“About a month ago the European Union, showing it will not be trifled with, barred Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma, and other women in his immediate family from shopping for luxury goods in Europe. For some reason, going cold turkey on Dior, Armani and Prada failed to bring down the Assad regime or to end its vicious attacks on the civilian population. Now the Europeans, presumably with the staunch support of the Obama administration, have imposed an across-the-board ban on the sale of luxury goods to Syria—and yet, somehow, the killing continues.
The imposition of the luxury goods ban was cited in a New York Times editorial with all the solemnity usually reserved for naval blockades—as good an example of any of how we have gone to dreamland. In the dream, a vicious dictator, fighting for his own and his family’s lives, will somehow come to the bargaining table because he is down to his last Montblanc pen.…
Both the Syrian people and the Assad clan suffer—the former deprived of life and liberty and the latter of this season’s latest shoes.”—Richard Cohen, in “The Luxury We Don’t Have in Syria.” (Washington Post, April 23.)
AMERICA’S SYRIA ABDICATION
Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2012
Little more than a year into their terrible ordeal, the Syrians are a people unillusioned. “We have been forsaken by the world,” a noted figure of the opposition recently told me in Istanbul.
Days later, in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Antakya, in a tent city a stone’s throw from their tormented homeland, ordinary Syrians reiterate the same message. The ongoing Kofi Annan diplomacy and United Nations-brokered “cease-fire” are seen for what they are—an alibi for the abdication of Western powers, and a lifeline for the regime.…
In the Syria deliberations, deliverance is always around the corner. American diplomacy is always on the verge of making Russia see its way to the proper path. In these tortured discussions, there is no end to finesse and to the parsing of things.
Syria is not Libya, the Obama officials opine. Homs is not Benghazi, they note. The air defenses of Syria are thick when compared with those of Libya, the army of the Damascus regime is mightier. And then there is the mother of all alibis—the borders of Syria are more sensitive, and they preclude a rescue operation akin to the one that delivered the Libyans from the grip of their tyrant.
The truth is that the air defense system of the Syrians can be dismantled with ease. And that mighty army of the House of Assad? The Syrians refer to it as jaysh abu shahatta (the army in slippers). The Sunni recruits are worn out, terrified and underfed, thrown into assignments they abhor and dread—the killing of their fellow Sunnis. As for those sensitive borders, they are, if anything, a warrant for a NATO operation against this rogue regime. In this sense, Syria is not Libya. It’s much more important.
Grant the Assad tyranny its due, it has succeeded in turning its fight for its privileges and dominion into a poisonous religious schism. There may have been Alawis who opposed Bashar al-Assad and his ruthless regime, but this season of killing has turned them into Basharists. The Assads have convinced them that the fall of the regime is a catastrophe for the Alawis as a whole.
Never mind that the Alawis are not doctrinally Shiites. That fine distinction has been lost in the storm. The lines are now drawn in the crudest of ways: an embattled regime of schismatics in Damascus backed by Iran, the Shiite Hezbollah in Beirut, and (shamefully) a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad against the Sunni majority of Syria and their sympathizers in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the smaller states of the Gulf.…
The defining truth of this struggle is the abdication of the Obama administration. For a year now, American officials have skillfully run out the clock. They made much of the authority of the U.N. Security Council when any model U.N. team in any high school would have predicted the vetoes of Russia and China. It was clear that the Obama administration did not want to arm the opposition for fear of “escalating” the conflict.
But behind the scenes there was a darker play: American officials have resisted and discouraged other players from providing crucial aid to the rebellion. The newly emancipated Libyans had crates of weapons and were keen to dispatch them to the Syrian rebels. But according to the Syrian opposition leader I spoke to in Istanbul, they were discouraged from doing so by American officials. Arab diplomats from the Gulf states confirm the same pattern of American obstructionism.…
Suspicions that the U.S. doesn’t really want to see the fall of the Assad regime have taken hold in the region. In the charitable version, the policy toward Syria is hostage to the electoral needs of President Obama—stasis is to be the order of things until November. The president has no interest in truly taking on the Iranian regime, so Syria twists in the wind.
There is enough outrage—and resources—in the region to bring down the regime in Damascus if and when an American decision to do so is made. And there are two borders, the Jordanian and the Turkish, from which a determined effort could be made. A no-fly, no-drive zone on the border with Turkey would critically alter the terms of engagement and encourage greater defections from the regime’s forces. Everyone is waiting on Washington’s green light and its leadership.… Importantly, none of the proposals for Syria’s rescue call for American boots on the ground.…
In the long run, this [Assad] regime is doomed. But that is hardly consolation to an outgunned rebellion. We shouldn’t be waiting on a Syrian Srebrenica before the regime is pushed into its grave. It is a waste of time—and of precious lives—to buy into a wishful diplomacy that maintains that a few hundred U.N. observers will ward off the evils of a merciless sectarian tyranny.
(Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.)
WHERE U.N. MONITORS GO IN SYRIA, KILLINGS FOLLOW
Washington Post, April 25, 2012
So far, a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria has had one tangible effect: It has gotten people killed. On Sunday and Monday [of last week], monitors toured neighborhoods in the city of Homs and in the Damascus suburbs of Doura and Zabadani. When they left, the areas they visited were shelled, and security forces carried out sweeps in which civilians suspected of speaking to the monitors were taken from their homes and shot or had their houses burned down.…
How did [U.N. envoy to Syria Kofi] Annan and the Security Council react to these horrific reports? By urging the deployment of more monitors. “There is a chance to expand and consolidate the cessation of violence,” Mr. Annan [said].… “Observers not only see what is going on, but their presence has the potential to change the political dynamics.”
Those words well captured the delusion of Mr. Annan and those who support his diplomacy. There has been no “cessation of violence”; numerous Syrians have been killed every day since the supposed U.N. cease-fire went into effect April 1.… The observers are not “changing dynamics” but providing cover and even targets for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Yet even when faced with stark facts like the reprisal killings in Homs, the ambassadors sound unfazed: “Targeting by Syrian regime of those speaking w/UN monitors outrageous but not unexpected,” tweeted the Obama administration’s U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice. This raises two questions: If such atrocities were predictable, why did the United States vote to send the U.N. monitors to Syria? And why does it support their continued deployment?
The evident answer is that the Obama administration, like its “partners” on the Security Council, wishes to be seen as doing something to stop the bloodshed in Syria without having to commit resources or exert leadership. Sadly, this is far from the first such failure. In a blog at Foreign Policy’s Web site, Michael Dobbs has been documenting the eerie resemblances between the United Nations’ handling of Syria and its history in Bosnia—where an attempt to stop attacks on civilians by dispatching lightly armed peacekeepers in the 1990s led to the worst massacre in postwar European history.…
It’s bad enough that the Obama administration refuses to learn the lessons of previous failures. More galling is its claim that it has made the prevention of atrocities a priority—as Mr. Obama did [last week] in announcing the creation of an “atrocities prevention board.” “We see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights,” he said. “And we have to do everything we can.”
Is sending unarmed monitors to besieged cities and shrugging when the people they visit are murdered everything the United States can do? Even in an election year, the answer has to be no.
WHILE SYRIA BURNS
National Review, April 26, 2012
Last year, President Obama ordered U.S. intervention in Libya under the grand new doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect.” Moammar Gaddafi was threatening a massacre in Benghazi. To stand by and do nothing “would have been a betrayal of who we are,” explained the president.
In the year since, the government of Syria has more than threatened massacres. It has carried them out. Nothing hypothetical about the disappearances, executions, indiscriminate shelling of populated neighborhoods. More than 9,000 are dead.
Obama has said that we cannot stand idly by. And what has he done? Stand idly by.
Yes, we’ve imposed economic sanctions. But as with Iran, the economic squeeze has not altered the regime’s behavior. [Last] Monday’s announced travel and financial restrictions on those who use social media to track down dissidents is a pinprick. No Disney World trips for the chiefs of the Iranian and Syrian security agencies. And they might now have to park their money in Dubai instead of New York. That’ll stop ‘em.
Obama’s other major announcement—at Washington’s Holocaust Museum, no less—was the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board.
I kid you not. A board. Russia flies plane loads of weapons to Damascus. Iran supplies money, trainers, agents, more weapons. And what does America do? Supports a feckless U.N. peace mission that does nothing to stop the killing.… And establishes an Atrocities Prevention Board.
With multi-agency participation, mind you. The liberal faith in the power of bureaucracy and flowcharts, of committees and reports, is legend. But this is parody.…
[Obama’s] case for passivity is buttressed by the implication that the only alternative to inaction is military intervention—bombing, boots on the ground. But that’s false. It’s not the only alternative. Why aren’t we organizing, training, and arming the Syrian rebels in their sanctuaries in Turkey? Nothing unilateral here. Saudi Arabia is already planning to do so. Turkey has turned decisively against Assad. And the French are pushing for even more direct intervention.
Instead, Obama insists that we can only act with support of the “international community,” meaning the U.N. Security Council—where Russia and China have a permanent veto. By what logic does the moral legitimacy of U.S. action require the blessing of a thug like Vladimir Putin and the butchers of Tiananmen Square?
Our slavish, mindless self-subordination to “international legitimacy” does nothing but allow Russia—a pretend post-Soviet superpower—to extend a protective umbrella over whichever murderous client it chooses. Obama has all but announced that Russia (or China) has merely to veto international actions—sanctions, military assistance, direct intervention—and the U.S. will back off.
For what reason? Not even President Clinton, a confirmed internationalist, would acquiesce to such restraints. With Russia prepared to block U.N. intervention against its client, Serbia, Clinton saved Kosovo by summoning NATO to bomb the hell out of Serbia, the Russians be damned.
If Obama wants to stay out of Syria, fine. Make the case that it’s none of our business. That it’s too hard. That we have no security/national interests there.
In my view, the evidence argues against that, but at least a coherent case for hands off could be made. That would be an honest, straightforward policy. Instead, the president, basking in the sanctity of the Holocaust Museum, proclaims his solemn allegiance to a doctrine of responsibility—even as he stands by and watches Syria burn.…
THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING
Weekly Standard, April 24, 2012
[Last week], the White House’s Atrocities Prevention Board held its first meeting. Chaired by National Security Council staffer Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, the board will “coordinate action across the entire government on stopping genocide and liaise with the NGO community.”
But even with the best of intentions, boards and committees—and NGOs—do not stop men with guns determined to slaughter. This much should be obvious, even to an administration that thinks there is some purpose to Arab League or U.N. monitors giving witness to the bloodshed in Syria. Surely the White House knows that testimony is not going to slow down Bashar al-Assad’s killing machine. No, it seems that more bureaucracy—the Atrocities Prevention Board—is simply how this administration institutionalizes indifference in the face of mass murder.
At a ceremony [last week] at the Holocaust Museum, Elie Wiesel cut straight to the point. He asked president Obama: “how is it that Assad is still in power?” Wiesel continued: “Have we not learned?…”
Dithering is perhaps the kindest description of the administration’s Syria policy. First, the Obama administration complained that the opposition is too fragmented. How could it support them if it didn’t know whom to back? Then, the White House warned the opposition not to take up weapons, lest it forfeit international support it had earned by walking through Assad’s killing fields unarmed. So what if they were tortured, raped, and murdered? According to administration officials, the revolutionaries still had, as [Secretary of State] Clinton said, the “moral high ground”—as long as they were killed without fighting back.
Next, the administration worried that al Qaeda had infiltrated the opposition. At the behest of the White House, U.S. intelligence officials briefed the press about Sunni radicals who might have been orchestrating attacks on Syrian government installations. The briefings seem to have conveniently elided the fact that it was the Syrian government who had cultivated, and in some cases supported and armed, those al Qaeda elements in the first place.
If only the Syrian opposition would just give up! After all, there’s an election to be won and this president is about getting the U.S. out of the Middle East—even if it means losing an opportunity to advance American vital interests by helping to bring down Iran’s chief regional ally. Besides, it’s not all about nations and national interests. As Obama said recently, in explaining why the administration isn’t going to do anything serious to stop Assad, “You don’t just count on officials; you don’t just count on governments. You count on people mobilizing their conscience.…”
The administration’s Syria policy should serve as a wake-up call to the Israelis. The administration says it has Israel’s back regarding the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but its position on Syria makes it clear that the White House is willing to look the other way. Obama has shown he is capable of doing nothing to help those under fire, even when there are national interests at stake and we share common adversaries—with Israel it’s Iran, with the Syrian opposition it’s Assad, a man who has facilitated the murder of American troops and targeted U.S. allies over the last decade.
For Israelis, the lesson in self-reliance is derived from the Holocaust—don’t count on others to protect you because history is evidence that they won’t. The Holocaust was the pretext for Obama’s remarks on Syria, and for Americans, the speech should serve as a wake-up call. Either we stand with our allies and for ourselves and our interests, or we can tell ourselves beautiful fictions about our consciences when we just can’t be bothered to tell the truth.