NOTHING in recent times, perhaps with the exception of Israel, has exposed the ineptitude and sheer spinelessness of the United Nations and the blessed international community as Syria has. All the glorious international institutions and fine laws have proved useless in dealing with one obstinate and murderous tyrant.
Poor Lakhdar Brahimi! The UN and Arab peace envoy, perpetually shuttling between Damascus and Arab capitals for the past many months without accomplishing anything, warns that without a political settlement soon Syria will be “transformed into hell!” Well, how different hell would be from what we have been witnessing in Syria for the past two years?
A new UN study this week put the toll in the two-year long conflict at more than 60,000. A staggering figure by any counts. Since August 2012, more than 5,000 Syrians have been killed every month — at the rate of 170 a day. More than 600,000 people have been displaced while four million, including 450,000 Palestinian refugees, urgently need humanitarian assistance.
Understandably, the report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been received with shock and outrage around the world. But rest assured; the world will get used to it in no time. It will dust itself off and move on, as it always has. It has dealt with far worse with equanimity. A million deaths in Iraq, for instance, all to assuage the Oedipal insecurities of a certain leader of the free world. In the end, as Stalin famously argued, it’s merely a statistic.
Like Bush Junior, Assad Junior has been trying hard to prove he is his father’s true son and successor. He has already outshined his father in the cold, clinical ruthlessness and the number of men, women and children he has sent to their death without batting an eyelid. The years of medical education and training in the West seem to help.
If Assad and his gang have the blood of more than 60,000 innocents on their hands, Russia and China must take some credit too for enabling him with their crucial support in and outside the UN. Without their veto, shielding Assad and thwarting all international efforts to end the regime’s war on its own people, this appalling tragedy wouldn’t have been sustained this long.
By standing with Assad, obviously to protect their own geopolitical interests, Moscow and Beijing — and to some degree Tehran which stands by him for the simple reason he is its only friend and ally in the region — are guilty of sending thousands of Syrians to their death.
On the other hand, the West and the rest of the international community too must share responsibility for the Syrian catastrophe. By failing to rein in Assad, the world community is complicit and guilty in this continuing genocide in full glare of the world media.
Even the assorted Leftist and liberal groups, journalists and rights activists who have valiantly confronted the West on its wars and excesses have let the Syrian people down. They have tended to view this war and Assad’s appalling atrocities against his people, destroying entire cities and driving hundreds of thousands of Syrians into neighboring countries as just another “Western ploy against another Third world nation.”
Which is nothing but an affront to the epic sacrifices ordinary Syrians have offered over the past two years. What will it take for us to recognize that this is a heroic struggle for freedom and democracy by a long oppressed and tyrannized people? How is Syria different from the groundswell for change that we have seen in the region in the past couple of years?
If anything, the Syrian struggle is even more noble and inspiring because of their endless, sheer courage and all that they have suffered so far at the hands of an utterly ruthless regime. The world needs to stand by the Syrian people.
The Arab and Muslim states have provided all possible support to the disparate and disunited Syrian resistance groups. They have even formally recognized the opposition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. However, for all their oil wealth and growing economic clout, the Arabs cannot put an end to Assad’s carnage all by themselves. Let’s face it. The world still lives and acts by the rules set by the West. This is why the Western support, or lack of it, is so crucial to the Syrian conflict.
Intriguingly, the US which has demonstrated an excessive zeal for regime change in the Middle East all these years (the reference is not merely to the lost decade after 9/11 and under the Bushies) has been uncharacteristically tolerant of the shenanigans of the bloodthirsty Baathist regime in Damascus.
Remember what happened in Libya? Ignoring the thaw and new bonhomie with Muammar Qaddafi, the US and NATO lost little time in throwing their lot behind the rebels and eventually hunting and killing the colonel like a wild animal. Not even a show trial a la Saddam Hussein for the man who was red-carpeted and warmly embraced by the likes of Blair, Sarkozy and Berlusconi.
In Syria’s case though, President Obama and other leading lights of the Western coalition have done little except offer pointless platitudes asking Assad to end the bloodshed and initiate dialogue with the resistance. What explains this coyness to get involved in Syria? Surely, it cannot be all because of that fine medal they gave Obama in Oslo for his initiatives for world peace.
Clearly, the West cannot countenance the alternative that a post-Assad scenario could throw up in Syria. There’s every possibility that the fall of the Baathist regime could see the ascendancy of the Islamists in Damascus, as has been the case with most Arab Spring nations.
The Israelis in particular whose dominance of the US foreign policy is complete are extremely nervous about a change of guard next door that could see a pro-Palestinian dispensation in Damascus. They are already cornered by the once brotherly Egypt, now ruled by the Brotherhood. As Dr. Tariq Ramadan puts it, for all their posturing and mutual hostility, Syria has been a “useful enemy” for Israel and America. The simmering conflict in Syria with the energies and resources of Arab and Muslim states all split and expended among themselves thus actually favors Israel and its patrons.
While an inflamed Syria deflects the attention from Israel’s continuing occupation and stealing of what little remains of Palestinian lands, the general instability and insecurity this one-sided war perpetuates in the volatile region helps America and its ever-voracious war and arms industry. So the longer this deadly and draining conflict drags on, the better it is for world powers on both sides of the divide.
But if the past and history of the “Arab Spring” itself is any guide, Assad’s end is nigh and imminent. It’s as certain as the dawn tomorrow. The dictator may be obstinate but his people will eventually outdo him in their perseverance and patience. Just as the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Yemenis have outdone their own tormentors.
To paraphrase Dryden’s counsel, beware the fury of a patient people. And the longer Assad hangs on in there, increasingly vindictive and targeting an unarmed civilian population as he has been the more painful the end is going to be for him. The day of reckoning is not far.
— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based writer.