The world woke up on Tuesday to horrifying images and news out of Syria. Syrian government planes carried out chemical weapon attacks on its own civilians, killing at least 70 men, women, and children in Idlib. At least another 100 continue to be treated in hospitals.
While the Syrian military denied responsibility, Russia—whose alliance with Syria has led to numerous incidents competing with U.S. national security interests—claimed that the Assad regime was acting against a “terrorist warehouse.”
One thing is crystal clear – numerous international treaties and the Law of Armed Conflict prohibit the use of chemical weapons, declaring it a war crime. This is intended to protect both combatants and non-combatants alike. It is especially egregious when targeting civilians, like what has happened in Syria this week.
At an Emergency U.N. Security Council Meeting on Chemical Weapons in Syria held this morning, Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, delivered a scathing rebuke to Syria and Russia’s unholy alliance.
[I]n the life of the United Nations, there are times when we are compelled to do more than just talk. There are times we are compelled to take collective action. This Security Council thinks of itself as a defender of peace, security, and human rights. We will not deserve that description if we do not rise to action today.
Yesterday morning, we awoke to pictures, to children foaming at the mouth, suffering convulsions, being carried in the arms of desperate parents. We saw rows of lifeless bodies. Some still in diapers. Some with the visible scars of a chemical weapons attack.
Look at those pictures. We cannot close our eyes to those pictures. We cannot close our minds of the responsibility to act. We don’t yet know everything about yesterday’s attack. But there are many things we do know.
We know that yesterday’s attack bears all the hallmarks of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. We know that Assad has used these weapons against the Syrian people before. That was confirmed by this Council’s own independent team of investigators. We know that yesterday’s attack was a new low, even for the barbaric Assad regime.
Evidence reported from the scene indicates that Assad is now using even more lethal chemical agents than he did before. The gas that fell out of the sky yesterday was more deadly, leaving men, women, the elderly, and children, gasping for their very last breath.
And as first responders, doctors, and nurses rushed to help the victims, a second round of bombs rained down. They died in the same slow, horrendous manner as the civilians they were trying to save.
We all also know this: Just a few weeks ago, this Council attempted to hold Assad accountable for suffocating his own people to death with toxic chemicals. Russia stood in the way of this accountability. They made an unconscionable choice. They chose to close their eyes to the barbarity. They defied the conscience of the world. Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. In fact, if Russia had been fulfilling its responsibility, there would not even be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use.
There is one more thing we know: We know that if nothing is done, these attacks will continue.
Assad has no incentive to stop using chemical weapons as long as Russia continues to protect his regime from consequences. I implore my colleagues to take a hard look at their words in this Council. We regularly repeat tired talking points in support of a peace process that is regularly undermined by the Assad regime.
Time and time again, Russia uses the same false narrative to deflect attention from their allies in Damascus. Time and time again, without any factual basis, Russia attempts to place blame on others.
There is an obvious truth here that must be spoken. The truth is that Assad, Russia, and Iran have no interest in peace.
The illegitimate Syrian government, led by a man with no conscience, has committed untold atrocities against his people for more than six years. Assad has made it clear that he doesn’t want to take part in a meaningful political process. Iran has reinforced Assad’s military, and Russia has shielded Assad from UN sanctions.
If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it. We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts. How many more children have to die before Russia cares?
The United States sees yesterday’s attack as a disgrace at the highest level, an assurance that humanity means nothing to the Syrian government.
Ambassador Haley concluded by saying that if the U.N. fails to act, then the United States and other nations may be “compelled to take our own action.”
Moments later in the Oval Office, President Trump called the chemical attacks in Syria “unspeakable” and a “terrible affront to humanity.” When asked by reporters if we could see a potential change in U.S. policy regarding Syria, he responded, “You’ll see.” Later, at a joint press conference with the King of Jordan, President Trump condemned “this horrific attack” against families, including young children.
Speaker Ryan stated, “There is no justification for a genocidal dictator gassing his own people.”
At the ACLJ, we’ve been shining a light on the historic evil perpetrated by Iran, Russia, Syria, and jihadists for years. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow’s last New York Times bestselling book, Unholy Alliance: The Agenda Iran, Russia, and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World, discussed the Syrian conflict at length, writing:
Nowhere is the unholy alliance between Russia and Iran more clearly displayed than in their partnership with Syrian president Bashar al‑Assad against the rebel forces attempting to overthrow his regime. Both Russia and Iran have supported Assad’s regime as part of a strategic alliance. Iran and Russia share one goal in Syria—to keep the Assad regime in power. In July 2015, Iran and Russia rapidly and significantly increased their political and military cooperation.
Ultimately, if Russia and Iran continue to fight for the Assad regime in Syria, the result will be an expansion of Iran’s influence in Syria. This expansion will further destabilize the Middle East by placing Iranian forces in Sunni-Arab lands as well as on the border with Israel, expanding the Iranian hegemon, and strengthening Russia’s presence in the region at the United States’ expense.
One thing is clear: when the United States fails to lead, enemies of freedom will fill the vacuum and do everything they can to spread terror and oppression.
This is not just a matter of geopolitical gamesmanship between global superpowers. Real lives are on the line—the lives of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, women and children, and innocent people of all ethnicities and nationalities. But as history has also made clear, in a globalized world, terror and chaos are not contained in one region. What happens there will impact our lives here in the United States as well.
But all hope is not lost. The United States and our allies can defeat this wave of aggression and terror. As the former prime minister of Great Britain Benjamin Disraeli regularly stated, “Forti nihil difficile”—nothing is too difficult for the brave. But time is running out.
The Middle East is chaotic. If the U.S. is not leading and exerting its power, our enemies will fill the power vacuum our absence creates, spreading terror beyond the region.
One thing must be clear – chemical weapons must never be used. Period. And when they are used against innocent men, women, and children, the global community has a moral obligation to do everything it possibly can to ensure it never happens again.
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