Do they really think in their heart of hearts that a political solution is possible with Assad?
By ALON BEN-MEIR/I must express my profound outrage regarding the behavior of the Western powers, Turkey, the Arab League and Kofi Annan, all of whom are still debating the likelihood of finding a political solution to end the merciless butchering of the Syrian people by the Assad regime.
Do they really think in their heart of hearts that a political solution is possible given the fact that Assad has defied all previous resolutions while his killing machine continues to erase one Syrian town after another? How ironic it is that the countries that preach the gospel of human rights have resorted to self-imposed paralysis while justifying it by the presumed lack of legitimacy of intervention.
WHAT LEGITIMACY is needed to intervene when thousands of men, women and children are massacred each month? When does hypocrisy end when politics trump moral obligation, and when great powers surrender their most precious values to the devil? I understand the pitfalls and the potentially regional repercussions resulting even from a carefully-planned military intervention. But this must be weighed not only against the systematic butchering of the Syrian people but also against the credibility and the standing of these powers in the eyes of those nations that look up to United States or NATO not to tolerate this kind of travesty, which transcends the cruelest human conduct imagined.
What do other despots learn from the Syrian experience and why should they behave any differently toward their own people when they can do so with immunity? For how much longer can those countries that can actually do something to stop the carnage wait? When is enough, enough? How many more Syrians must be killed in cold blood for the consciousness of the international community to be awakened to action? The most recent massacre, estimated to be between 120 and 200 people in the village of Tremseh near the city of Hama, attests not only to Assad’s utter ruthlessness but also to his fear that he is about to lose his grip on power.
Although Assad has moved some of his chemical weapons either to protect them from falling into the hands of the rebels or as a last-ditch effort to use them against the rebels to save his regime, it will be suicidal as he will be crossing a red line that invites immediate Western military intervention.
At the time of this writing, the United Nations Security Council will be at it again trying to pass yet another useless and insulting resolution designed to end the conflict peacefully. One would think that by now the United States and NATO members have learned their lessons from previous resolutions that have only allowed Assad to continue the unabated slaughter of his people.
THE FIRST draft resolution, sponsored by Russia, calls for extending the UN observer mission by an additional three months and supports a more political mission by cutting back the number of military observers. In addition, Russia urges both sides to observe a cease-fire, calls for the full implementation of the Annan Plan, and forcefully rejects a Chapter VII mandate which allows for the use of economic and diplomatic sanctions in any and all forms up to, but not including, military force.
This resolution is no different from the Annan plan that was dead on arrival and ignored from day one, forcing the UN observers to suspend their mission in the wake of the continuing killings and indiscriminate destruction.
The three Western powers (the US, Britain and France) drafted a more forceful resolution that would give Assad 10 days to comply with the full implementation of the Annan plan by first withdrawing troops from populated areas. Should he fail to do so, Syria would face diplomatic and economic punishment in addition to the threat of military force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Any effort to agree on a compromise between the two resolutions, if successful at all, will end once up again being a toothless resolution that will only give Assad license to continue his massacres without any fear of punishment or serious threats to his regime.
The Western powers might still offer their resolution for a vote through the UNSC even though they expect Russia to exercise its veto power. The advantage they would reap from such an exercise is to paint Russia as a complicit party to the abhorrent developments in Syria, which are sliding the state quickly toward full-fledged civil war, which the Red Cross has already characterized the bloodshed as. Although Russia’s position would be greatly undermined in the eyes of Arab states, the mass killing would continue.
The outcry of the Syrian people has been heard time and time again but the international community remains paralyzed, engaged in wishful thinking that somehow the Assad regime will heed their call. This obviously will not happen and now Western powers, along with Turkey, must muster the courage and decide on a course of action that will bring an end to a regime that has long since lost any remaining vestiges of humanity. Assad and his cronies must go. Under no circumstances can there be any reconciliation between the butcher of Damascus and the international community or Syria’s people.
The time has come for a coordinated military intervention, with or without Russian consent. A safe haven must be established in the north and south of the country, spearheaded by Turkey with the support of NATO. A no-fly zone should go into effect immediately, medical, financial and military aid should be provided to the opposition forces, and selected Syrian military targets should be bombed.
Simultaneously, a clear message should be sent to Assad that the bombing will escalate until he steps down from power. The West, along with the Arab League, should offer him and the hundreds of culprits from his military, police and intelligence services safe passage to a third country provided he makes the decision to leave within two weeks and on the condition that he immediately stops the onslaught against his people. In so doing the US, unlike Russia, could increase its leverage with the Syrians once Assad is deposed.
THE CONCERN that such a military intervention may plunge the Middle East into regional conflict is baseless.
The last thing that Assad would venture to do is challenge Turkey and its NATO allies. Moreover, to draw Israel into the conflict would invite counterattacks that could obliterate his power base.
Iran, which is under tremendous international pressure because of its defiance of the international community in connection with its nuclear program, will think twice before it directly interferes, fearing that this may provide the United States or Israel the pretext to attack its nuclear installations. Hezbollah will seek to preserve its position and is unlikely to come to Assad’s aid, knowing full well that the Assad regime has run its course.
FINALLY, RUSSIA can do nothing to prevent Western and Turkish interference with the support of the Arab League other than condemning their actions.
Moreover, Russia knows that for all intents and purposes the Assad regime is finished. It is not unlikely that if Russia also knows of the inevitable Western military intervention, it may decide to make a deal with the West and Turkey with the blessing of the Arab League and the Syrian opposition (as was recently discussed between the opposition and Russia) to ensure its strategic interests in the region and sacrifice the Assad regime in return.
As I have stated time and again, such a course of action will provide the West a momentous opportunity to extract Syria from Iran’s belly, which might force Iran to rethink its regional strategy as well as its nuclear ambition.
Time is running out. The longer Western powers wait, the more Syrians will die on the altar of international ineptitude.
There are no excuses left for the West to hide behind its contrived political calculations and lose what is left of its moral standing.
The writer is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. email@example.com