Posts Tagged ‘Baba Amr’

Annan fails in Damascus as Syrian army continues its onslaught—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #11 (March 11)

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Predictably, Kofi Annan was rebuffed by Bashar al-Asad in talks in Damascus on March 10-11.  Inexplicably, Annan declared following his talks in Damascus that there exist grounds for “optimism”.

As the fighting continues in and around Idlib and in other parts of the country, it is difficult to see Annan’s mission as anything other than a smokescreen to obfuscate the abject failure of outside powers to intervene militarily to stop the killing.   In the judgment of Senator John McCain and many others, only such intervention can stop the Syrian military from their current slaughter of civilians as they seek to repress all opposition to the government.  Bashar al-Assad has labeled all of his opposition as “terrorists” and affirmed he will not negotiate with them. The Syrian opposition also rejects negotiations.

Annan’s grounds for optimism are hard to discern, if it refers to anything more than his continuing his mission–as Syria with Russian support proceeds with its rampage against civilians in towns where both unarmed and armed opposition have taken hold. By failing to establish a ceasefire as the only topic for discussion, Annan has in effect offered the Syrian Dictator and his Russian and Iranian backers  more time to “finish the job” of wiping out all opposition within the country through the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On the diplomatic front, the foreign ministers of Russia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany are due to meet for a Security Council meeting in New York on Monday (March 12), where Syria will undoubtedly be a principal topic of discussion.

For current developments on the ground, as well as the latest diplomatic moves, see:

Patrick J. McDonnell (reporting from Beirut), “Kofi Annan meets with Syria President Bashar Assad; “As tanks reportedly attack rebels in Idlib, the former U.N. chief holds talks in a bid to head off what world leaders fear could become a full-fledged civil war,” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2012.

Lourival Sant’Anna (enviado especial), “Do lado turco da fronteira, rebeldes tramam o fim de Assad; Opositores sírios preparam-se para combater um inimigo determinado e mais forte,” O Estado de São Paulo, 10 de março de 2012 (17:42 h).

Enric González (Mokaibli, Líbano), “Siria se ha convertido en una cárcel; Menos de 30.000 civiles han logrado escapar del país; El control sobre la vigilancia de las familias de los oficiales impide la desintegración del Ejército,” El País, 10 de marzo de 2012 (21:40 CET).

Assocated Press (Beirut), “Kofi Annan leaves Syria after talks with Assad; Former UN secretary general says he offered Syrian president concrete proposals ‘which will have a real impact on the ground,'” The Guardian, March 11, 2012 (14:19 EDT). Article details diplomatic developments, including meeting in New York on March 12 with foreign ministers of U.S., U.K. Germany, and Russia.

Peter Beaumont, “Syria in turmoil: Assad launches fresh shelling of civilian housesKofi Annan’s ceasefire mission falters as the tanks roll in to besiege the city of Idlib,” The Guardian, March 10, 2012 (11.01 EST).

Jean-Jacques Mevel, “Syrie : les Occidentaux craignent l’enlisement,” Le Figaro, le 11 mars 2012 (21:34 h).

(Le Figaro), “Syrie : “l’armée poursuit son offensive, Annan «optimiste»,” Le Figaro, le 11 mars 2012, (acualisé à 17:39 h).

One final thought: For 60 years the Arab world has viewed developments in the Middle East primarily through the template or prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue. In 2011, an alternative narrative developed, which offers the possibility that in the future events in the region will be viewed through a lens that emphasizes human rights and the rule of law.

The response of the United States and other key Western countries to the ongoing terror in Syria may well have a determinative impact on the template through which the Arab world views the West in the future. This is ultimately what is at stake, in addition to our own sense of who we are and the kind of world in which we want to live.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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–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

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Tanks roll in Idlib as Kofi Annan is rebuffed—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #10 (March 10)

Saturday, March 10th, 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.
–The Trenchant Observer, “The Daily Star: “We procrastinate”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #9 (March 9), March 9, 2012

The latest news reports from the region reveal that in his meeting with Special U.N. Envoy Kofi Annan on Saturday, March 10, Bashar al-Assad has in effect rejected Annan’s and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for an immediate ceasefire, first by the Syrian government to be followed by the armed opposition. Annan hopes to meet with opposition leaders on the ground in Syria on Saturday evening, and to meet once again with Bashar al-Assad on Sunday before leaving Syria for further meetings in the region. Annan will meet with oppositon leaders in exile, including leaders of the Syrian National Council, after he has left Syria.

See

“Assad empfängt Annan mit noch mehr Blutvergießen,” Der Siegel, den 10. März 2012.

This is an excellent article on latest developments both on the ground and on the diplomatic front. It also contains a video report including footage of Annan meeting with Bashar al-Assad, and 17 photos. Der Spiegel articles in German are frequently published in the English edition (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/), usually after a delay of several days. Readers should check back at the English web site periodically to see if the article cited here has been published in English.

Kareem Fahim, “No Talks With Syria Opposition, Assad Tells U.N. Envoy,” New York Times, March 10, 2010.

Le Monde/avec AFP, “Syrie: l’armée prend d’assaut la ville rebelle d’Idleb,” Le Monde, le 10 mars 2012 (18h55 h)

The Arab League and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov issued on Saturday a call for a new peace plan in Syria, which according to some accounts contained the following points:

In the end, the Arab League and Lavrov agreed on five points that could serve as the basis for a future U.N. Security Council resolution: an immediate cease-fire, a clause preventing foreign intervention, assurances about humanitarian aid and an endorsement of Annan’s mission.
The League’s backing down on previous demands for Assad to leave power appeared aimed at securing Russian support for a new resolution.
“Its not a perfect world,” League chief Nabil Elaraby said.
–Associated Press, “Syria assaults opposition as diplomacy staggers,” U.S. News and World Report, March 10, 2012.

However, the full text of the resolution, which is not widely available in English or other Western European languages on the web, should be made public and widely disseminated, so that independent observers can draw their own conclusions regarding what the resolution said about opposing outside intervention. The quote above may be based Lavrov’s statements. Prompt clarification is needed.

See also:

(Reuters/Beirut), “Assad rebuffs Annan as his troops hit Idlib,” Gulf Times, March 11, 2012.

Yasmine Saleh and Edmund Blair (Reuters/Africa), “UPDATE 3-Arabs urge Russia to back Syria peace plan,” Reuters/Africa, March 10, 2012 (4:06pm GMT).

TV5Monde/AFP (Damascus), “Syrie: assaut militaire sur Idleb, une nouvelle rencontre Annan-Assad dimanche,” le 10 mars 2012 (21:51 h).

Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung, “Syria’s Bashar al-Assad firmly in control, U.S. intelligence officials say,” Washington Post, March 9, 2012.

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The Washington Post’s coverage of events in Syria over the last two days (March 9 and 10) has been appalling, with only a report on March 9 quoting administration intelligence officials on how hard it would be to intervene militarily in Syria, which the latter view as firmly under al Assad’s control, and on March 10 only a short wire story on the momentous events underway in Syria. It appears that they have no one on the scene covering the story. U.S. coverage of foreign events has been growing weaker over recent years, but the idea that the Post could do so poorly in reporting on an issue of such importance is disheartening indeed. See The Trenchant Observer, “Our Dimming Vision of World Affairs”, January 2, 2010.

In contrast to the plan described in the reported March 10 Arab League statement, it will be recalled that the November 2, 2011 peace plan adopted by the Arab League provided for the following:

CAIRO: Syria has agreed to an Arab League plan to end the country’s crisis, in particular pledging to end repression of protests during which, according to the United Nations, more than 3,000 people have been killed since mid-March.

Following are the main points of the Arab plan:
1: – Complete halt to the violence, whatever its origin, to protect Syrian civilians.
2: – Release of people detained as a result of the recent events.
3: – Withdrawal of every type of military presence from towns and residential districts.
4: – Allow concerned organizations from the Arab League, Arab and international media to move freely throughout Syria and find out the reality of the situation.

According to the text of the plan, “after tangible progress is achieved by the Syrian government in applying the terms of the four preceding points,” the Arab ministerial committee will have contacts and consult with the government and various Syrian opposition bodies. The aim of these will be “to prepare a conference of national dialogue within two weeks.”
The plan does not stipulate the exact date for the military withdrawal nor when the two-week period should begin.
Arab diplomats say that Damascus wants the talks to take place in Syria, something the opposition categorically refuses.
The Arab League has suggested that initially the talks take place in Cairo.

–The Daily Star (Beirut), November 3, 2011.

In four months, estimates of the number killed in Syria have risen from 3,000 to 8,000 or 8,500. That is, while diplomats talked, and al-Assad proceeded with his murderous repression, some 5,000 or more people have died. That is the “collateral damage” which has resulted from inaction by the international community, what we like to think of as “the civilized world”.

As military leaders in Washington argue to Congress that any air attacks such as those called for by Senator John McCain on March 5 would involve the infliction of significant collateral damage and civilian casualties, they should bear in mind the collateral damage that inaction has already caused, and will certainly cause in the future until al-Assad is stopped.

The text of Senator John McCain’s speech of March 5, 2012 on the floor of the Senate can be found on his Senate web site here.

McCain’s speech is closely reasoned, and makes a very compelling case for immediate military intervention led by the U.S. to bring al-Assad’s ongoing of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a prompt halt. It is must reading.

As the interminable diplomatic dance proceeds, let us all keep our eyes fixed firmly on what is actually happening on the ground, as thousands of people are being slaughtered for the crime of insisting on their exercise of fundamental human rights.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/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.

***

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

***

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.
–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.

***

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

***

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.

***

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