By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, June 2, 2012
The world is “outraged,” “appalled,” “shocked,” “horrified,” etc. at the three recent grisly massacres of Syrian civilians by the Bashar Assad regime. But the international community has struck such poses before in the aftermath of similar atrocities in the last 15 months, without doing much beyond hand-wringing and tossing some cash at the worsening crisis.
The murderous regime in Damascus calculated — rightly — that NATO was not going to mount another Libya-like intervention. France and Britain were mired in economic crises. Barack Obama was embroiled in his re-election campaign during which he was not going to risk another foreign adventure, having withdrawn from Iraq and announced a pullout from Afghanistan. And Israel was going to remain detached as long as Assad kept his border with Israel quiet, which he was cunning enough to do.
So the Syrians were not going to be rescued the way the Bosnians, Kosovars and Libyans had been.
Kofi Annan’s “peace plan” was a farce from the start. A mere 300 unarmed observers were not going to patrol a 185,180-square-kilometre country and stop its rampaging army and militias. Assad was not going to cease fire, let alone pave the way for “multiple-party democracy.” He had made many such promises before, only to break them.
Either he is a habitual liar, as the Turkish Prime Minister Tyyip Erdogan called him months ago, or he’s not his own man — or that he very much is, in the mould of his father Hafez Assad, who massacred up to 20,000 dissident Sunnis in Hama in 1982.
The Assads have been a breed apart, like Saddam Hussein, who gassed tens of thousands of his own rebelling citizens.
It has also long been clear that Syria was not Tunisia and Egypt where professional armies ushered unpopular presidents out. Assad and his minority Alawite clan were going to fight to the death, as had Moammar Gadhafi.
It was equally evident that Bashar Assad was no more of a “reformer” than the sons of other dictators — Said al-Islam and Saad Gadhafi, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, Crown Prince Salman Khalifa of Bahrain, and others.
They had been marketed as westernized liberals, believers in democratic reforms (as long as they were not too rushed) and the glories of crony capitalism, privatization and philanthropy, from which our corporations and institutions, including universities, benefited — in return for lending a hand in the rebranding the young pashas. Hadn’t Hillary Clinton and several members of Congress called Assad “a reformer?”
Now even the Annan pretense of “doing something” is being abandoned.
Clinton conceded Monday that “we are nowhere near putting together any kind of coalition other than to alleviate the suffering. There’s all kinds of civilian and humanitarian and military planning going on but the factors are just not there,” the factors being the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the Security Council.
There are other excuses.
Syria is not isolated Libya. Its armed forces are bigger than Libya’s and its air defences stronger. Its crazy quilt of religions, sects and ethnicities — Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Kurds, etc. — raises the spectre of civil war. Its opposition is badly divided.
But sanctions alone will not topple Assad any more than the sanctions on Iraq (1993-2003) toppled Saddam. Sanctions generally hurt not those in power but ordinary people, as in Iraq where 1 million died a slow death, half of them children, according to the UN.
The best way to avoid a civil war in Syria is to end the Assad regime.
Prolonged crises and the breakdown of law and order only empower individual thugs, criminal gangs and ultimately political militias that are often proxies for outside powers, leaving the citizenry no option but to retreat into the armed safety of tribe, sect and religion from which societies take years to emerge.
We have seen this in Lebanon (1975-90), Afghanistan (1989-2001) and Iraq (2003 onward).
After the cold-blooded murder of 12,000 Syrians and the maiming of tens of thousands more, it’s time to invoke the Canadian/United Nations principle of R2P, responsibility to protect civilians from being massacred by their own rulers.
Assad needs to be given a short deadline that he must leave with his family to a pre-arranged exile or face the bombing of his palaces and that of his cronies, as well as his air defences, and the barracks of his army and militias.
Haroon Siddiqui is the Star’s editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on Thursday and Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay out of Syria
By Josh Landis, from Syria Comment, June 2, 2012
The US, Europe and the Gulf states want regime change in Syria so they are starving the regime and feeding the opposition. They have sanctioned Syria to a fare-thee-well and are busy shoveling money and arms to the rebels. This will change the balance of power in favor of the revolution. Crudely put, the US is pursuing regime-change by civil-war. This is the most it can and should do.
President Obama does not want to intervene directly in Syria for obvious reasons. The US has failed at nation-building twice before in the Middle East. Some suggest that the “third time is a charm,” but Americans should not risk it. Voodoo policy analysis is not what the US needs today. Arguing that if only the US had done things differently in Iraq, Iraqis would not have radicalized or fallen into emulous factionalism is hokum. We must not allow ourselves to be talked into direct intervention in Syria today. Every student of the Middle East knows that Iraq had little sense of national political community to hold it together. The fact that it fell apart when the US Roto-Rootered Saddam’s regime should have been expected. The same thing is likely in Syria. Civil war and radicalization may not be avoidable. Syrians have many hard choices to make about their future. The chances that they will make them peacefully are small.
With America’s economy in the dumps, its military badly bruised, its reputation among Muslims in tatters, and its people fatigued by nation-building gone awry, this is no time to launch an intervention in Syria.
Military intervention would undoubtedly be expensive and dangerous. In all likelihood it would back-fire, leaving the US in possession of a broken Syria in desperate need of rebuilding. Syria is a nation the size of Iraq with insufficient sources of revenue. It produces little the world wants to buy. It hardly produces enough electricity for three hours of coverage a day. The school system is in a shambles. Government institutions will fall apart once the revolution wins. They are staffed by Baathists, recruited for loyalty to the regime and the Assad family. No revolutionary government will rehire them. They will purge them from top to bottom and employ the hundreds of thousands of jobless Syrians who have sacrificed for the revolution, lost family and struggled in the face of tyranny. Anyone who believes that Syria will avoid the excesses of Iraq, where the military, government ministries, and Baath Party were dissolved and criminalized is dreaming. If the US becomes militarily involved by destroying the presidential palace and military installations, it will own Syria.There will be no military to keep order and stop potential looting. If disorder and civil strife breaks out when the regime is destroyed, will the US feel obliged to step in? Will it discipline the 60 militias that now claim to represent the revolutionary forces? If the death toll rises after the regime falls, will the US surge its forces to stop the killing?
Already the Syrian opposition has asked for 12 billion dollars in start up money for the first six months when they come to power. This is chicken feed. Anyone who knows anything about Syria’s 24 million inhabitants, knows that they will need a lot more than 12 billion to stabilize and help rebuild Syria. The US spends 12 billion dollars every three months in Afghanistan. In 2010, the US was spending $6.7 billion in Afghanistan every month compared with $5.5 billion in Iraq. Few Americans believe this money was well spent. To believe that Syria would cost less is rash.
The US has been down the road of nation-building in the Middle East before. It is not good at it. The US wants regime-change without the responsibilities. Many pundits argue that the US must dive into Syria directly rather than build up the opposition slowly, but that would be a fool’s errand. If the US has learned anything, it is that it cannot sort out issues of power-sharing and national identity for Middle Eastern countries. The road to national unity cannot be paved in Washington. In the end, Syrians must find their own way and choose their own national leaders. Ahmad Chalabi and Hamid Karzai seemed like good choices when they were first held up. They had many winning qualities and looked better than the alternatives. But they turned out not to be the right leaders for Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no indication that the US could do a better job of picking winners in Syria. Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Syrian National Council, seemed to have all the qualities of a future Syrian president: he is Sunni, French educated, and has a long history of espousing liberalism, moderation, and democracy. But it only took months before leaders in his own party attacked him for treason, dictatorship and dishonesty and forced him to resign. Today, the Syrian opposition is leaderless. Over sixty militias are competing on the ground for cash and Kalashnikovs.
Already, we are being told that if we had only intervened earlier with our military, Syrians would have been unified, liberal and moderate. Only because we have delayed, they are becoming radical and and Islamized. This is not a convincing argument. Syrians are divided because they have no tradition of unity and the Baath has destroyed politics for 50 years. Nothing America can do will erase that legacy of political underdevelopment.
It seems heartless to stand by and do so little as massacres such as that carried out at Houla continue. More than 13 thousand Syrians have been killed in the last 14 months of revolution. All the same US intervention is not the solution. American troops killed over 10 thousand Iraqis in the first month of invasion in 2003. They killed a further 120,000 Iraqis in anger by the time the country was stabilized and safe to leave – and even then Iraq remains in turmoil and a new dictatorship seems to be taking shape. Car bombs are a daily occurrence in Baghdad.
In all likelihood, the Syrian revolution will be less bloody if Syrians carry it out for themselves. A new generation of national leaders will emerge from the struggle. They will not emerge with any legitimacy if America hands them Syria as a gift. How will they claim that they won the struggle for dignity, freedom and democracy? America cannot give these things. Syrians must take them. America can play a role with aid, arms and intelligence, but it cannot and should not try to decide Syria’s future, determine winners, and take charge of Syria. If Syrians want to own Syria in the future, they must own the revolution and find their own way to winning it. It is better for Syria and it is better for America.