Posts Tagged ‘Beirut’

“When societies cannot be bothered by mass murder occurring elsewhere, then a perilous threshold has been crossed.”

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Michael Young, the Opinion Editor at The Daily Star in Beirut, is a keen observer of events in the region, including in particular Syria. He brings to bear in his analysis and reporting the regional context, memory of events, and perspective of one who has followed events closely for many years. On November 14, he wrote a poignant column calling out the West for its callous indifference to the atrocities and human suffering in Syria.

See Michael Young, “Typhoon Assad and Western indifference, The Daily Star (Beirut), November 14, 2013 12:16 AM (Last updated: November 14, 2013 12:50 PM).

Young wrote of how the West is now using fear of the jihadists as the latest excuse for indifference to the suffering in Syria, and for inaction. His observations are sharp, and deserve widespread attention:

You can sympathize with Syrians looking longingly at the extended coverage in Western media of the humanitarian catastrophe in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan. When it comes to Syria, no such concern is evident. There is an assumption that saving the Syrian people from their regime only means reinforcing Al-Qaeda.

Not surprisingly, on the ground the regime has also given a wide berth to the most extreme jihadist groups, letting them gain ground and sowing dissension among rebels. Western publics, little concerned by the details and utterly credulous when it comes to the media’s jihadist focus, has swallowed the Assad version hook, line and sinker.

This has been compounded by the peerless incompetence of the Syrian opposition….

But not everything can be blamed on the opposition. The images from Syria have shown a far more complex picture. Not a day seems to go by without new images of civilians, many of them children, killed or injured in government bombardments or retaliation by the regime’s thugs. One can become inured to violence after a while, but something is profoundly wrong when this sense of hopelessness is transformed into indifference of the kind that greeted the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons last August. In opinion polls, majorities in the West opposed punitive military action by their governments, even if the regime had used chemical weapons.

When societies cannot be bothered by mass murder occurring elsewhere, then a perilous threshold has been crossed. Americans and Europeans are not obliged to empathize with Syrians, but somehow when room is left only to debate the economy, health insurance, and gay marriage, it doesn’t say much about a society’s commitment to its stated humanitarian values. One cannot in the same breath loudly lament the killing of some 3,000 civilians on Sept. 11, 2001, and yet say that nothing can be done at all about a regime responsible for the death of an estimated 36 times that number since 2011.

Young Americans and Europeans are brought up on the memory of the Holocaust, particularly the complicity of many societies in Europe with the slaughter of Jews during World War II. One theme that keeps coming back is how blameworthy were those who preferred to look the other way on the crimes that were being perpetuated.

The Trenchant Observer

نحن جميعا الديمقراطيين المصرية We are all Egyptian democrats!

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

While the failure of President Barack Obama to speak out for the rule of law in Egypt is a matter of great national shame for America, there are others throughout the world, including the United States, who are following the struggle for the rule of law and a democratic future in Egypt very closely.

As we watch the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in Egypt enter a new and decisive stage, we are reminded of the words of President John F. Kennedy who, when visiting Berlin on June 26, 1963, some 22 months after the Berlin wall was erected, famously declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

“I am a Berliner,” was a simple statement, instantly grasped by the 450,000 people attending his speech. He said,

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

Today, there are many Americans and other advocates of freedom and democracy throughout the world who support the democratic struggle in Egypt and who, following Kennedy’s example, want to say,

نحن جميعا الديمقراطيين المصرية

(“nahnu jame’an il demoqratee’een il musreya”)

“We are all Egyptian democrats!”

The people of Egypt, like the people of Berlin in 1963, are not alone.

The Trenchant Observer

Will the raging fire in Syria reach the cedars of Lebanon?—Obama’s Debacle in Syira — Update #77 (August 24)

Friday, August 24th, 2012

If you’ve ever attended a conference at the Commodore Hotel or walked near the American University in West Beirut, or had a drink at a lively bar or eaten lunch in Ashrafiieh, in East Beirut, you may have some sense of the charms of Lebanon and its capital city. If you’ve driven around Beirut and seen the way the center of the city near the Green Line has been rebuilt following the long civil war (1975-1990), or witnessed the variety of religious beliefs represented in the dress of women at one of the busy shopping malls, and seen how despite their differences Lebanese seem to manage getting along with each other, you may have some idea of their achievement in building a country with a working democracy and a strong civil society, after a devastating civil war, in a place where the tectonic plates of Islamic and Christian civilizations come together.

And if you’ve ever studied a little bit of Lebanon’s history, from the development of the alphabet at Byblos and the Phoenicians to the Romans and the Crusaders to the present, and particularly since the landing of U.S. marines in 1958 to stabilize the existing order and the sudden withdrawal of U.S. marines on a separate mission, following the deaths of 241 American marines and 58 French servicemen from a truck bombing at their headquarters in Beirut in 1983, you may have some sense of the delicate balance of forces at play in Lebanon, and the careful efforts of the Lebanese themselves to avoid a return to civil war. Nor do they wish to return to the enforced peace which existed under Syrian occupation until the Syrians were forced to withdraw following the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005. The Syrian withdrawal resulted from what came to be known as “the Cedar Revolution”, led by forces now known as “the March 14 Alliance” (not to be confused with their opponents, the “the March 8 Alliance”).

The government, representing a finely-balanced equilibrium between opposing alliances, seems perennially on the verge of collapse. Before the Arab Spring reached Syria and exploded into civil war as a result of Bashar al-Assad’s use of terror in attempting to suppress it, a huge issue which threatened political stability in the country was whether the government would pay its share of the expenses of the international Special Tribunal for Lebanon set up by the United Nations to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the Hariri assassination. This became a burning issue when it became known that the Tribunal was planning to issue, and then issued, indictments against members of Hezbollah for their involvement in the Hariri assassination. Somehow, through a number of crises, the Lebanese were able to work out a solution to this problem. Lebanon paid its share of the Tribunal’s budget without Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, bringing down the government or even seizing control of Beirut’s southern suburbs (and other parts of the city) and the southern part of the country, in addition to the Bekaa Valley, which through his actions he had threatened to do in the past. Somehow, Lebanon muddled through.

Culturally, Lebanon has played a very special role in the Arab imagination, a fact reflected in many Egyptian films, as a romantic and holiday destination. It is also known as a place of personal and intellectual freedom where individuals of different nationalities and political, religious and ethnic backgrounds can come together, in order to meet, exchange ideas, negotiate, and enjoy the vibrant music and cultural scene. Lebanon’s cultural life is now broadcast through the Arab world by satellite television channels including LBC.

The love songs and melodies of Farouz, perhaps the best known singer in the Middle East in the last 50 years, are known throughout the Arab world and beyond.

Yet the toll of the Lebanese Civil War on the people of Lebanon was horrendous.

Now, the carefully constructed peace and political balance in Lebanon, built on the ruins of that war, is in great danger of being rendered by the raging forces of the civil war in Syria, which has recently spilled over into Tripoli and northern Lebanon. Moreover, the former Lebanese Minister of Information, Michel Samaha, has been arrested with explosives on charges he brought explosives into Lebanon with the intent of bombing crowds and assassinating Sunni leaders supportive of the Free Syrian Army, in coordination with Syrian intelligence officials.


Misbah al-Ali and Antoine Amrieh, “Tripoli trapped in Syria quagmire,” The Daily Star, August 25, 2012 (12:48 a.m.).

“Syria spillover clashes escalate in Lebanon; Killing of Sunni leader by sniper fire reignites violence that has left 17 people dead in Tripoli over last five days,” Al Jazeera, August 24, 2012.

Damien Cave, “Syrian War Plays Out Along a Street in Lebanon,” New York Times, August 23, 2012.

Damian Cave, “Syria Seen as Trying to Roil Lebanon,” New York Times, August 21, 2012.

Victor Kotsev, “Assad opens regional Pandora’s box,” Asia Times (online), August 25, 2012.

Donna Abu-Nasr, “Foiled Lebanon Bomb Plot Raises Concern of Spread
from Syria,” Bloomberg, August 20, 2012.

This spill-over has been largely due to the passivity of the West and the Arab countries and the civilized nations of the world, in the face of Russian and Chinese blocking actions in the U.N. Security Council.  The West and their allies have shown an appalling lack of resolve in standing up to the terror in Syria orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, with material and political support from Russia, Iran and China.

If the West and the Arab countries and Turkey had intervened early with the calibrated use of military force to halt al-Assad’s atrocities, would the civil war have reached its current dimensions or intensity?

Revealingly, Dimitri Simes, a well-known Russian expert, stated on the PBS Newshour on June 13, 2012, that he had just had a number of conversations in Moscow with key officials, and had come away with the clear impression that if the West and the Arab countries were to intervene with military force, the Russians would not be happy and would complain loudly, but in the end would be prepared to accept the fact of the intervention.


Let me say, however, again something Michele Dunne said which I find quite interesting, and I don’t know whether she had it in mind, but perhaps she did, namely, that nobody said we’re not entitled to act without U.N. Security Council blessing. And as one official in Moscow put it to me, well, look, if the United States feels very strongly that force has to be used and is determined to act, let the United States and NATO do it without U.N. Security Council blessing, the way it has happened in the case of Kosovo, the way it has happened in Iraq.

The Russians obviously would criticize that. They wouldn’t want a decision which doesn’t give a role to the U.N. Security Council. But if that is the only way to resolve the situation, I think they would be prepared to live with that.

–PBS Newshour, June 13, 2012.

Even if Simes’ assessment was accurate at the time, the Russian position has since evolved sharply to one of direct confrontation with the West.

The civil war in Syria is like a large and growing forest fire which outsiders have decided to allow to grow in intensity and extension, hoping that it will burn itself out before it consumes their homes and livestock and other precious goods.

But the fire has shown no signs of burning itself out. On the contrary, every day it seems to find new and endless supplies of dry underbrush and dry wood to feed its fury.

This fire could spread to Lebanon very easily. Some of its flames have already lapped across the borders. The only questions are whether the fire marshals, who have up till now been steadily explaining why they cannot intervene without knowing which way the fire will go and ultimately who will dominate the ruins it leaves behind, will call in the fire brigades to halt its advance, and if so when.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles on Afghanistan by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then type in “Afghanistan” in the search box.

Syrian fighting spills over into Lebanon, threatening stability there—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #42 (May 24)

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

[developing story–check back for updates)

Latest News and Opinion
Victor Kotsev, “Syria and Lebanon stare into the abyss,” Asia Times Online, May 24, 2012. (comprehensive overview and analysis)

Dominic Evans (Reuters/Beirut), “Syria violence shakes Lebanon’s fragile stability; Gunmen clash in deadly street battles, protesters block roads with burning tires and opposition politicians demand the prime minister’s downfall, denouncing the army as an agent of a foreign power,” May 23, 2012 (9:26am EDT).

The Trenchant Observer

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

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

The “Covert Commander in Chief” and America’s real policy toward Syria

Indeed, as pointed out in our previous article, statements from Obama and his administration at the G-8 summit at Camp David do appear clueless. Could “the smartest person in the room” really be so dumb?

Or could it be that he is simply being deliberately opaque, hiding something from view, and being just a little bit too clever to pull it off?

There have been reports in recent weeks of the U.S. facilitating the efforts of certain Gulf countries to arm the opposition in Syria. Obama may in fact be conducting key aspects of U.S. foreign policy by covert means, while presenting a different narrative to the country and to foreign leaders.


Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, “US Helps Gulf States Arm Syrian Rebels: Report; The US is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and Qatar in arming Syrian rebels. Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also is involved,” Israel National News, May 16, 2012.

Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, “Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination, Washington Post, May 15, 2012.

These articles tell us what the administration wants us to know. They are based in large part on background information from government officials. Obama does tend to “spill the beans” on covert operations when he feels great pride in their achievements.

Could the U.S. be doing more to supply weapons to the Syrian opposition than coordinating the actions of the arms suppliers and the arms recipients? The CIA certainly has the experience. One need only recall the covert war against the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, to cite one example.

The implications of such a development, if it is happening, would be highly significant. The problem would come not from supplying the rebels, but from doing so covertly while presenting a different narrative to the world.

Singing the praises of the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan while at the same time assisting in supplying arms to the rebels would involve, at a fundamental level, betraying all those who take the United States at its word. This could have a significant impact in the future when the United States seeks to bolster or forge new alliances to support important foreign policy objectives.

The Commander in Chief as Covert Operator

As David Ignatius has pointed out, the president is drawn to the allure of covert action. His most trusted cabinet members are linked to the CIA. The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, is the previous CIA Director. The current CIA director, David Petraeus, is the former commander in Iraq and was the commander in Afghanistan before moving to his present position.

See David Ignatius, “The covert commander in chief,” Washington Post, September 10, 2011.

Ignatius’ observes,

Obama is the commander in chief as covert operator. The flag-waving “mission accomplished” speeches of his predecessor aren’t Obama’s thing; even his public reaction to the death of bin Laden was relatively subdued. Watching Obama, the reticent, elusive man whose dual identity is chronicled in “Dreams From My Father,” you can’t help wondering if he has an affinity for the secret world. He is opaque, sometimes maddeningly so, in the way of an intelligence agent.

He concludes as follows:

Perhaps Obama’s comfort level with his intelligence role helps explain why he has done other parts of the job less well. He likes making decisions in private, where he has the undiluted authority of the commander in chief. He likes information, as raw and pertinent as possible, and he gets impatient listening to windy political debates. He likes action, especially when he doesn’t leave fingerprints (emphasis added).

What this president dislikes — and does poorly — is political bargaining. He’s as bad a dealmaker as, let’s say, George Smiley would be. If the rote political parts of his job sometimes seem uninteresting to him, maybe that’s because they seem trivial compared to the secret activities that he directs each morning (emphasis added). If only economic policy could be executed as coolly and cleanly as a Predator shot.

There is a seduction to the secret world, which for generations has charmed presidents and their advisers. It’s easier pulling the levers in the dark, playing the keys of what a CIA official once called the “mighty Wurlitzer” of covert action. Politics is a much messier process — out in the open, making deals with bullies and blowhards. But that’s the part of the job that Obama must learn to master if he wants another term.

On this anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, America is lucky to have a president who is adept at intelligence. But it needs, as well, a leader who can take the country out of the shadows and into the light.


This is all very confusing. If such covert action is underway, Obama’s greatest blind spot (common to virtually all spooks)–a fundamental failure to grasp the importance and impact of international law–could come back to haunt him in Syria.

A lot of governments could react with outrage to the U.S. conducting a covert policy to overthrow al-Assad–without justifying it under international law, on the one hand, while publicly supporting the anodyne 6-point peace plan adopted by the Security Council, on the other.

What is America’s covert policy toward the al-Assad regime? That is the question. And, of course, the answer is secret.

Whatever the current U.S. dysfunctional approach to Syria may be, we need to keep in clear view what the situation demands for the killing and other abuses to stop, and for the United States to emerge with its reputation and credibility intact.

What is required in Syria is military intervention to halt al-Assad, accompanied by a strong justification under international law.

To facilitate such action, the 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.

The Trenchant Observer

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 consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here.

Obama clueless on Syria? G-8 endorses UN peace plan—Obama’s Debacle in Syria—Update #39 (May 21)

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Latest News Reports and Opinion

Clashes over the weekend following the killing of two Sunni clerics at a roadblock in Tripoli, under ambiguous circumstances, have raised again the real posibility of Lebanon being drawn into the civil conflict in Syria.


Neil MacFarquhar, “Syrian Unrest Prompts Gun Battles in Lebanon,” New York Times, May 21, 2012.

Alice Fordham, “Beirut tense after violent clashes linked to Syrian unrest,” The Washington Post, May 21, 2012.

Obama asserts G-8 in agreement on Syria

President Obama appeared in his public comments at the G-8 summit at Camp David this weekend to be seriously out of touch with reality on the ground in Syria. Reuters reports,

Camp David–President Barack Obama told G8 leaders meeting at Camp David that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave power, and pointed to Yemen as a model of how political transition could work there, the White House said on Saturday.

The Group of Eight leaders, in a statement summing up their discussions, urged all parties in Syria to adhere to their commitments under a joint U.N.-Arab League peace plan “including immediately ceasing all violence so as to enable a Syrian-led, inclusive political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system.”

The G8 statement said the leaders welcomed the deployment of the U.N. mission “and urge all parties, in particular the Syrian government, to fully cooperate with the mission. We strongly condemn recent terrorist attacks in Syria.”

Obama brought up Yemen as an example of a leader departing power peacefully and ushering in a democratic process, Rhodes said. “Our point was that we need to see political transition under way that brings real change to Syria,” he said.

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled the poor Gulf nation for 33 years and was unseated after an uprising last year that split the country’s armed forces into warring factions.

Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution over the killing of protesters as part of power transfer deal that eased him out of office….

–Jeff Mason, “U.S. tells G8 Syria’s Assad must go, cites Yemen as model, Rueters, May 21, 2012.

These statements sound like they came from a goup that has been asleep for the last six months, and just woke up.

As for the Yemeni model, one should bear in mind that it is now viewed by many as the number one state harboring al Qaeda. Just today, over 90 people were killed as the result of a massive bomb explosion. It should also be borne in mind that Saleh killed hundreds of demonstrators, not the thousands al-Assad has murdered. The number of opposition members who would support a Yemeni-style transition, which would leave countless war criminals in place with impunity, could probably be counted on the fingers of a single hand.

Russians Satisfied

The Russians were satisfied with the results of the G-8 summit.

Global leaders demonstrated consensus on all issues discussed at the G8 summit in Camp David. A statement to this effect was made by Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as he spoke to a Voice of Russia correspondent during the news conference after the summit.

“This summit became my fifth,” the Prime Minister said. “Compared to the previous ones, it was informative and problem-free. We held substantial discussions in which all participants readily took part, and there was little, if any, controversy between delegations, or separate leaders.”

The participants in the summit reached consensus on Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Members of the G8 were unanimous that the Syrian government and all parties involved in the conflict should immediately secure the implementation of all requirements of a peace plan proposed by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The Russian delegation made it clear that the Declaration on Syria was fully in conformity with the position of Moscow (emphasis added).

–Garibov Konstantin, “G-8: unanimity in spite of problems – Medvedev,” The Voice of Russia (radio), May 21, 2012 (14:47 Moscow Time).

The Russians’ triumph on Syria at Camp David came on the heals of a veiled threat by Dimitri Medvedev, now Prime Minister, that armed intervention in Syria could lead to nuclear war.

TEHRAN – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned on Thursday that military action against sovereign states could lead to a regional nuclear war, starkly voicing Moscow’s opposition to Western intervention ahead of a G8 summit at which Syria and Iran will be discussed, Reuters reported.

The 38th G8 summit is to be held in Camp David, Maryland, from May 18 to 19.

“Hasty military operations in foreign states usually bring radicals to power,” Medvedev, president for four years until Vladimir Putin’s inauguration on May 7, told a conference in St. Petersburg in remarks posted on the government’s website.

“At some point such actions which undermine state sovereignty may lead to a full-scale regional war, even, although I do not want to frighten anyone, with the use of nuclear weapons,” Medvedev said.

“Everyone should bear this in mind,” he added.

–“Medvedev warns against a nuclear war in Mideast,” Tehran Times, May 18, 2012 (May 19 print edition).


President Obama–at least in public–is talking about a Yemen-style transition in Syria, which presumably would include a guarantee that al-Assad and his henchmen would not be prosecuted for their crimes.

He believes a political transition is necessary in Syria, with al-Assad leaving power. He has said this before.

He and the G-8 have endorsed the Security Council’s 6-point peace plan and the UNSMIS observer mission.

Obama–in his public declarations–appears clueless as to how the al-Assad regime might be induced to permit such a transition, or for that matter to cease their crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave violations of human rights (such as those detailed by the Committee Against Torture Report).

Clueless, or so it would appear.

The Trenchant Observer

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“By all necessary means”: Syria is closer than you think, and the hour is late—Obama’s debacle in Syria — Update #25 (April 9)

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Syria is Closer than you Think

Distance between Damascus and the following cities:

Beirut, Lebanon 53 miles
Amman, Jordan 110 miles
Tel Aviv, Israel 134 miles
Cairo, Egypt 382 miles
Ankara, Turkey 433 miles
Baghad, Iraq 469 miles
Istanbul, Turkey 656 miles
Athens, Greece 769 miles
Tehran, Iran 874 miles
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 875 miles
Dubai, UAE 1278 miles

Distance between Aleppo, Syria and the following cities:

Nicosia, Cyprus 225 miles
Ankara, Turkey 358 miles

Comparison Distance between American Cities:

New York, N.Y.-Chicago 711 miles

Latest News Reports and Opinion

Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders has stated that a humanitarian intervention in Syria will be required if Bashar al-Assad continues along the road of barbarism.

“Une intervention humanitaire avec une protection militaire sur le terrain sera nécessaire en Syrie si le régime du président Syrien Bachar al Assad continue sur la voie de la barbarie, a affirmé dimanche le chef de la diplomatie belge Didier Reynders.”

AFP, “La Belgique pourrait intervenir en Syrie; “Le régime a pris le chemin de la barbarie et je fais de moins en moins confiance au président Bachar al Assad,” LaLibre/be, 8 avril 2012.

Human Rights Watch has documented through personal interviews over 100 summary executions by Syrian forces and the government’s Shabeeha militia. The actual number of victims may be much higher.

See “Syria: Extrajudicial Executions; Security Council Sanctions, ICC Referral Needed,” Human Rights Watch, April 9, 2012.

The full 23-page report, “In Cold Blood: Summary Executions by Syrian Security Forces and Pro-Government Militias,” is found here.

See also

Sylvie Matton, “Srebrenica : 1995, Syrie : 2012, silence ! on tue…,”Le Monde, 9 avril 2012 (1434 h). Syvie Matton is a journalist and the author of Srebrenica, un génocide annoncé (Flammarion, 2005). In this article, she recounts the treachery of U.N. officials, including Kofi Annan, who were absent from their posts over the weekend of the Srebrenice massacre, which the author states had 8,375 confirmed victims.

Terror That Cannot Be Stopped By Logic or Reason

Bashar al-Assad’s assault on civilians with tanks, snipers, and all the instruments of terror of a modern state is not likely to be stopped by logic or reason, just as Hitler’s terror could not have been stopped by logic or reason.

The leaders of Western countries, like their populations, are extraordinarily slow to recognize evil, perhaps because in the 21st century they don’t want to believe that true evil exists. But it does. Now. In Syria.

It is time to stop al-Assad.

–The Trenchant Observer, “U.N. Commission Report on Crimes Against Humanity in Syria; Military Action; Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and International Law, February 24, 2012.

Ït is time to stop al-Assad. By all necessary means. With or without Security Council authorization. Now.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria 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

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Obama’s debacle in Syria

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

President Obama and his foreign policy team made a huge effort not to get involved in Libya, but in the end they were dragged into military action by the French and the British, and other allies.

A similar effort not to get involved is currently underway with respect to Syria, following a well-rehearsed script, and is leading Obama toward another foreign-policy debacle.

Michael Young, the well-known columnist and Opinion Editor of The Daily Star (Beirut), has just published an op-ed piece on Washington’s approach on Syria which is caustic, accurate, and illuminating on the depth of the policy vacuum in Washington. See Michael Young, “Washington’s Syria policy is imaginary,” The Daily Star (Beirut), February 23, 2012.

Young writes,

The administration of President Barack Obama has often been ridiculed for what it describes as “leading from behind.” More often than not this has been an excuse for not leading at all, and nowhere has American vacillation been more on display than in Syria.

For instance, it is the United States that has lent credence to accusations by the Syrian regime that Al-Qaeda is assisting the Syrian opposition. Last week, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he believed Al-Qaeda in Iraq had infiltrated Syrian opposition groups, and was behind bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. Clapper needn’t have made that statement publicly….

Clapper, it will be recalled, is the same official who predicted last spring, at an extraordinarily unfortunate moment, that Qaddafi was likely to prevail in the conflict in Libya.

After reviewing the hesitancies and contradictions in the statements and positions emanating from U.S. administration officials, Young observes the following:

There are no easy answers in Syria, but Washington’s trouble is that it has no strategy for the country. This is proving very damaging indeed, given that the Russians and Iranians do have one, and it can be summarized quite simply: Actively support the repression by the Syrian army and security services, bringing the opposition, or a portion of the opposition, to the negotiating table. Introduce reforms, albeit cosmetic reforms, to return the political initiative to Assad. Integrate willing opposition figures into a national unity government, thereby neutralizing the discontent on the ground. And give the regime the latitude to govern again, in order to snuff out pockets of dissent.

This scheme is unlikely to work, but at least it is straightforward. Moscow and Tehran have dispatched military and intelligence units to Syria to impose their will. There are reports that the U.S. has also sent people into Syria to organize the Syrian opposition, but apparently in numbers so infinitesimal as to be virtually useless.(emphasis added)

Young points to the costs of American drift and indecision:

A Syrian civil war is a fearful prospect, but American indecision is not going to prevent one from taking place. If Washington and the Europeans dither, the Gulf states won’t, and weapons will enter Syria anyway, as they already are. Better for the Obama administration to devise a political approach that embraces, while also controlling, a military dimension that would push Assad to reconsider his options.

The starting point for any resolution in Syria must be the departure of the current regime. A transitional project can be a modified form of the Arab League plan, with guarantees to Syria’s minorities. Russia must be brought into the effort, perhaps with assurances that its interests will be looked after in a post-Assad Syria, because its backing is what is truly propping up the Syrian leadership.

Washington needs to get a grip. Its policy toward Syria has been strangely disconnected from its other regional priority, namely containing Iran. It took many months for the administration to acknowledge the Syrian crisis as a major issue. By insisting, on the record and off, that there is nothing they can do in Syria, American officials have effectively ensured that they will do nothing. Their performance has been craven and one-dimensional – in a word, pathetic.

We are witnessng the same lack of leadership that Obama manifested during the Libyan crisis. There he was fortunate that France and Britain led the way, and ultimately NATO and the international community prevailed. In Syria, his inaction is more likely to lead to prolonged conflict, with increasing risks that the explosive and unpredictable mixture of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran, at a time when Israel may be considering a strike on Iran to take out its nuclear facilities, could ignite.

In the end, inaction may constitute the most undesirable action from among Obama’s present options.

The Trenchant Observer

Syria: The Human Cost of Delay

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

An editorial today in The Daily Star (Beirut) reviewed the major developments and factors at play in Syria, including

1) the report of the Arab League monitors to be issued this weekend;
2) the UN offer to help enhance the performance of the Arab League monitors;
3) the emir of Qatar’s suggestion that sending Arab troops to stop the killing could be a viable option;
4) the Syrian government has informally floated a proposal to form a new government including key representation for the opposition, which would split the latter; and
5) the Syrian National Council and the Syrian Free Army have announced closer cooridnation of their efforts, which are aimed at toppling the al-Assad regime.

Against this background, the Editorial pointed to the human and social cost of delay:

Throughout all these developments, there is a common thread: None of these actions, or possibilities of action, has been able to stop the daily killing of Syrian citizens. A number of foreign actors are studying the situation and issuing daily pronouncements, assessments and ultimatums (emphasis added). None of them has managed to convince Assad and other Syrian officials that a hard-line crackdown is the wrong approach. The body count continues to rise on a daily basis, in a war of attrition between the regime and its opponents that only means average Syrians are being steadily ground down.

With each passing day, the violence continues, as the social fabric of Syria unravels. Every day, thousands of ordinary Syrians take stances on the popular uprising, whether for or against, and alienate the other side. When the crisis ends, huge efforts will be required to put the country and its economy back together again.

It is positive to see officials in the U.N. and leading countries in the world, and the region debate the various scenarios and try to produce a workable plan. But their timeframe is not indefinite; every passing day means more damage, and a bigger hole to dig out of.

–Editorial, The Daily Star, January 18, 2011

We are faced once again by the sharp disparity between diplomatic time and the real-world time of citizens who are living and dying every day as the result of government repression. In Libya, many of the citizens of Zawiya and Misurata died while outside powers engaged in long and drawn-out diplomatic consultations and deliberations.

Russia continues to block any forceful action by the Security Council.

See “Russia threatens Syria resolution at UN: Sergei Lavrov also accused Western countries of being one-sided,” BBC, January 18, 2012.

But Western Nations have also shown a great unwillingness to expose the callousness of the authoritarian regime of Mededev-Putin in defending the war criminals in Syria. Just this week, a Russian ship reportedly bearing munitions for the Syrian regime docked in Syria.

On January 9, Rami Khoury, a leading columnist for the Daily Star, underlined the positive aspects of the Arab League’s involvement in Syria, while also pointing toward the next steps which are urgent. Wrote Khoury:

The monitoring mission in Syria has been unimpressive due to a combination of logistical constraints and management weaknesses. This reflects the two structural sources of its weakness: the Arab League, being a collection of Arab governments, suffers chronic incompetence; and the Syrian government does not seem to be serious about implementing its agreement with the Arab body, which requires it to stop killing peaceful demonstrators.

Sadly, Syrians struggling for their freedom and rights will continue to die by the dozens every day, it seems, until some other mechanism is found that forces the government to end its policy of mass murder.

The weakness of the monitoring mechanism to date could be offset by the determination of the Arab League to go to the next step and take the issue to the U.N. Security Council or even seek indictments of Syrian officials at the International Criminal Court. Neither of those options guarantees that the killing will stop, or that Syrians can expect a peaceful transition to a democratic system of government. Yet for the Arab League to embark on a path that ultimately leads to these two bodies is a novelty worth monitoring.

–Rami Khoury, “A hopeful path for the Arab League?” The Daily Star, January 9, 2012

It is now time fror the Arab League to refer the question of Syria to Security Council for further action, which could include enlisting the Arab League’s assistance in carrying out its decisions under article 53 of the U.N. Charter.

Khoury’s second action item, a decision by the Security Council to invest the International Criminal Court with authority to investigate and prosecute the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime and any other forces in Syria, is long overdue.

On December 12, 2012, Navi Pillay, the U.N. Commisioner for Human Rights, called for the Security Council to grant authority to the ICC to investigate and try Syrian officials potentially guilty of crimes against humanity.

Ian Black, Middle East editor, “”Syria blasts call for ICC investigation by UN human rights commissioner: State TV blames ‘conspiracy’ against Bashar al-Assad’s regime after Navi Pillay says situation in Syria is intolerable,” The Guardian, December 13, 2012.

AP, “Syria: 5,000 dead in violence, says UN human rights chief: Navi Pillay says at least 300 children are among the dead as US ambassador Susan Rice urges security council to act,” The Guardian, December 12, 2011. The article contains a video of remarks made by her at at a press conference the U.N.

“Refer Syria to ICC – Navi Pillay, ” Tamil Guardian, 13 December 2011 The article contains excerpts from her remarks to a closed session of the Security Council.

So, as Syria spirals downward toward all-out civil war, what can be done?

It is time for Western and Arab governments to stop wringing their hands over their powerlessness, and to bring a motion in the Security Council to authorize the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria by al-Asad and government forces, or anyone else. That motion should be put to a public vote.

The argument against going public would be that it undermines efforts to develop a consensus among the permanent members of the Security Council, without which it cannot act. However, in view of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s declarations today, as reported by the BBC, any consensus among the five on Syria is not likely to develop in the short term. In fact, to get the Russians to stop blocking action on Syria at some point in the future, public pressure on them in the Security Council now, in the context of specific reolutions, could be the most effective action the West and the Arab states could take.

At the same time, neither the Russians nor the Chinese should be ignored at the Security Council, and intense efforts should continue to bring them, and Russia in particular, to the view that avoiding a civil war in Syria is in their interests as well as those of the West and the Arab countries.

The hour has come for urgent action by the international community on Syria. If necessary, let us have a public debate in the Security Council on a motion to refer the question of crimes against humanity and war crimes to the International Criminal Court.

Western and Arab nations should spare no efforts in convincing each and every one of the other members of the Security Council of the importance of each country’s vote.

If the Russians want to veto that resolution, let them do so publicly, and pay the diplomatic and political cost. The time to act is now, before Putin’s anticipated re-election as president of Russia in March.

The Trenchant Observer