Diplomacy and dialogue is the prudent way

Updated: 2013-05-03 07:10

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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This week's news report that the United States government is again considering arming the Syrian rebels is deeply disturbing, as it signals more bloodshed in that country.

So far, despite some reports suggesting that CIA has been involved in the clandestine supply of weapons to Syrian opposition fighters, the US says it has only provided nonlethal aid.

According to the United Nations, some 70,000 people have died in Syria in the past two years, including civilians, rebels, government soldiers and officials.

Although there have been reports that chemical weapons have been used in the country, US President Barack Obama has remained prudent so far, despite pressure from some Republican congressmen.

"Without evidence of what happened, how can I make a decision what to do? I have got to make sure I have got the facts," Obama told reporters.

"It is important that we do this in a prudent way," he said.

Obama knows the grave consequences of rushing to a snap judgment, as George W. Bush did 10 years ago when he invaded Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

While a UN expert panel is still investigating whether chemical weapons were used either by Syrian government soldiers or rebels, the Syrian government has accused insurgents of deploying chemical weapons outside Aleppo on March 19.

Not many in the US, certainly not the news media, seem to care whether chemical weapons were used by the rebels.

The UN has continued to appeal for political dialogue and negotiation to solve the crisis in Syria. However, there seems to be no diplomacy under way and Obama seems to have already made up his mind.

In time of crisis, the US always says it likes to keep all options on the table. But on Syria, the option of dialogue involving Assad is clearly off the table, ever since Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton prematurely declared "Assad must go".

Yet diplomacy and dialogue are a far better option for resolving the crisis than arming the Syrian rebels, which will only result in a higher death toll and cause more people to be displaced.

Today, a once united Syria has already been thrown into a civil war, with growing sectarian violence and an influx of foreign fighters, including many jihadists.

No one, not even those hawks in Washington, have any idea what Syria will be like or what they should do if there is a post-Assad scenario.

The latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows that only 24 percent of Americans believe the US has a responsibility to intervene in Syria, while 62 percent oppose the idea.

A Pew Center survey released on Wednesday also found little regional support for Western or Arab countries sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria. And there is even greater opposition among Americans and Europeans to such indirect Syrian involvement by their governments.

Basically 82 percent of Germans, 69 percent of French, 65 percent of Turks, 57 percent of British and 64 percent of Americans were against arming the rebels, according to the survey conducted in 12 countries.

If a democratic government reflects the will of the people, both surveys have sent an unequivocal message that they don't want their countries arming the rebels.

Given the US' unrivaled military might, some US politicians are tempted to think that the use of force would be a quick and easy solution. However, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan this would only complicate the situation.

Pursuing dialogue and negotiation that involves Assad and all the other parties is the only option to avoid more bloodshed in Syria and prevent the conflict from spreading across the already turbulent region.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail: chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com