The Syrian Question: Srebrenice Again?—Syria Update #3

“Would you sit down with someone who had just killed your wife and sister, to discuss rules which you should follow in the future in mutual relations between your families?”


The Syrian question. This now appears to be the defining struggle of our times.

Will the international community stand idly by while a Syrian dictator’s tanks and artillery crush demonstrators who began peacefully, and some of whom now arm themselves with AK-47s to defend themselves against the highly advanced war machines and state security apparatus of a modern state?

Will it stand idly by because this dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad is backed by Russia, both at the U.N. and more directly with arms sales and munitions deliveries, a world power with nuclear weapons which has its own history of state terror, Stalin’s purges, the deliberate starvation of the Ukraine, and of its own tanks crushing freedom fighters in Poland (1953), Hungary (1956), and Czechoslovakia (1968), not to speak of the terror tactics used to take control of the occupied countries of Eastern Europe after World War II?

Will the international community stand idly by because the al-Assad dictatorship is also backed by Iran, which has crushed its own internal opposition Green Movement since 2009, and which is also a sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah?

Will the international community stand idly by because China, a world power of great importance to the United States and Europe, refuses to assume its responsibilities as a constructive leader in the Security Council where, hiding behind Russia, it blocks effective United Nations action?

Current events is Syria are reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War, when Nazi Germany and Italy brought their modern weapons of war to Spain in support of Francisco Franco’s fascist army’s battle to the death against the republican forces of Spain, as Europe stood idly by.

One thinks of Zawiyah and the victory of Qadaffi’s forces there, or Misurata and Benghazi and what their fate would have been without international military intervention.

An image from the Spanish civil war, Pablo Picasso’s painting “Guérnica”, may express the terror which confronts the Syrian people.  Ironically, a tapestry based on that painting, which symbolizes the horrors of war (see above), adorned the entrance to the Security Council chambers until Colin Powell insisted that it be removed before his press conferences justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is now on loan to a gallery in England, pending “remodeling” at the U.N.

So should the “international right of protection” be forgotten at Homs, just as constitutional government was left to shift for itself in the 1930s in Spain?

Is that the kind of world we want to live in, in the 21st century, where tens of thousands of citizens are slaughtered by their government as the world stands by, helpless, because the dictator has the support of two permanent members of the Security Council?


But then maybe the international community should not give up.

Maybe it should be prepared to present new resolutions to the Security Council, calling for the grant to the International Criminal Court of a mandate to investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.

Maybe the international community and leading powers should call for the establishment of humanitarian corridors or safety zones in Syria where the civilian population can seek refuge and receive humanitarian assistance, with whatever military protection of the corridors may be required.

Maybe President Sarkozy or even President Obama needs to call for an urgent meeting of the heads of state of the pemanent members of Security Council, to be held within a week or two, where a collective solution that can halt the attack by al-Assad on civilians might be hammered out. Such an effort, if successful, might help preserve the recent precedents of collective action based on consensus among the permanent members of the Council, hammer out a new framework for restraint in the use of the veto, and help avoid any backsliding into the Cold War thinking and Security Council paralysis of the past.

Something must be done right away.

Referring the matter back to the Arab League after two months of failed efforts, with no means of obligating al-Assad to halt the killing, does not seem to be a promising strategy to pursue, at least not as the main strategy.

Above all, action is needed now, before al-Assad kills off the opposition and succeeds in imposing a “solution” to the internal conflict like the one his father, Hafez al-Assad, imposed in Hama in 1982, when some 10,000 to 20,000 people or more were massacred.

Maybe the Security Council should meet once a week, in public session, to discuss and seek solutions to the Syrian crisis, until the killing stops.

This is the defining struggle of our times.

Those willing to support democratic movements and to defend the fundamental rights of man, which now represent the overwhelming majority of nations in the world, stand arrayed against those who would use or defend the use of the terrible weapons and security apparatus of the modern state to murder and crush those who merely seek to exercise their fundamental human rights.

Just as Hitler’s crimes against humanity and conquering armies in Europe posed an existential threat to the Allied free countries of the world in 1939-1945, the ongoing Syrian slaughter poses a defining challenge for the world community, today, and every day on which it continues.

Could we ever negotiate with the war criminals led by Bashar al-Assad, who commit crimes against humanity as we speak?

His proposed referendum on a new constitution is a merciless joke, as the necessary conditions for the deliberate study of the proposed constitution, public debate, and a free and fair referendum are not even remotely imaginable.  Al-Assad’s track record leaves him with zero credibility.

Would you sit down with someone who had just killed your wife and sister, to discuss rules which you should follow in the future in mutual relations between your families?

If the international community stands by while tens of thousands of Syrians are slaughtered by the al-Assad dictatorship, what kind of a world will we be living in after these crimes against humanity have claimed their victims?

Hassan Lakkis of The Daily Star (Beirut) has just reported that a final assault on the opponents of the regime in Syria is imminent:

The Syrian regime is closer to taking decisive military action against the armed opposition than it has been since the uprising in Syria began 11 months ago, according to pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad Arab diplomats.

Diplomatic sources said that the Syrian leadership is working to stamp out the armed rebellion before the Friends of Syria conference convenes next week in Tunisia. They said the Syrian regime will not give attendees of the conference – expected to include Western and Arab nations – the opportunity to discuss ways to provide financial and military aid to the armed Syrian opposition because by then the Syrian Army will have put an end to all armed resistance.

Damascus is coordinating its military action with Russia, which has given the impression that it would not oppose such action as long as it is carried out swiftly. Once the operation is over, Russia will be in a position to negotiate the next steps with Arab and Western states.

The explosions that ripped through Aleppo last week led Assad to approve the plans to end the armed rebellion, which were forwarded by the Syrian Army command and which Assad had been unwilling to consider until then.

–The Daily Star, February 18, 2012

Figuratively speaking, we stand at the outskirts of Srebrenice, a day or two before the massacre of over 7,000 Bosnian men and boys by Bosnian Serbs and Serbs under the command of Ratkó Mladic (in 1995).

What is to be done?

Who will lead the international community?

It is time to act.

If not now, when?

In contemplating the answers to these questions, one might well reflect on the painting by Francisco Goya entitled “The Third of May” (see below), which seems to represent the probable fate of thousands of Syrians if the international community does not act, effectively, now.

The Trenchant Observer