Last Updated: Wed Jul 18, 2012 06:42 am (KSA) 03:42 am (GMT)

Waiting for Syrian problem to go away

Hasan Abu Nimah

With the failure of all efforts so far to resolve the Syrian crisis and the scarcity of additional options, the concerned parties are left with one alternative: waiting for the problem to go away by itself.

Within this perception, three resulting noteworthy developments need to be carefully scrutinized. One relates to a paralyzed U.N. system, the second highlights tacit political accord amongst world superpowers towards the Syrian predicament despite acclaimed disagreement, and the third reveals a weird equation governing the relationship between some Arab regimes and their people.

Every time reports expose new atrocities committed by the Syrian army against civilians, such as the latest in Tremsa, where the opposition has made claims of a new massacre, there are simultaneous calls for action by the U.N. Security Council.

As well-known, the council is divided over the issue, with two veto-holding powers, Russia and China, opposed to any action that may imply regime change in Damascus, or even regime condemnation. The right to veto any council resolution — a privilege granted to the five permanent members since the U.N. was created in 1945 — even if approved by all the other permanent and non-permanent 14 council members has for long been primarily responsible for crippling the effectiveness of the world body. The Syrian case is neither the first nor will it be the last victim of such U.N. paralysis.

The U.N. has miserably failed to effectively face its responsibility towards the Arab-Israeli conflict as required by its Charter, precipitating chronic instability and misery in the region for the last seven successive decades, simply because of the excessive use of the veto by the US delegation at the U.N. every time such action was deemed unfavorable to Israel.

The problem with the veto is not only that it undemocratically favors some powers at the expense of the large majority of other U.N. members, but also that casting a veto to block Security Council action has no guiding principles. It is sufficient for the veto-holding members just to say no without having to justify or to base their disagreement on any valid explanation. There are numerous examples of veto use, or the threat of it, that prevented council decisions to stop a devastating war or to check an illegal aggression. Most recent were the examples of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza in 2008.

The veto privilege places the U.N., with its 194 members, at the mercy of the permanent five, practically concentrating the UN authority in the hands of less than 3 per cent of its entire membership. All attempts to reform the archaic U.N. system have failed simply because they were unable to touch the veto. The U.N. power will continue to diminish as long as the “veto” lasts.

If the U.N. system permits the opportunistic pursuit of one’s own political interests, why blame the Russians and the Chinese when they take their turn?
My second observation is that apparently there is no real disagreement amongst the superpowers over Syria.

I was tempted by analysis offered by a Russian Middle East specialist — so he was introduced — on an Arab satellite channel last Saturday. He said that both the US and Russia are quite comfortable with the way the Syrian situation has been handled. The Russian analyst said that because the US is neither prepared nor is willing to commit to any form of military intervention in Syria in favor of the opposition, Washington views the Russian stance as a convenient cover for inaction.

He added that when the regime shows clear signs of weakness and disintegration in the future, humanitarian intervention could be considered, with Russia’s approval to address the situation, and that could be done without Security Council approval.

Commenting on the Kofi Annan mission and the other ongoing efforts, he said that they are mere time-buying tactics not meant to lead to any useful results. He summed up by saying that it is a wait-and-see position until the outcome is determined on the battlefield.

Alarming as it may sound, this is the harsh reality the Syrian people must realize. Relying mainly on foreign help has never been a wise course for liberation movements to pursue. The biggest miscalculation of the Syrian rebels was counting on a possible and fast foreign rescue.

The third observation, that may not be unique to the Syrian situation, is the visible ruthlessness with which the Assad regime has been fighting its people. But this was almost similar in Libya and Yemen.

While one would reasonably assume that a leader faced with evident popular disapproval would assess the situation with reason and wisdom, some Arab leaders, however, took up arms against their people and fought fiercely to crush opposition and defend their dictatorships, as if they were fighting a foreign enemy.

That is a startling phenomenon, but also real. Apparently, long-standing dictators who impose themselves upon their people by force develop the feeling that their people, become the main threat to their power and privilege and therefore see them as the enemy and fight them when they show any sign of disobedience, in the same way they would fight the enemy.

There is clear distinction between democratically elected leaders who consider themselves as a natural extension of the society they lead and rely on their people as their solid power base, and dictators who isolate themselves and live in constant fear, fortified by huge armies created solely for their protection from their own citizens.

While leaders of the former category would gently step down the moment they lose their voters’ confidence, the latter would fight for survival no matter how much innocent blood that may cost.

The so-called Arab Spring has sadly revealed how vicious and power hungry Arab dictators can be, how isolated they indeed are and how eager to destroy human life and national assets when they feel under popular threat. This must be the exact attitude and the precise state of mind of the Syrian dictator whose killing machine is gradually gathering ferocity and savagery.

For this very specific reason, the Syrian battle may last much longer than anyone can expect and cause much more harm and damage than ever foreseen.


The writer is a columnist at The Jordan Times. The article was published in the Egyptian daily on July 17, 2012

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