I want here to present the question from different Syrian points of view. Western readers need to understand why some Syrians support, while others oppose, a military intervention in their country. In what follows, I will bypass the supporters of the regime, and talk only about the opposition, the rebels, and the normal Syrians who support them.
First, no one amongst them has any doubts that Assad used chemical weapons on August 21, 2013. This is not questioned in Syria. The towns which were hit are rebel towns around the capital. Of course, you can repeat Assad’s propaganda that the rebels killed their own children with something akin to chemical weapons, in order to precipitate western intervention. I can’t deal with such irrational assumptions, or those who hold them. However, I am not going to argue about this. I just want to lay out what these Syrians think about the intervention, after these attacks.
They then ask, what can be done, after the Gouta massacre? All Syrians are afraid that the intervention will cause a lot of destruction and deaths. At the same time, they want to stop Assad from killing Syrians. Some of them think that any western intervention would make things worse. The history of western intervention in the Middle East is well known. Nothing good could come out of such intervention, they think, or from any interference in our affairs, except for humanitarian aid. Others argue that there are other things to do, different from a military intervention. The west, if it cares about Syria, could have rescued millions of Syrians, refugees in neighbouring countries, and millions of displaced Syrians inside the country. It could have proposed a serious deal with Russia and Iran to try to stop Assad’s massacres. Or, it could have armed the rebels. Some Syrians don’t want a direct military intervention, but they want the world to show that it cares about Syrians.
A third party thinks that we need a military intervention. Their argument is this: there is no such thing as moral or humanitarian intervention, but we need to call on the western evil powers, because this is the only way to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again. If there is no intervention, Assad will feel that he has consent to use chemical weapons on a larger scale, as he has done in the escalated use of Scuds. This party insists that before opposing intervention, you have to give an account of what to do to prevent a larger-scale possible chemical massacre.
However, this third party also doubts the motives and goals of the intervention. Why now? What about the more than one hundred thousand Syrians who were killed by Assad? Why punish Assad because he violates the rules which were put in place by these powers - the rules which says ‘No use of chemical weapons on this planet because America said so!’ - and not because he has killed tens of thousands of people with Scud missiles? Why not propose a worldwide humanitarian campaign to help Syrians, before, and even after, the chemical massacre?
How should we discuss the question the intervention in Syria? Simply, I think, by asking the right question: how can we help Syrians, after the Gouta massacre? You have three answers above. None of them guarantees that all its consequences are the ones desired. But they attempt to answer the question.
There is a fourth answer. You might think that there is nothing the west can do. This is deeply disappointing, and inhumane. It is totally understandable why some people oppose the intervention, why they think that any interference from western or other powers can only lead to worse effects. They don’t want another Iraq, or even Libya, if you like. But something needs to be done. For two years, Syrians have been slaughtered by all kinds of weapons, and now it seems, by chemical weapons. These Syrians think it is time for the world to do something.