Is it a Mistake to Simply Focus on Chemical Weapons?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: A different specter is on the mind of Rime Allaf. Allaf is a Syrian commentator and writer in Vienna, Austria, and she fears the deal on chemical weapons will make Syrian civilians the losers.

Rime Allaf: If indeed there is a way for international monitors to come to find the chemical weapons and to destroy them, that in no way takes care of the underlying issue in Syria, which is that there is a regime using the full force of its military on civilians, but also, of course, there's the war between the Syrian regime and the Syrian Free Army, and increasingly, the problem of the extremists groups, they remain on the scene. So it solves a very small part of the problem, but by far, by no means does it solve everything.

Werman: But if it does work, if this plan does work, isn't it an opportunity to avoid more civilian casualties and wouldn't a US missile strike almost surely guarantee more civilian deaths?

Allaf: The missile strike which will probably never happen was not meant to be targeted at civilians like Assad's military does or so much we understood because the point of the Obama administration or at least the issue it was trying to solve was that it wanted to deter the Assad regime from using chemicals, and therefore from what we understood from leaks and from analysis, the US was planning to strike at the facilities of the Assad regime, meaning the military airports, the airfields, some of the weapons. So it really is difficult to claim that Syrian civilians would have necessarily been worse off had the US intervened. On the contrary, now that the entire crisis seems to be coming loose now with the US and Russia agreeing on disarming the Assad regime only from chemicals weapons, well on the contrary, I would claim that the Syrian people are at even more risk than before because that red line has now been dealt with. Everything else has been allowed by the world, indeed there's an international community that was loathed to get involved, so as far as most Syrian citizens are concerned, I believe that they are in a much worse position because they believe that after the chemicals weapons issue is dealt with, there'll be one more time left abandoned to their fate in the face of such a regime.

Werman: I understand the US threat of missile strikes on Syria wasn't about striking people, but rather their government targets, but as we learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, you can't guarantee that people are not gonna get killed. So that seems like a greater risk to Syrian civilians and you know, some kind of compromise, which is you know, what diplomacy is all about at this point, isn't it?

Allaf: Yes, the US strikes could have killed Syrian civilians, but what is you know, a fact, what is without any doubt is that Syrian civilians remain under the threat of the Assad regime and on a daily basis you have roughly 100-150 civilians killed by the Assad regime in numerous airstrikes, with the Scud missiles, etc. So it's very good that we are not seeing a military intervention. I think most Syrians were really torn about how to feel about this, but let us not forget that 110,000 Syrian people, and that is the most conservative estimate, have already been killed and nobody is willing anymore to play a role in stopping the Assad regime after they remove his chemical weapons, if they manage to remove them.

Werman: Rime Allaf, thank you very much. Good to talk with you.

Allaf: Thank you very much.

Werman: Rime Allaf is a Syrian commentator and writer. She spoke with us from Vienna. You're listening to The World from PRI, Public Radio International.