Posts Tagged ‘round-ups’

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

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.

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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, 200 OK

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