORANT” one here! Go to any non-Philippine news org. RIGHT NOW and you will see it with your own ignorant eyes. Your own countrymen KNOW you are an idiot, so whatever insults you sling at me are folly on your part. YOU really are… Read more »
Realist
Guest
I oppose Syria intervention for if the rebels are allowed to take over, there’ll be GENOCIDE on the streets of Syria with Al Qaida/Saudi-backed Sunni troops massacring as many religious minority people as possible! If anything, it should be Saudi that gets overthrown and their Wahhabi establishment wiped out by NATO! It’s for the good of the world and most Muslims will rejoice at the collapse of the Saudi Royal Wahhabi regime – as will most sane people worldwide! As long as NATO is blinded by the oil cash and hobknobs these guys, their foreign policy will have ZERO credibility… Read more »
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