The Syrian Conundrum Continues

Reports out of Syria have confirmed that Bashar al-Assad, in anticipation of the April 12th date for a cease-fire, launched a series of voracious attacks across the country in several key towns including Homs, Deraa, and a suburb of Damascus, Douma. There are other reports of fighting in other towns and regions. This is a clear violation of the spirit of the understanding that Kofi Annan had obtained from Assad. The UN Security Council resolution urged Syria to carry out the plan “urgently and visibly,” with a ceasefire by April 10th. The UN Council called on Damascus to pull back its troops and heavy weapons from city centers by that date. It further requested all parties, including the opposition, to cease armed violence within 48 hours of this pull-back.

But by that time President Bashar al-Assad is likely to have decimated much of the cities being attacked and the butchery of civilians will have mounted perhaps beyond the 10,000 that were killed in a similar attack decades ago on civilians by Assad’s father. 

The question that must be raised is whether he will get away with this slaughtering of so many citizens, including women and children. The international community’s response has been timid, including the UN (hampered by the vetoes of China and Russia who clearly think mass killing of civilians is just fine), the Arab League, and sadly the “Friends of Syria,” whose name is now one of shame rather than of pride on the part of the nations participating who have done little to stop the killing. 

It is at least clear that the killing will continue until the promised April 10th or even the 12th agreed fullback and later cease-fire, but by that time thousands might be dead or injured and there is no guarantee that the killing will not go on since Assad has a long history of promises not kept. 

Clearly, the conflict is getting worse despite Syria’s assurance to the UN that it was complying with the cease fire plan according to a report of the New York Times.  At this rate, any cease fire is likely to leave Assad still in power and have eviscerated the opposition. It will likely permit the Assad regime to quietly and comprehensively carry out a persecution of all groups who were opposed to him away from the glare of foreign observers. The team that the UN has marshaled to observe the cease fire will have little capacity to monitor such actions, which can include murder and torture. Even the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said to the General Assembly that “the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.” The sad part is that Assad has looked into the eyes of the international community and sees only words and cowardice. 

Frankly, as we have noted in earlier posts, there seems no alternative other than either to arm the opposition, create a no fly zone, and impose more severe sanctions, or to make an effort to inject into Syria an armed multilateral peacemaking force which can ensure the safety of the civilian population and can take on successfully, if necessary, the Syrian forces. Their aim would be to enforce a true cease-fire, protect the population against reprisals from any side, ensure general security, and enable and protect humanitarian assistance being delivered. Whether that will take place remains highly doubtful, but then the alternative is that the mass butcher of his people will remain in power and slowly continue his massacre and the UN’s “obligation to protect” will be in shatters.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

3 thoughts on “The Syrian Conundrum Continues

  1. Harry C. Blaney III April 14, 2012 / 9:35 PM

    There is much to be encouraged about the statement of Deputy Secretary of State Burns. It focuses on the right direction in getting in place a broad national coalition and the importance in any transition to a new government and after to ensure the human and civil rights of all citizens. People on all sides are going to need protection in the coming days and weeks. This we have called for in all of our posts. There is no doubt that this is a very uncertain time and few are certain that a truce will last or even really get fully implemented for any serious period of time. Now is the time however for other countries to step up and commit resources and for some to prepare peacekeeping troops to help enforce a peace and help stop further widespread killings. The establishment of a safety zone immediately is also critical especially by Turkey.

  2. Anna Podoplelova - National Security Intern April 11, 2012 / 5:26 PM

    Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns in an interview with Al-Monitor: “We believe it is clear that Assad and his regime — not the opposition or the international community -— is the greatest driver of sectarian tension in Syria today. The best way to resolve those tensions is for Syrians to get beyond this despotic regime. It is our policy to help the Syrian opposition to move beyond such divides toward a democratic, inclusive, pluralist Syria that protects the rights of all Syrians, regardless of their background. Toward that end, we and our international partners have encouraged the Syrian National Council and other opposition groups to reach out to all segments of Syrian society, including the Alawites, to include them in their organizations and to commit to protecting their fundamental human rights in post-Assad Syria. We have been encouraged by their response. They have reached out to minorities and articulated a national covenant for an inclusive Syria in which all citizens of Syria will enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms irrespective of their affiliations, ethnicity, belief or gender. There is much work left to do in reassuring the Alawites, Kurds, Christians, Druze and others that they have a place in the new Syria. We will continue to urge the Syrian opposition to expand their outreach, to engage in a national conversation across Syria and to put into place a concrete transition plan that can further reassure all Syrians.”

  3. Harry C. Blaney III April 9, 2012 / 11:41 AM

    Today the news indicates that Syria is again trying to use force and abrogating its promises once more and is pressing for a total military “solution” rather than a peaceful transition. That means more civilian lives lost which is likely over 9,000. The Financial Times today (April 13th), had an editorial titled “ The World must unite to save Syria,” It said “Our collective failure in Syria is manifested in a death toll that has now reached 9,000.” The FT noted that Assad has ….been killing Syrians for 13 months “while the world has fumbled for a creditable strategy to remove him from office.” With that I agree.

    It notes, as I have above, that the UN backed plan so far is only able to act as “a cover for continued brutality.” The FT calls for a more “robust’ alternative plan.

    While Russia says it wants the Annan plan to work, it still wants Annan to be in power in the end of the day. The FT conclusion is that the US, the Europeans, Turkey and Arab partners need to put on the table the options of arming the opposition and creating safe havens for the rebels. This is along the lines of my earlier suggestions, but I still think we need to think longer range and ensure that there is an international peacemaking/peacekeeping force to ensure that the end point is a peaceful and stable new government that protects civic and human rights of all citizens and promotes a democratic governing structure. America can and should contribute to such an effort with others.

    We welcome comments.

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