International law prohibits the use of chemical weapons, and there is little doubt that the Syrian government repeatedly has used them against its civilian citizens, most recently killing about 1,400 people including children, women and senior citizens.
I recently returned from a cultural-exchange visit in Turkey, a country that borders Syria. My visit included meeting with local businessmen, nonprofit organizations, media contacts and some government officials. It was impossible to return to Kansas and not realize the impact that the Syrian civil war is having on Turkey, one of our most important Middle East allies.
I met with officials with Is Anybody There? – the lead Turkish private nonprofit organization responsible for housing more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. They are struggling to respond to the growing demand. These Syrian refugees are fleeing in utter fear of the Syrian Baath Party government, leaving everything behind except the clothing on their backs.
I met some of these Syrian refugees – mothers and fathers who are visibly shaken by the sudden life change, and children emaciated to the point that one might recall black-and-white movies of German concentration camps freed by the Allies. Fortunately, the Syrians I met were not direct victims of chemical attacks; they were the fortunate ones able to flee before these weapons were used.
Man has been killing man since the first club was raised in anger, but our modern generation of political leadership worldwide ruled after World War I that the use of gas exceeds even the most barbarous form of warfare.
By and large, this international agreement has held. But when the line is crossed by any particular country, it demands international action.
Kansans would be proud if they had heard how appreciative most Turkish people are of America’s leadership throughout the Middle East and the level of trust that they place in our government to build an international response.
After my visit to Turkey, I spent a week in Russia. There I also had the opportunity to capture a sense of the public’s feeling concerning the Syrian gas attacks, which differs greatly from the blustering offered by the Putin government. It is up to President Obama and congressional leadership to build a coalition against the Syrian government that includes Russia and China – a task that is not insurmountable but will require honest and accurate sharing of intelligence.
War in any capacity should be abhorred, but when chemical and other technological weapons are employed, the international community must respond. Failure to do so will only encourage future failed regimes to use similar weapons of mass destruction against their civilians and, God forbid, citizens of neighboring nations as well.