My shock was personal as I saw images of children suffocating to death in northern Syria from nerve gas.
You see, I’m the son of Syrian immigrant parents. They fled the country in the 1980s after suffering greatly under the Assad regime. Many members of our family who stayed or could not escape were jailed or disappeared, paying the ultimate price.
When the Syrian revolution began in 2011, I jumped into humanitarian efforts and fundraising. Then I began lobbying Congress and the administration about the need to oust Bashar al-Assad.
Last week’s heart-rending scenes of a father holding his pale-skinned, motionless twin babies will not be the first from Syria, nor will they be the last, to prick the conscience of the world. Yet even with shameful atrocities in plain sight, the world has done little to stop the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 Syrians since 2011.
America has a proud history of going after murderous tyrants. Adolf Hitler is a prime example; he was defeated by Allied forces, but not before killing 6 million Jews. Benito Mussolini also committed horrific crimes but eventually, due to the Allied powers, was captured and hanged. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, after masterminding the Bosnian genocide, ended up dead in a cell in The Hague. NATO’s intervention in Libya stopped Muammar Gaddafi from going house-to-house to eradicate his opponents like “rats,” as he described them.
Regrettably, American power was diminished under President Obama. He promised a “game-changing” response if Assad used chemical weapons, but backed out of his “red line” commitment in 2013. Although Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry favored U.S. intervention to stop Syria’s historic tragedy, Obama refused to uphold America’s role as an indispensable force for good.
Attention now focuses on President Trump. By ordering U.S. missile strikes, although limited, Trump has given Syrians their first hope in half a century that Assad will be held accountable for his crimes.
I admit, I’m deeply suspicious of Trump’s policies, but in this case, the president was profoundly right. I must hope for more shows of force from Trump to end this historic chaos and slaughter — before Assad and Russia use conventional weapons to slaughter Syrians.
Syrians’ only demand when they rebelled against the Assad regime was freedom to live a dignified life. Yet their quest for freedom was met with bullets, barrel bombs, airstrikes and, most heinously, chemical weapons.
Assad’s crackdown has been so ruthless that now many Syrians wish only to stay alive.
Security in the region grows more tenuous the longer Assad stays in power.
The region thirsts for American leadership, for further U.S. military action, to stop Assad’s madness, force him meaningfully to the table for a political transition, and prevent the deaths of more innocent civilians.
Jaber Nyrabeah is the Orlando chapter chairman of the Syrian American Council.