The Syrian Conundrum Continues

Reports out of Syria have confirmed that Bashar al-Assad, in anticipation of the April 12th date for a cease-fire, launched a series of voracious attacks across the country in several key towns including Homs, Deraa, and a suburb of Damascus, Douma. There are other reports of fighting in other towns and regions. This is a clear violation of the spirit of the understanding that Kofi Annan had obtained from Assad. The UN Security Council resolution urged Syria to carry out the plan “urgently and visibly,” with a ceasefire by April 10th. The UN Council called on Damascus to pull back its troops and heavy weapons from city centers by that date. It further requested all parties, including the opposition, to cease armed violence within 48 hours of this pull-back.

But by that time President Bashar al-Assad is likely to have decimated much of the cities being attacked and the butchery of civilians will have mounted perhaps beyond the 10,000 that were killed in a similar attack decades ago on civilians by Assad’s father. 

The question that must be raised is whether he will get away with this slaughtering of so many citizens, including women and children. The international community’s response has been timid, including the UN (hampered by the vetoes of China and Russia who clearly think mass killing of civilians is just fine), the Arab League, and sadly the “Friends of Syria,” whose name is now one of shame rather than of pride on the part of the nations participating who have done little to stop the killing. 

It is at least clear that the killing will continue until the promised April 10th or even the 12th agreed fullback and later cease-fire, but by that time thousands might be dead or injured and there is no guarantee that the killing will not go on since Assad has a long history of promises not kept. 

Clearly, the conflict is getting worse despite Syria’s assurance to the UN that it was complying with the cease fire plan according to a report of the New York Times.  At this rate, any cease fire is likely to leave Assad still in power and have eviscerated the opposition. It will likely permit the Assad regime to quietly and comprehensively carry out a persecution of all groups who were opposed to him away from the glare of foreign observers. The team that the UN has marshaled to observe the cease fire will have little capacity to monitor such actions, which can include murder and torture. Even the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said to the General Assembly that “the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.” The sad part is that Assad has looked into the eyes of the international community and sees only words and cowardice. 

Frankly, as we have noted in earlier posts, there seems no alternative other than either to arm the opposition, create a no fly zone, and impose more severe sanctions, or to make an effort to inject into Syria an armed multilateral peacemaking force which can ensure the safety of the civilian population and can take on successfully, if necessary, the Syrian forces. Their aim would be to enforce a true cease-fire, protect the population against reprisals from any side, ensure general security, and enable and protect humanitarian assistance being delivered. Whether that will take place remains highly doubtful, but then the alternative is that the mass butcher of his people will remain in power and slowly continue his massacre and the UN’s “obligation to protect” will be in shatters.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

Syria Up-Date: Where Now?

As we watch the continued Syrian bloodbath, we are seeing some effort to recover from the UN Security Council vetoes by Russia and China of a sanctions, cease fire, and process of regime change resolution. While the al-Assad proposed referendum on a new constitution aims to quiet the dissent, given the killing, it is unlikely to be accepted by the opposition as it does not remove the present rulers. It seems like an effort to buy time to continue with repressive measures.

China and Russia have or are going to send missions to Assad but so far they have had no success in stopping the killing. The best solution would be if Assad would step down but this remains unlikely.

Now the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly (137 in favor, 12 against, and 17 abstained) for a similar but non-binding resolution, which will, in effect, throw the ball into the court of the Arab League, EU, Turkey, and a “Friends of Syria” group supported by the U.S.  The aim is to get help for the opposition and, if possible, to establish a broad national unity provisional government.  But the issue is how to act effectively to get the incipient but very deadly civil war to speedily stop; that probably will require multilateral peacekeeping forces not only to separate the contenting sides but ensure that a dangerous revenge and brutal “score setting” process is mitigated and to permit diplomacy and conciliation as well as civic society to function.

The Syrians themselves must also come together so that all groups have a role, the rights of minorities are ensured, and rule of law and democracy are established by any new government. The inducement could be recognition by the international community. Such an effort might even move Russia and China to stop their backing of Bashar al-Assad.

Yet the real issue is whether there is a strategy that can stop in short order the carnage that is still taking place engendered by a determined and dictatorial al-Assam regime.  This biog early on advocated the use of an international intervention peacekeeping and peacemaking force after a General Assembly UN resolution was passed and supported by the Arab League. Some Gulf States later supported informally such a peacekeeping effort but clearly wanted even broader backing by others. The UN Human Rights Commissioner also supported international efforts to stop the killings.

Now the time has come and several requirements and actions are needed. The first is a consensus among the key actors – namely the Arab league, Turkey, the EU, possibly NATO, as well as humanitarian units of the UN system such as UNHCR, UNDP.  Each can provide their resources especially to deal with the refugees and those at risk, to supply medical help and food, and to get the economy started again.

Some commentators have said that it would take months for an effort to get underway…that is months in which the Assam regime can pound into the ground the civilian population and leave added thousands dead. That is not acceptable since the resources sufficient to stop the killing exist and need simply a “go” from the key political leaders.  Here Turkey is key. Again, as we have noted, this can all be done without U.S. boots on the ground but with some logistic support, economic assistance, and perhaps some help with a no flight zone being established.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

Action At Last: What is at Stake in Libya?

Just as Western hesitancy, dithering, and some bad judgment appeared to have  destroyed what promised to be a historic alignment of the Arab Spring and of the Western democracies’ values and interests, the French and British resolution in the U.N. Security Council, with the support of America, has turned the crisis of despair into an opportunity of achievement. 

The Security Council resolution not only authorized a “no-fly” zone over Libya, but it also authorized the use of force to protect civilian populations.  The vote was 10 in favor and 5 abstentions, which included Germany, China, India, and Russia.  It was a major diplomatic success for France, Britain and America which supported the key addition of action to protect populations. However, the resolution banned the use of troops on the ground, and did not specify authority for “regime change” as an objective.  Secretary Hillary Clinton in Tunisia has been talking strong about Gaddafi going. What remains in question is if and how the combined forces of the Libyan rebels, Arab nations, and the Western nations participating will rid the world of Gaddafi and his regime from power. Continue reading