SYRIA IS WALKING ALL OVER THE UN
National Post, May 28, 2012
The massacre of the children of Houla and their families has deepened the sense of crisis in Syria, but the United Nations is unlikely to do anything about it.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus Monday for yet another round of emergency talks on his tattered and bullet-riddled six-week old UN peace plan. With only 271 of the 300 observers in place, the undersized, under-resourced and virtually impotent UN Mission in Syria has been unable to do much. The ceasefire at the heart of the plan never took hold: Syrian security forces continue to target and kill dissidents [and] rebel guerrillas remain active.…
The killings in Houla took place only 20 kilometres from a UN observer post in the blood-stained city of Homs. When Syrian troops began their nine-hour artillery and tank assault last Friday, activists in Houla pleaded with the UN peacekeepers to come to the town, in the hope their presence might protect residents. But the UN observers only arrived Saturday, in time to count the bodies. That has infuriated rebel leaders, who say the Houla massacre carries the stench of Srebrenica in 1995, when UN peacekeepers looked on helplessly as more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered.
Monday, Mr. Annan, who was in charge of UN peacekeeping operations during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, could do little more than…call the Houla killings a “flagrant violation” of international law and Syria’s commitment to a ceasefire, [before] urg[ing] the Syrian government “to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully.” Everyone is calling for an investigation into the killings. Nothing much has changed.…
Russia and China have repeatedly given the regime of President Bashar al-Assad the political cover it needs to unleash security forces to crush all dissent. Ever conscious of their vulnerabilities at home, Chinese officials advocate a policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states, while Russia regards Syria as its only real ally in the Middle East and depends on Damascus for Mediterranean basing rights for its navy. Russia is also Syria’s top weapons supplier. The day of the Houla massacre, a Russian-owned cargo ship, Professor Katsman, reportedly arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus, where it unloaded military equipment and ammunition.…
The real lesson of the Houla massacre therefore may be that in the absence of any effective UN action, Syria is doomed to suffer a prolonged and bloody civil war that could degenerate into a regional conflict.…
Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2012
The United Nations Security Council on Sunday condemned Syria’s government for the killing of 108 people, mostly women and children, in Houla last Friday. But the condemnation was incomplete: It should have included the Security Council itself for providing the diplomatic cover that has let the Assad government continue its killing.
Thanks to Russia and China, the Security Council has failed to impose any serious sanctions on Syria, much less endorse action to help the opposition amid thousands of deaths. That’s bad enough. But in April the U.N. turned to aiding and abetting the regime with its mission to send Kofi Annan to Damascus as a special “peace” envoy.
Mr. Annan, who as a former U.N. Secretary-General is perfectly trained for the role of accommodating dictators, brokered a cease-fire that he said Syria’s Bashar Assad promised to obey. As was widely predicted at the time, Mr. Annan’s truce succeeded only in buying time for the Assad regime to crush rebel havens in Homs and elsewhere and now to perpetrate the massacre in Houla.
On Monday, Mr. Annan made another trip to Damascus and proclaimed himself “personally shocked and horrified by the tragic incident in Houla.” Nice to know. He also called on “every individual with a gun” to disarm and stop the killing, which continues the moral equivalence that equates systematic shelling of civilian neighborhoods with small-arms resistance to organized military assaults. The U.N. is every bit as complicit in the Houla murders as it was when its blue-helmet Dutch peacekeepers stood by and did nothing as the Serbs massacred thousands of Bosnians in Srebrenica in 1995.
The Obama Administration signed onto the Annan mission as an excuse not to have to organize a coalition of the willing outside the U.N. to intervene in Syria. Bill Clinton was finally shamed into going around the U.N. in Bosnia in the 1990s, but Mr. Obama’s main goal seems to be to get past the election without again having to use American military force.
In a news leak on the weekend, White House aides let it be known that their latest strategy is to coax the Russians into agreeing to help ease Mr. Assad from power while preserving the bulk of the regime. It isn’t clear why the Russians would suddenly decide to throw over their last client in the Middle East. Nor it clear why a successor regime in Damascus, presumably still run by Allawites, would be any more likely to accommodate the largely Sunni opposition.
For months, we’ve been told that the U.S. and the West can’t intervene in Syria because it might lead to civil war, because the turmoil might spread in the region, and because we don’t know who might replace Mr. Assad. Well, civil war is breaking out anyway, the mayhem is spreading to Lebanon, and the bloodier things get the more likely that Syria will descend into a chaos that empowers the most radical elements.
At least in Libya, Mr. Obama eventually led from behind. In Syria, he’s following from behind a United Nations that has become an accomplice of Bashar Assad.
NATO’S BLIND SPOT ON INTERVENTION IN SYRIA
Washington Post, May 21, 2012
NATO’S “victory” in Libya, senior U.S. officials recently wrote, was a “model intervention,” a “teachable moment.” “The first lesson is that NATO is uniquely positioned to respond quickly and effectively to international crises,” the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo H. Daalder, and NATO’s supreme allied commander, Adm. James G. Stavridis, wrote in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs.
But what was it a model for? Not Syria, apparently; to read the article by Mr. Daalder and Adm. Stavridis, it’s not clear why not. NATO responded rapidly to a “deteriorating situation”—sounds like Syria—“that threatened hundreds of thousands of civilians”—check—“rebelling against an oppressive regime”—no daylight there. The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has killed some 10,000 civilians since peaceful pro-democracy protests began 15 months ago.
If anything, NATO has more of an interest in defusing Syria’s crisis than Libya’s. Turkey, a NATO member, is on Syria’s border and has seen violence spill into its territory. Other nations are threatened, too; [two weeks ago] a cleric sympathetic to Mr. Assad’s opponents was assassinated in Lebanon. Libya is of modest strategic importance, while the fall of the Assad regime, Iran’s major ally in the Arab world, would have strategic benefits for the United States, Israel and everyone else working to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
And yet, at [this month’s] summit of NATO leaders in Chicago…Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen explained, “We are very much concerned about the situation of Syria,” but the alliance has “no intention whatsoever to intervene.” What happened to the “teachable moment,” just one year old?
There’s a hint in the Foreign Affairs article: “The United States facilitated this rapid international reaction,” the authors boast. In truth…the Libyan action would not have taken place without the promise of substantial U.S. support. On Syria, that promise is missing.…
President Obama and his allies cannot shirk this issue indefinitely. As Syria burns, the Libya “victory” rings increasingly hollow.
TIME FOR MORE PRESSURE ON SYRIA
National Review, May 29, 2012
“International Pressure On Syria Grows After Killings,” a New York Times headline read this week. The killings in question are the massacres perpetrated [in Houla] last weekend by the Assad regime’s soldiers and the rabble called the “shabiha.…”
But what is the “pressure” to which the Times referred? First is the return to Syria of Kofi Annan, whose “peace plan” has provided a useful façade behind which Assad could continue killing and various governments…could hide while wringing their hands. Annan is back, but what can he do? How many legions has a former secretary general? Does anyone believe that Kofi Annan scares Bashar Assad?
Second is the coordinated expulsion of Syrian diplomats by many governments [including the US and Canada]. This is symbolic of our disgust with last weekend’s killings, officials around the world have said. And that is precisely correct: The expulsions are symbolic. They do not hurt Assad nor do they help the Syrian people bring his bloody regime to an end any more than visits by Kofi Annan do.
In February US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said about the killings in Syria that “world opinion is not going to stand idly by.” Three months later, it is.… President Obama, for example, [recently] made a high-minded speech at the Holocaust Museum and announced formation of a new “Atrocities Prevention Board.” Bad timing, as he watches the atrocities occur in Syria and does so very little to prevent them. “The Syrian people still brave the streets,” he said.… “They have not given up, which is why we cannot give up.” More accurately, we cannot “give up” because we have hardly done anything to “give up.”
Why not? The real reason may well be the coming election: It seems the White House is avoiding any entanglements that might undercut the President’s ability to trumpet the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan. The stated reason for failing to help the opposition is that we do not know them and/or they are infiltrated by jihadis. If today, 15 months into this rebellion, we do not know the rebels, that’s a remarkable intelligence failure that can only reflect a policy decision not to know them.…
There are two possible outcomes in Syria’s civil war: Assad wins, by killing enough people to crush the rebellion, in which case Iran and Syria (and the regime’s armorers in Russia) have a great victory. From this, dictators everywhere would learn that [former strongman in Tunisia] Ben Ali and [deposed Egyptian president] Mubarak had it all wrong and simply failed to kill enough protesters. Or, Assad loses, and with him Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia lose.
This latter result does not require American troops or planes, but does require American leadership.…
HOW CAN OBAMA’S MIDDLE EAST POLICY
POSSIBLY GET WORSE? ANSWER: LOOK AT SYRIA
Pajamas Media, May 29, 2012
Some of my readers are unhappy that I keep criticizing President Barak Obama and his government. The problem, however, is that this administration keeps doing terrible things in the Middle East.… Here’s the latest such item: “U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out with Russia’s Aid,” by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, in the New York Times.
For almost three years, Obama insisted he would win over the Syrian dictatorship and make it America’s friend rather than Iran’s number-one ally. That was ludicrous. Forced by the ongoing uprising to back away from Damascus, the Obama Administration has spent more than a year bumbling about what to do.
The U.S. government’s main activity was to entrust to the Turkish Islamist regime the job of forming an umbrella Syrian opposition leadership. Not surprisingly, Ankara pursued its own interest by assembling a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated group, the Syrian National Congress. Though several members resigned, complaining of the radical Islamist control, the Obama Administration is still trying to force hostile oppositionists to join.
Now a new and equally terrible policy is unveiled. I’ll let the New York Times’ reporters explain it: “President Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a plan that calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place. The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal. Obama, administration officials said, will press the proposal with President Putin of Russia at their meeting next month. Obama’s national security adviser raised the plan with Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.”
Good grief! There are four different acts of strategic insanity involved in this paragraph. They are:
1. “A negotiated political settlement that…could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place.” The Syrian dictatorship is led by murderous thugs who know this is a case of kill or be killed. They aren’t going to give up any of their power. And why should they since they think they’re winning and may well be right. They know the outside world won’t do anything, despite the regime having killed around 10,000 civilians.
2. “A negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups.…” The opposition is not so foolish as a Washington pundit, policymaker, or politician. They know that their only hope is to destroy the regime entirely. The democrats want to do so in order to have a modern democracy. The Islamists want Islamism. The Kurds and Druze want autonomy.… If anyone in Syria might favor such a plan it’s the Muslim Brotherhood, which has toyed with the idea of using such a transition period to strengthen its own hand. So the idea cannot succeed but reveals once again that the Obama Administration seems to get many of its strategies from the Muslim Brotherhood.…
3. “The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal.” Just think about that sentence: The Obama Administration wants to depend on a country that’s disdainful of U.S. interests, wants to sabotage them, and is on the opposite side! The president wants to ask a country that is “strongly opposed” to Assad’s removal to remove Assad!
4. And finally, equally amazingly, “Obama, administration officials said, will press the proposal with President Putin of Russia at their meeting next month.…” It’s Obama, not Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who is pushing this plan to put Russia in control! If your enemy tries to fool or cheat you, that’s a problem. If you beg him and hand him the means to do so, that’s a betrayal of U.S. interests.
To summarize, the Obama policy shows three characteristics that have wider implications for the president’s strategies. It favors Islamist enemies; it “leads from behind” by giving the initiative to those who wish America no good; and it shows no interest in helping genuinely pro-American moderates who are fighting for their lives. And that, friends, is why I spend so much time bashing Obama’s Middle East policy, because it is so very bad and dangerous.…
Jerusalem Post, May 28, 2012
Impasses can engender complacency. That is precisely the danger underlying the current international positioning regarding Syria and Iran. President Bashar Assad’s dubious assent to a cease-fire and Iran’s talks with world powers over its nuclear program are the latest tactic of these two allies to resist mounting economic and diplomatic pressures.
Both regimes have gained some reprieve. Further action on Syria awaits the outcome of the UN observer mission. What more to do with Iran is on hold ahead of a third round of talks with the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, known as the P5 + 1 group.
Yet, while world powers ponder what to do with these two recalcitrant regimes, neither Damascus or Tehran is changing its behavior or goals. In Syria, the costs in human suffering are rising far above the UN estimate of 9,000 dead. The quest for Iranian nuclear weapons capability advances as more centrifuges are installed to expand uranium enrichment.
Assad’s ostensible acceptance of Kofi Annan’s cease-fire plan did not come from the merciless Syrian dictator. It was announced by the former UN secretary general’s spokesman. Yet, the plan’s doom was foretold when Assad’s forces continued to pummel Syrian cities during Annan’s visit to Damascus in March.… Now, Assad has demonstrated again that he has no interest in ending his 15-month-old brutally violent crackdown. The weekend massacre of more than 100 in Houla was a particularly bloody outrage. It also was a reminder that Assad forces began assaulting the Syrian people by arresting and torturing schoolchildren in March 2011.
As long as Assad continues to ignore the cease-fire he allegedly accepted, the Annan plan will remain fanciful. And the observers’ mission, born out of the failure of the UN Security Council, due to Russia’s and China’s opposition, to adopt meaningful action, will continue to be ineffectual. The UN should reconsider, admit failure, remove the international monitors and regroup with stronger action.
Most disappointing for the Syrian opposition, international pressure on Assad has been steadily weakening. Nowadays, there is barely a mention of Assad’s need to step down, which was the call to action issued by the US and the European Union in the summer and fall of 2011.…
Iran’s record of deceit is similar to Syria. Tehran has ignored four UN Security Council resolutions, International Atomic Energy Agency reports, and ever-tightening economic and financial sanctions imposed by the US, EU and many other countries. Meeting in Istanbul on April 13, and again last week in Baghdad, the P5 + 1 group spent a lot of time talking with Iran but no agreements were reached other than to convene again in a few weeks in Moscow.…
The status quo in Iran and Syria, however, is unacceptable and poses security threats beyond their respective borders. The international community, led by the US, will need to make clear that patience is not limitless.… In short, complacency is not an option.
(Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.)