|Mutinous Slodiers Burn Cars In Jis Al-Shughur, Syria|
The United Nations Security Council is at an impasse regarding Syria but change is coming in any case.
Things may be reaching tipping point in Syria, as the Baathist regime tries and fails to crush the revolt that has spread from the rural south to central cities like Homs and Hama to Jisr Al-Shughur, on the northwestern border with Turkey.
But they are nowhere near tipping point on the Security Council: world powers there are struggling to agree on a draft resolution condemning a state repression that, according to the UN, has killed 1,100 Syrians and imprisoned 10,000 since March.
After weeks of zero progress, and stung by first reports of mutiny among Syria's 220,000-strong army in Jisr Al-Shughur -- Britain and France submitted a draft resolution on Syria on 8 June. It condemns the state's "systematic violation" of human rights, demands an end to the violence and calls on the regime to allow "unfettered" access to UN humanitarian and rights monitors.
But unlike a council resolution on Libya passed three months ago, it rules out military action, carries no threat of Syria's referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity and wields no sanctions.
|UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant|
Diplomats said the text's mildness was designed to garner the widest possible support on the council. "We believe that the world should not stand silent in the face of the outrages that are happening" in Syria, said Britain UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
Permanent members Russia and China opposed the resolution, and may veto it. Damascus is Russia's closest Arab ally, bound by years of defence, intelligence and other relations. In the regime's current fight for survival it is clear with whom Moscow sides. A Security Council resolution "could be misunderstood by destructive forces in Syria who... declare they want regime change in Damascus," said Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. China too prefers continuity to change.
But Russia and China are not alone on the council. Brazil, South Africa and India also oppose the resolution. And this has less to do with ancient ties than recent experience.
|Ambassador Vitaly Churkin|
All three countries abstained on a Security Council resolution in March authorizing military action in Libya. They did so out of deference to Arab League calls for a no-fly zone and assurances that the UN mandate would be restricted to protecting civilians, mostly in the besieged rebel city of Benghazi.
Within hours official Arab support evaporated and NATO launched airstrikes armed with a thinly veiled remit of regime change. Brazil, South Africa and India do not want to be dealt the same hand twice.
Syria is "very pivotal when you look at Middle East stability. I think the last thing we want to see or do is to contribute to exacerbating tensions in what we consider to be one of the tensest regions in the world," said Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota.
There was "systematic concern" among certain countries on the council about the way the Libya resolution had been implemented, he said. And, unlike Libya, there had been no Arab call for UN involvement in Syria.
That is true, and not surprising. The sole Arab country on the council is Lebanon, a state that in the words of one diplomat is "constitutionally" bound not to oppose Syria at the UN or anywhere else.
From Iran to Saudi Arabia to even Israel the unspoken consensus is while few countries mind a Libya without Muammar Gadahfi, all fear that a Syria without the Baath could unleash sectarian civil wars of an Iraqi scale. The default regional position "will be to try to stick with what is in power right now for fear of what might come after," said Brian Katulis, an analyst with the Center for American Progress.
But if the official response is silence, protests are being heard elsewhere. On 8 June Syria's still largely inchoate opposition sent a letter to the Security Council. It said there was no hope of any transition to democracy with the current regime in Damascus. It had also lodged evidence with the ICC chief prosecutor alleging that crimes against humanity have been committed in Syria since March.
While calling on the world to act, it said it would oppose any resolution that is "modeled on the Libyan situation". Finally, it urged "the powerful democracies of Brazil, India and South Africa -- whose struggles for freedom against repression, colonialism and apartheid have inspired people across the Middle East -- to lead the way in supporting the region's peaceful struggle".
|Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan|
Syria's rebels may find more traction with a powerful democracy closer to home. Of all the states rocked by the Arab spring, Turkey has fared best. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first leader to tell Hosni Mubarak to slake his people's thirst for freedom or stand down. And having first tried dialogue with Gadahfi, Turkey bowed to the enormous weight of global opinion that the Libyan leader too would have to go.
Erdogan urged dialogue on President Bashar Al-Assad, steeled by the growing détente between the two countries. But faced with 10,000 Syrian refugees seeking shelter on its soil -- and with calls for reform ignored -- Turkey has broken with what had been its closet Arab alley.
The Turkish leader has denounced Syrian army actions against its own people as "savagery". He has said Al-Assad is "no longer possible to defend". And he has warned Istanbul would not tolerate "another Hama", a reference to Hafez Al-Assad's crushing of an uprising in the town in 1982 that left at least 10,000 Syrians dead. Finally, he has hinted Istanbul would support action taken by the Security Council against Syria, the first regional power to do so.
|Just Like Daddy|
Five weeks ago President Obama delivered an address on the Middle East in which he said it would be “a top priority” of his administration to oppose violent repression and support democratic transitions across the region, using “all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.” He singled out Syria, where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has gunned down hundreds of peaceful protesters, choosing what Mr. Obama called “the path of murder.”
“The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests,” the president declared. “It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities.” As for Mr. Assad, “he can lead that transition” to democracy, “or get out of the way.”
Nearly a month later, Mr. Assad has done none of those things; instead, he has escalated his war against his own people. Over the weekend an elite Army division staged a full-scale assault on the town of Jisr al-Shoughour, forcing most of its population of 50,000 to flee. Nearby Turkey reports that more than 8,500 refugees have crossed its border. Now Syrian tanks are surrounding the town of Maarat al-Nouman, population 100,000, as well as two other towns near the border with Iraq. Human rights groups say the number killed has risen above 1,300.
It seems fair to ask what Mr. Obama has done in response, given his pledge to employ all of the “tools” at the administration’s disposal. The answer can be summed up in one word: nothing. Apart from a passing reference at a May 25 news conference, the president has not spoken in public about Syria since his May 19 address. The token U.S. sanctions applied to the Assad regime at the time of the speech have not been stepped up. While Britain and France have pressed — unsuccessfully — for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian repression, the United States has taken a back seat.
The French government has adopted the position that the Assad regime has lost the legitimacy to govern Syria. But the Obama administration has not abandoned the notion that the dictator could still steer Syria to democracy — as ludicrous as that sounds. The administration’s former State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, tweeted this week that it’s “odd” that Obama thinks Rep. Anthony Weiner should resign but not Assad. Why, he wondered, does the president send the message that “sending lewd tweets violates public service, but not killing people?”
The administration has excused its passivity by saying that it does not want to “get ahead” of allies in the region, and that it worries about the consequences of a regime collapse. But Mr. Assad’s violence is already causing serious problems for Turkey and for Israel, which has twice faced incursions on its territory from Syria by Palestinian refugees organized by the regime. Other U.S. Arab allies are observing Mr. Obama’s passivity with dismay: “Why doesn’t the United States have a policy?” one senior official from the Persian Gulf recently asked us.
In fact, Mr. Obama enunciated a clear policy four weeks ago. He said the United States would use all its power to stop violent repression and promote democratic transition in countries such as Syria. He said his words “must be translated into concrete actions.” But he has yet to act.