Posts Tagged ‘Arab League monitors’

REPRISE: Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #86 (September 18)

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us

Originally published March 6, 2012

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.

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For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

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It is difficult to sleep, here in the United States, knowing that dozens or hundreds of people are being murdered each day by Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers and security forces, during these same hours, in broad daylight in Syria. Men and boys are being rounded up in groups and taken away to be executed–or executed on the spot. Men are pulled from cars at checkpoints, and taken to be shot.

This is what General Franco’s forces did during the Civil War in Spain from 1936-1939. It is what Hitler’s officers and soldiers did throughout Europe in World War II, from September 1939 until they were stopped in May, 1945 by the combined military forces of the Allied Powers.

Not just men and boys, but also women and children are being killed every day in Syria by the indiscriminate shelling by tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons into apartment blocks and homes. Round-ups are underway, where individuals believed to be opponents of al-Assad, or who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who just happen to be Sunni instead of Alawite, are hunted down and either taken away to be tortured and/or shot, or have their throats slit by knives as they lay tied on the ground.

Hell has come to Syria.

A merciless slaughter and brutal repression are currently underway in Syria, each day as we try to sleep in the United States–a relentless, grinding slaughter, with horrors beyond all telling.

We know this. The world knows this. The world has first-hand testimony from witnesses, videos from cameras and smart phones, almost in real time. We have the U.N. Special Commission Report on Syria of February 22, 2012, which provides the details. News accounts bring us up to the present, with chilling accuracy.

The death toll has already surpassed the 7,000 men and boys massacred at Srebrenice, in 1995–as U.N. peacekeepers from the Netherlands, stationed in Srebrenice, stood by and did nothing to protect the population from the butchery of Slobodan Milosovic and Ratko Mladic.

It is some consolation that both were taken to The Hague, where Milosovic died while being tried, and where Mladic’s trial will commence in May. But their trials cannot bring back the men and boys who were slaughtered in Srebrenice on July 11, 1995.

And we, in the civilized world, swore that we would never let Srebrenice happen again.

One would think the Dutch would be out front on this one. But they aren’t.

To be sure, there have been other crimes against humanity, in Rwanda and Darfur, for example. And it is demonstrably true that we in the civilized world cannot stop all such crimes in all such places.

But in Syria, at the center of the lands and civilizations, going back four thousand years, which once formed part of the Roman Empire, close to Jerusalem and the heartland of the three religions of the The Book (Chirstianity, Judaism, and Islam), the civilized world could do something to stop this killing–if it had the courage and the will to do so.

Tragically, our leaders are too feckless to act. It would be difficult to take down the Syrian air defenses, our military leaders testify before Congress. The mililtary action would be difficult, and that is adduced as a reason not to undertake it. As if the Normandy invasion was not difficult. Or the Battle of Corregidor. Or taking down the Serbian air defenses in the bombing in Serbia in 1999 to stop the the ethnic cleansing by the Serbs in Kosovo.

Why is it hard to sleep?

Because I believe that President Obama has real-time intelligence on the details of the atrocities that are being committed, and may well be able to watch events in real-time from cameras on satellites and drones and other platforms (as he did when Bin Laden was taken down). I believe he knows exactly what is going on. And he is unwilling to lift a finger to do anything about it.

He has reportedly vetoed any military action, within the last week.

I support Obamacare, but I can’t support “Obama doesn’t care”.

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.

That is why Kofi Annan’s U.N. mediation effort is so tragic. It is misbegotten on principle, and the principle is that we should not negotiate the cessation of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We should not negotiate with war criminals, except for the terms of their prompt exit from the scene.

It is ill-considered in that, wholly aside from the principle of the matter, Annan’s consultations will 1) give al-Assad control of the pace of the “mediation” efforts; and 2) lead to drawn-out diplomatic consultations that will give the Syrian Dictator the time he wants to commit more war crimes and crimes against humanity to wipe out his opponents, and their villages and towns.

Only mass amnesia at the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and other powers he may have consulted, could account for the failure to take into account the sad history of the Arab League’s negotiations with Syria over implementation of its November peace plan, and its experience in sending monitors to the country. Whatever al-Assad might agree to, would be utterly worthless, as he has zero credibility. And more time would be lost, to check on his compliance with any agreement, for diplomatic consultations as to what to do. More time for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the total destruction of neighborhoods and towns that have shown opposition or resistance.

Actually, there has been one notable exception to the general passivity of leaders in the civilized world. U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain had the courage to speak up on the floor of the Senate yesterday, March 5, and to call for air attacks on al-Assad’s forces to halt the killing and other atrocities. In the United States, his speech was reported in general, but the powerful and cogently reasoned arguments he presented, supporting his call for immediate military action, have as yet received little coverage in the United States. News coverage in Europe, in fact, may be better.

The speech is of fundamental importance for understanding the options that face us in Syria, and the consequences of inaction. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who is following developments in that country.

So why should all of this cause anyone to be troubled as he goes to sleep?

The crimes are eerily similar to the crimes for which the Nazi war criminals were prosecuted at Nuremberg.

We are doing nothing effective to stop al-Assad from continuing with his massacres. We know what is going on. We are gutless wonders.

So, what is going on in Syria is not only about al-Assad. It is also about us.

It is about the levels of barbarism we are willing to watch, in real time, close to Jerusalem and the heart of Europe and the Middle East, without lifting a finger.

We have no principles left which we believe are worth fighting for.

Afghanistan long since ceased to be about building democracy and the rule of law, even in incipient form, and there we fight only so we can get out without the Afghan government falling. Victory is not the goal, but “degrading the Taliban”, while we delude ourselves with thoughts of a negotiated settlement that would amount to something short of capitulation–over time–to the Taliban.

I doubt that Obama would have acted to bomb Serbia in order to halt the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, if it had occurred on his watch.

We have no leaders, and the world is adrift.

Civilized countries now accept the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

That is not right. And so it is with a troubled mind that I now seek sleep.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

General Mood of UNSMIS briefs Security Council—Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #54 (June 19) (with video links)

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Reflections on Gen. Mood’s decision to stand down UNSMIS observers in Syria

On May 15, we wrote:

What will it take for the international community to recognize that by sending more monitors to Syria, it is adding to Bashar al-Assad’s panoply of human shields? Those shields protect him from military action to force him to halt the killing. They also short-circuit the thinking processes of the leaders of all countries who still–at this late date–support the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan.

It is time to dismantle the Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan. UNSMIS should be put into lockdown until al-Assad complies with the conditions in the peace plan, and withdrawn if he doesn’t.

How can this be achieved?

USMIS can be stopped the same way the Arab peace monitor mission was stopped–by countries withdrawing their members, and refusing to send any additional members to the delegation. When the UNSMIS mission comes up for an extension at the end of 90 days, it should be blocked by a majority of the Security Council.

–Stop the UN farce!—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #37 (May 15), May 15, 2012.

On May 22, we wrote:

(T)he UNSMIS mandate should not be extended past its present 90-day term. The observers currently in Syria should immediately be ordered to stand down, before they or their leaders or a significant number of them are killed by IEDs, RPGs, or other instruments of war. They are at great risk, as the recent attacks on them have demonstrated.

We should bear in mind the tragic fate of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (a potential future Secretary General) and some 20 other members of the U.N. Mission in Bagdad who were killed by bombs on August 19, 2003. The Mission was not adequately protected. The bombing not only had tragic consequences, but also led to a precipitate withdrawal of the United Nations from Iraq.

–U.S. Covert Action in Syria?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #40 (May 22), May 22, 2012.

General Robert Mood should be applauded for taking the clear-headed decision to stand down the UNSMIS observers in Syria, before any of them were killed by bullets or bombs.

Sérgio Vieira de Mello’s security contractors told him he needed to move his office to another building, located further back from the street, due to the risk of a car-bomb explosion. Vieira de Mello was ending his tour and scheduled to leave Bagdad within a week or two. In the circumstances, he decided to leave the move to the next guy.

There was no next guy. Vieira de Mello, a very strong internal candidate to beome the next Secretary General of the United Nations, was killed, along with 20 other U.N. personnel, as a result of the bomb attack on U.N. headquarters in Bagdad on August 19, 2003.

General Mood’s decision comes none too soon. Given the fact that the unarmed observers had become targets of gunfire attacks and hostile mobs, the decision to stand down was the only reasonable decision under the circumstances.

If the Syrian government does not comply immediately with the cease-fire provisions of the Security Council’s 6-point plan, the UNSMIS observers should be withdrawn from the country as soon as possible.

The unarmed observers, and General Mood, have performed their duties with great valor, and should now be protected and withdrawn until such time as the factual predicates of their mission are fulfilled.

Briefing by General Robert Mood to closed meeting of Security Council, June 19, 2012.

On June 19, the head of UNSMIS, General Robert Mood, briefed the members of the Security Council at a closed meeting of consultations.  Following the meeting, he, the Unter-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, and the President of the Security Council delivered informal remarks at a press stake-out outside the Council’s chambers.  Links to the video and audio of their remarks are listed below.

(1) General Robert Mood and Hervé Ladsous, informal comments following closed Security Council meeting on June 19, 2012.

19 Jun 2012 – Informal comments to the media by Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Major General Robert Mood, Head of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) Informal Remarks following closed session of Security Council on June 19, 2012.

(2) SC President, Li Baodong (China), informal comments following closed Security Council meeting on June 19, 2012.

SC President, Li Baodong (China) on Syria (19 June, 2012) – Security Council Media Stakeout
19 Jun 2012 – Informal comments to the media by H.E. Mr. Li Baodong, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of June 2012 on the situation in Syria.

(3) Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari (Syria), informal comments following closed Security Council meeting on

Bashar Ja’afari (Syria) on Syria (19 June, 2012) – Security Council Media Stakeout
19 Jun 2012 - Informal comments to the media by H.E. Mr. Bashar Ja’afari, Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations on the situation in Syria.

Latest News Reports and Opinion

The New York Times reports,

…General Mood and his superior, Hervé Ladsous, the under secretary general for peacekeeping operations, who also appeared before the Council, indicated in their comments to reporters that the monitoring operation could not resume unless President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and his armed opponents honored the terms of the peace plan that first placed the monitors in Syria two months ago.

General Mood announced Saturday that he had suspended the patrols of his monitors because it was too dangerous amid the escalating violence, which Mr. Ladsous characterized last week as a civil war. The monitors have been continually threatened by gunfire and explosions, and were physically blocked on at least two occasions from promptly investigating evidence of civilian massacres that antigovernment activists said had been committed by Mr. Assad’s soldiers and loyalist militias. The Syrian government has denied any complicity in the killings.

By some estimates more than 3,000 Syrians have died since mid-April when the Annan plan was put in place in an attempt to end the conflict, which began in March 2011 as a peaceful antigovernment protest. Activist groups monitoring the violence in Syria reported that at least 30 people died Tuesday in hot spots around the country, including at least 10 in Homs and nine in the Damascus suburbs.

Earlier Tuesday, a Russian cargo ship carrying refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters to Mr. Assad’s military reversed course and headed back home after its insurance coverage was revoked by a leading British maritime insurer, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, told Parliament in London.

The ship, the 400-foot MV Alaed, owned by the Russian shipping company Femco, was tracked about 100 miles northwest of the Scottish coast early Tuesday, according to the Web site MarineTraffic.com. The state-owned Russian news agency Ria Novosti reported that it was carrying “a cargo of Mil Mi-25 attack helicopters” and “coastal-based antiship missiles” to Syria.
\–Rick Gladstone and Ravi Somaiya, “Doubt Is Cast on Mission by Monitors Inside Syria, New York Times, June 19, 2012.

Richard Spencer, “Telegraph view: West takes a step closer to Syria intervention; The halting of a ship carrying Russian helicopters bound for Syria seriously undermines Moscow’s anti-interventionist stance and brings the possibility of direct Western involvement in the crisis a step closer, according to the Telegraph’s Middle East Correspondent Richard Spencer,” The Telegraph, June 19, 2012 (with video).

The Trenchant Observer

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www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

The Daily Star: “We procrastinate”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #9 (March 9)

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The Daily Star (Beirut) has been one of the absolute best sources for reliable and up-to-date information on what is going on in Syria, and on the broader significance of events.

Today’s Editorial (March 9) is particularly honest and perceptive, and cuts to the essence of the factors at play now in Syria and in the international community. Extensive excerpts follow:

(T)he death toll is now reaching 8,000, according to estimates, and the Syrian government’s cleansing of towns continues.

Figures of more than 60 a day dead are now becoming commonplace. Yet in a year of massacres, attacks, bombardments and destructions of villages, towns and cities that dare to protest we have seen the international community become mere witnesses, recording events. They simply count the numbers of dead, highlighting the devastation that has been caused.

Their action is painfully limited. Kofi Annan is to travel to Damascus Saturday to confront the violence, but what he can bring to the table is a continuation of what the regime has listened to, and ignored, all year. The United States’, the West’s and the United Nations’ semantic exercises continue unabated, and so does the bloodshed enacted by the Syrian government.

We already know that the ultimate result of Annan’s visit will be further procrastination…

As long as independent foreign media and observers are not allowed in to witness the true scale of the chaos in Syria, it can be assumed that we will continue to face a fiasco, with an international reaction that not only does not help, but actually provides a respite for the regime to continue its campaign of destruction.

The scene around Syria overflows with talk. The world’s big players proffer big words, which amount to zero in their impact on the Syrian regime – if anything they are utilized in their propaganda campaign.

The international community is attempting to save face, and by doing so is exhibiting its hypocrisy in every step and every word. This is hypocrisy of the worst kind, not only uncovering the ulterior motives of the world powers, but also serving as an eye-opener as to the intentions of the small, medium and super powers. God help any downtrodden party who takes the words of those powers at their face value. In this, the international community’s reaction to the crisis in Syria should be a lesson for many nations that look to it for support.

In the meantime, help for Syria is still at square one and none of the steps currently being taken are going to eradicate the shame of the international community.

–Editorial, The Daily Star (Beirut), March 9, 2012

As the sad spectacle of Kofi Annan’s “mediation” of the conflict proceeds, and the world’s attention is turned to what Russia, or Annan, or the U.S. or other countries are saying in their interminable diplomatic dance, it is of utter importance that we all follow the example of The Daily Star and keep our attention riveted on what is happening on the ground.

Let us all, together, focus primarily on that, on events on the ground. As Kofi Annan prepares to travel to Damascus on Saturday, March 10, tanks are surrounding Idlib, soldiers have been bussed to the area, and the new onslaught has already begun as tanks overrun villages in outlying areas. In the meantime, tanks and artillery continue to attack civilian neighborhoods in Homs. Undoubtedly, they are also on the move in other parts of Syria.

For the latest reports, see

Lauren Williams, “Deaths mount in Syria on eve of Annan talks,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 10, 2012 (02:04 AM local time).

Not only is Kofi Annan’s mission the wrong mission, but he has shown by essentially advancing the Russian position that he is not the right man for the job. Nor is it wise to place in a single individual the job of representing both the Arab League and the United Nations.

If Annan does not produce a complete ceasefire and withdrawal of tanks from cities within seven days, then his mission should be terminated by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. This goes against the usual diplomatic inertia and courtesies and niceties, but it constitutes what is required if the killing in Syria is to be stopped.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter/trenchantobserv

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
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How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

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The “Rational Actor” Fallacy and Stopping Syria’s Atrocities—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #8 (March 9)

Friday, March 9th, 2012

“There are times, such as when a man or a group of men are in the act of firing weapons to kill innocent civilians, when it is necessary to halt the killing through means other than rational persuasion.”

A central flaw in the approach of the U.S., the U.N., and many other countries to the conflict in Syria is the assumption that by exercising “pressures” on Bashar al-Assad, we can change his calculus as to whether to continue his brutal repression of the opposition by committing atrocities and widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights. The corrolary of this assumption is another: that if we change the calculus of the “rational” decision-maker, the behavior of the Syrian troops and state security personnel will automicatically change, in this case to halt the killing. Together, these assumptions amount to what is known as “the rational actor fallacy”, the belief that the decisions and actions of a large and complicated organization–such as the government of a country–are taken by a unitary “mind” that perceives reality, makes decisions, and implements those decisions as if it were a single “rational actor”.

See the classic studies on the rational actor fallacy:

(1) Graham Allison and Philip Zelikov, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (2d ed. 1999); and
(2) John D. Steinbruner, The Cybernetic Theory of Decision: New Dimensions of Political Analysis (1974, 2nd paperback ed. with a new preface 2002)

It is worth noting, in passing, that the rational actor fallacy is prominently at work in current discussions about whether or not to attack Iran to halt or set back its nuclear weapons program.

There are various assumptions here.  The first assumption is that al-Assad controls and directs the military and security forces which are committing the atrocities.

The second and related assumption is that he can stop the atrocities if he is persuaded, according to his own rational calculus, that it is more in his interest to halt the commission of these crimes than it is to allow them to proceed. 

Acting on this assumption, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has sent Kofi Annan to try to “mediate” the conflict, the assumption being that if he can persuade al-Assad, the killing will stop. 

There are several flaws in this reasoning.  First, on the basis of public information, we don’t really know if Bashar al-Assad is in control of decision-making processes in Syria, or if rather others are in effect controlling him. 

It is far from clear that Bashar al-Assad can stop the barbaric acts being committed under the leadership of military leaders, including his brother, who may view their mission as a struggle for survival and to preserve their own lives and families and, more broadly, the privileges of the Alawite minority that rules the country.  They may feel that they have reached a point of no return.

Could an emissary from the United Nations, or even China and the Soviet Union, have persuaded Pol Pot and through him the Kmer Rouge to stop the genocide in Cambodia in 1975-1979?

Could an emissary from the Allied Powers have persuaded Adolph Hitler to halt his exterminations at Auschwitz and other camps in 1943 (before adoption of the goal of “unconditional surrender” at the Casablanca Conference in January, 1943), or to have surrendered in January, 1945?

We are faced with a situation of war, of civil war, in which artillery and tanks are firing at civilian neighborhoods, and smaller weapons and even knives are being used to kill those caught in dragnets in cities like Homs, and in neighborhoods like Baba Amr.

Under these circumstances, it is unlikely that persuasion alone will stop the killing.  Even persuasion accompanied by robust military action, we may recall, did not stop Qadaffi and his military from fighting, long after any “rational” calculus would have determined it was time to stop.

Al-Assad may indeed have the leeway, under whatever constraints he may be operating, to negotiate with foreign diplomatic interlocutors as long as it gains him–and his military and state security apparatus–more time to pursue their efforts to annihilate the opposition.

In that context, he could in theory end up making some concessions, e.g., not to totally destroy Idlib like he did Baba Amr (in Homs), in order to forestall military action by the international community, or groups of states within that community.  But given the pattern of the last 11 months, even this seems unlikely. Perhaps he could agree not to destroy the next city after Idlib.

The Fourth Armored Division of the Republican Guard, under the command of Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, is currently on the march toward Idlib, according to reports.

See Khalen Yacoub Oweis (Reuters), “Forças sírias matam 54 antes da chegada de Annan,” Estadão.com.br (O Estado de São Paulo), 9 de marzo de 2012.

Lourival Sant’Anna (O Estado de S.Paulo/Antakya, Turquia), “Tanques de Assad cercam Idlib e rebeldes sírios temem novo massacre,” Estadão.com.br, 9 de marzo de 2012.

Khaled Yacoub Oweis, “Syrian forces kill 54 ahead of Annan peace mission,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 09, 2012.

There are times, such as when a man or a group of men are in the act of firing weapons to kill innocent civilians, when it is necessary to halt the killing through means other than rational persuasion.

We have come to such a moment in Syria.

Kofi Annan has announced his intention to initiate a political process which would involve participation by the opposition in negotiations over how to settle the conflict.  The main opposition group has already declared its firm opposition to any such proposal. Annan’s proposals sound very similar to those of Russia. (China, to its credit, is now pushing for an immediate ceasefire and halt to the killing, at least according to public reports.)

Annan, whose greatest failure as Secretary General was to not stop the U.S. invasion of Iraq, appears determined to prevent the United States from taking any military action against al-Assad’s armed forces. He doesn’t seem to grasp the difference in circumstances between Iraq in 2003 and Syria today.

It would be a mistake to further militarize the conflict, Annan has asserted, ignoring the fact that one side in the conflict is highly militarized with all the weapons of the modern state, and is at this moment using those weapons against the Syrian opposition, including innocent civilians who have not joined the armed resistance.

Further militarization?  By providing people with arms and other assistance so that they can defend themselves against the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Sadly, Annan’s mission will only serve to give al-Assad further time to eliminate his opposition, and to offer multiple opportunities for him to play the various nations of the civilized world off against each other.  This he did brilliantly with the Arab League in delaying its imposition of sanctions, with his immensely cynical “acceptance” of the Arab League monitors, when he had no intention of complying with the conditions for their deployment. And never did.

In short, the Annan mission, and further delay such as that being pushed by the United States, will under the best of circumstances, only serve to help al-Assad consolidate his regime, and his reign of terror. 

After the “mediation”, after the negotiations, any solution that leaves al-Assad and his regime in place will also be a solution that allows his military and state security forces to hunt down and torture and execute opponents to the regime. That is the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario is a long and drawn-out civil war, which over time is likely to drag in other powers from the region, and beyond.

Another part of the worst-case scenario is that the civilized world will have to live with the “day after”–the “day after” it has looked the other way in the face of the ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The day after the international community, with full awareness–in real time–of the details of these acts of barbarism, has done nothing to effectively stop them.

It will be a different world, in which dictators everywhere can take heart in knowing that the international “responsibility to protect” is empty verbiage.

It will be a world in which such dictators will be emboldened to use all the instruments of terror, if necessary when faced by civil opposition, to retain their hold on power.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter/trenchantobserv

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

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How to find news reports from around the world

–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

Lack of Moral Courage at the Highest Levels—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #7 (March 8)

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

President Obama’s response to the terror and crimes against humanity underway in Syria, and that of his national security team and military leadership, bespeak a lack of moral courage at the highest levels.

It appears that Obama, as the Observer has noted for some time, can only be moved by the arguments of electoral politics, by factors that might affect his bid for reelection to the presidency in November, 2012.

This itself is an enormously sad statement. But it is the duty of the best journalists, and others including academics who write about public affairs–particularly those who live in free societies–to speak truth to power.

U.S. policy towards Syria has been described by Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star in Beirut, where citizens have direct experience living under Syrian occupation and a birds-eye view of current developments in neighboring Syria, as “pathetic”.

It is difficult to conclude otherwise.

What words other than “lack of moral courage” (or even “moral cowardice”) can be used to accurately describe decisions regarding Syria by the highest leaders of the U.S. government to not develop robust military options that are available to the president for immediate execution?  At least up until now, when Senator McCain’s call for air attacks on Syrian forces raises the spectre of Syria becoming an issue in the fall elections.

How might one characterize decisions by the U.S. to not lead a drive within NATO to develop contingency plans for military intervention in Syria, to not move military assets to the Eastern Mediterranean, or to have U.S. military leaders publicly declare that military intervention is not an option?

Or to have our military leaders tell Congress that military intervention in Syria would be difficult, too hard, to tell Congress the U.S. could not intervene militarily until it knows more about the people who are being slaughtered in Syria, understands exactly what the costs would be, and knows what the outcome would be?

It appears that we now have a military leadership that will not act in any situation unless they know what it will cost and what the outcome will be. That is the military that fights the Taliban with drones, with executions of targets placed on “kill lists”, which seeks to ensure the security of the United States by deploying these same methods through the Middle East and Southwest Asia and the northern parts of Africa.

With these methods the casualties are known, for the drone operators working the night shift somewhere in the United States–or maybe even closer to the field of combat–do not have to risk their lives to fight their war. They can kill the enemy with no personal risk, by remote control.

To be sure, others do risk their lives, and they deserve the highest praise for their valor and courage in fighting for the objectives the U.S. political leadership has set for them. Even the drone operators in the employ of the U.S. military deserve our deep respect, for their work is certainly not risk-free in a psychological sense, as many may subsequently suffer deep psychological problems as a result of their work.

But now the country that would attack Iran, if it doesn’t halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons, offers to Congress as an excuse for inaction in Syria the fact that the country’s air defenses may be five times more difficult to take down than Libya’s were.

No comparison is made with Serbia, where the U.S. military performed admirably in defeating the air defenses of the Milosovic regime as it was committing crimes against humanity in Kosovo.

Have we forgotten also that the United States posseses an awesome arsenal of cruise missiles, which could undoubtedly give al-Assad a wake-up call if there were a firm commitment in the White House to stop the killing in Syria?

The latest arguments, just leaked to the press in the last few days, revolve around Syria’s possession of chemical and perhaps biological weapons. We don’t really know if there is any more substance to this argument than there was in 2003 when WMD was the rationale for taking down Sadam Hussein’s air defenses and invading Iraq. (Incidentally, the U.S. performed rather impressively in taking down Iraq’s air defenses.)

Moreover, this argument ignores the impact in Syria that active military intervention by the U.S. and coalition partners would be likely to have within the Syrian government and military leadership circles.

WMD may represent a risk, but does that mean than military action is forestalled? How is such an argument likely to affect Iran in deciding whether or not to acquire a nuclear weapons capability or nuclear weapons?

So, now that Senator McCain has called for military intervention with air strikes, the president begins to develop military options for dealing with Syria.

Unfortunately, we are now faced with a disastrous situation due to the U.S. administration’s presumed support of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s decision to name Kofi Annan as a mediator on behalf on the U.N. and the Arab League, to mediate the cessation of the crimes against humanity and war crimes that are underway. Annan, who as former Secretary General cannot be viewed as lacking in self-esteem, has laid claim to being the mediator of the only mediation process with al-Assad and his murderous regime.

Now, today, Annan spoke out loudly against any military intervention.

One can hardly imagine developments more favorable to al-Assad. Kofi Annan and his mediation effort–for as long as it continues–function as a shield against military attack, dividing the leaders of the civilized world. It gives al-Assad control over the pace of the mediation efforts, and even if he reached an agreement–as he did with the Arab League in the fall–there would be further delay to ascertain whether or to what extent he had complied with it, and diplomatic consultations to determine how to react to violations, and what to do next.

During all of this time, the Syrian Dictator would be able to continue the commission of mass atrocities and the use of all the tools of a modern police state to hunt down each and every one of his opponents, and to summarily dispense with them.

Annan’s mission should be halted if it doesn’t produce a cessation of the killing by al-Assad’s forces within the next seven days. Such a cessation of hostilities should be its first and only aim, until the killing stops.

The U.S. response to events in Syria has been cynical and craven, and is indeed in Michael Young’s words “pathetic”.

Now, because Obama seems only able to respond to arguments with potential electoral impact, what is needed is some moral courage on the part of Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House.

It is time for them to speak out, loudly, to the President, to the American people, and to the world.

There may be leaders in the Democratic Party who abhor the lack of moral courage that has been evidenced to date on Syria, who will speak out, and who may even launch a challenge–within the Democratic Party or in a third party–to Obama’s reelection as president.

That would involve electoral logic. It could potentially move President Obama to act. It appears that nothing else will.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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Qatar’s leader suggests sending troops to Syria

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

The Financial Times reported today,

Arab troops should be sent to end the bloodshed in the uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Qatar’s ruler has said, the first public call for military action as political efforts to halt the violence unravel.

Qatar’s leader, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in an interview to be broadcast on the CBS program “60 Minutes” on January 15, stated,

“For such a situation to stop the killing … some troops should go to stop the killing,”

The question of military intervention in Syria by international forces has now been openly put on the table.

The Emir’s remarks, in an interview due to be broadcast on Sunday, raise the stakes hugely in a conflict in which even Mr Assad’s enemies abroad have shied away from suggesting military intervention. Western and Arab powers fear the potentially destructive regional impact of war in a country allied with Tehran and which lies at the geographical and political heart of the Middle East.

–Michael Peel (Abu Dhabi), “Qatar calls for intervention to end Syria violence,” Financial Times, January 14, 2012.

For a nuanced analysis of the signicance of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani’s statement, see Al Jazeera English’s news report and interview on January 14 with leading Lebanese commentator Rami Khoury, on YouTube here.

What form of military intervention from outside could actually bring the killing to a halt?

First, it is not clear that outside military intervention could in fact stop the bloodshed in Syria, and indeed it could contribute to the country hurtling quickly into an all-out civil war. Consequently, any military action that might be taken would need to be carefully planned, highly calibrated, and based on a strategic vision that takes into account the need to protect different minorities in Syria and the potential actions and reactions of other players in the region, including Hezbollah and Iran.

Second, international intervention, including potential military intervention, could become necessary to halt the country’s accelerating slide into civil war, which itself could become extremely destabilizing for the region.

In view of the above, it is clear that the international community faces an immense challenge, and is called upon to steer between Scylla and Charybdis in seeking a solution to the conflict within Syria.

Should military action from abroad become necessary, and feasible, what are the broad shape and contours that it might assume?

The Arab League has little peacekeeping experience, and its decisions can be easily stalled or blocked by countries which oppose or least favor intervention. Bashar al Assad gained months by feigning to agree to an Arab League peace plan which involves Arab monitors from the League. The mission of the monitors, who are now in Syria, has been a fiasco, despite the immense courage and dedication shown by many of the members of the monitoring team.

Consequently, it does not seem to be a good idea to simply defer to the Arab League, by itself, to take charge of whatever military steps may be undertaken in Syria.

Arab League “regional enforcement action” under Article 53 of the U.N. Charter–without Security Council authorization–may be a theoretical option for sponsoring military action so long as Russian defense of al Assad remains fierce, but in practice it would be problematical and probably engender strong Russian and Chinese opposition.

While there is a history and a long string of precedents for “regional enforcement action” by the Organization of American States, and U.S. legal positions that such action is permitted under international law so long as the Security Council does not disapprove the action, this does not seem to be a promising path to pursue. The line of precedent is in some regards a relic of the Cold War, and goes against the actual text of Article 53 of the Charter, which states:

“1. The Security Council shall, where appropriate, utilize such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement action under its authority. But no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council, … until such time as the Organization may, on request of the Governments concerned, be charged with the responsibility for preventing further aggression by such a state.”

Yet, even Russia may tire of defending war criminals whose ongoing attacks on civilians are on daily display on television and video throughout the world.

If and when Russian opposition is overcome or neutralized, the United Nations Security Council could seize direct responsibility for authorizing military actions necessary to protect civilians in Syria. Soldiers from Arab countries could constitute the bulk of the “boots” on the ground. However, U.S. and NATO involvement would also be required, either in public or behind the scenes, in order to provide the logistical, communications, and intelligence support necessary to make the operation a success.

The experience of NATO in Libya, where momentum was lost due to hesitation and inaction when the diplomats were making the military decisions, suggests the need for a clear separation between the political and diplomatic decisions necessary to authorize military action, on the one hand, and the small, close-knit, and unified military command that would decide upon and execute military actions, on the other.

The details remain murky, and in the end U.N. Security Council action will be contingent on Russian acquiescence and the absence of a Russian veto.

Military action in Syria is fraught with risks, and will in any event take considerable time to take shape and become a viable option.

In the meantime, the Security Council could immediately act to grant the International Criminal Court authority to investigate the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by al Assad’s government, and also by any other forces within the country. What arguments could Russia, or anyone else, make against such action? In order to protect civilians, this, at least, should be done now.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter/trenchantobserv