It happened and succeeded in Libya, but to a point; as the unintended outcomes of the NATO intervention still reverberates on the shores of the country. The jury is still out on the legal, moral and ethical values of such intervention. Irrespective of the reasons behind the intervention and its unintended outcomes, there is no denying the fact that humanitarian considerations were part of the equation. Political cynics and conspiracy theorists have opined that the intervention in Libya and the principles behind the “Arab Awakening” in general have been generated as a smokescreen to pursue modern imperialism by the powers that be. Such accusations are open for debates, but the common denominator here is the continuing suffering and loss of lives of the Syrian people. As I mentioned in my last article, the makeup of the Syrian Opposition is diametrically different from all that has gone before in the region. The phenomenon in Libya was a new slant on the Arab Awakening, hence the unanimous approval to “protect the citizens” against the brutal regime of the late Gaddaffi.
With the recent deadlock on how to solve the Syrian crisis, thanks to the vetoes from China and Russia, the options left on the table are reducing by the day, as president Assad embarks on his cycle of his deadliest assault on his people. Meanwhile, Senator McCain of US and William Hague of UK have expressed the options of “arming” the Syrian opposition in the face of the recent vetoes from Russia and China. The latter have come for serious condemnation and accusations of “betraying the Syrian people” while Russia has claimed that approving the resolution was “tantamount to taking sides in a civil war”. There is no doubt that the situation in the country is now a full blown civil war.
With the option of arming the opposition still on the table, independent MP Denis MacShane (UK) warned of the risk of this option that “Afghanistan and Libya were not happy examples to follow”, and that a “broader strategic approach” was needed in the region. Some may see the military option as a plausible one, but at what price? There is no denying the fact that it will lead to increased bloodshed and loss of lives. Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds (Ghandi). Peace is the only battle worth waging, as one cannot be the arch angel of peace and the highest supplier of arms at the same time. With the original peaceful protest overtaken by armed and deserting military personnel (Free Syrian Army), Assad is trying very hard to justify his brutal response that he is up against opposition forces in a civil war.
It is rather unfortunate that recent reported suicide bombings seem to give credence to this view according to his sympathisers. With such escalating violence and the recent use of bombings, President Assad may want to bring the Al-Qaeda element into the equation; as justification of his response. He claims that at least 2000 members of his forces have been killed “fighting armed gangs and terrorists”. Accusations from the opposition seem to put the killings at genocidal proportions but this mudslinging is of no use to the innocent civilians that have been caught in this quagmire. William Hague said on the 10/02/12 that “Britain will use diplomacy with Syria, not weapons”. Hallelujah.
When the Syrian opposition decided to compare notes with their Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian brethren, the expected outcome was one that was akin to theirs. But unlike the others violent means will only give violent freedom. Libya may want to boast of freedom today but the lack of security in the homes and the streets have rendered their hard fought freedom meaningless; at least for the time being. But as the killing continues unabated, the question is how “do you solve a problem called Syria? Among other options, many will see as William Hague recently realised, that the diplomatic one is the most viable with less collateral damage or consequences.
Since Russia and China have opposed the resolution, the responsibility to stop the carnage should be placed squarely on their shoulders; on the understanding that history and the world will judge and not forgive them if their softly approach and policy of non military interference fails. The US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has accused Russia and China of having “blood spill” on their hands. Newt Gingrich, a contender for the White House has intimated that if he were the president of the USA, he would have considered covert operations to help the opposition. Sounds like a plan but all these name calling will be of little use to the Syrian people if the killing fields continue to be populated.
Now that the Syrian people have witnessed a firsthand experience of Assad’s ruthlessness, you would expect that the majority of the population would have 110% abhorrence for him. Would this not be a good time to bell cat to the negotiating table and fast forward democratic means of getting rid of him? The opposition remains emboldened by the hope that a Libyan style intervention will ensure their road to the ultimate goal of getting rid of Assad. Unfortunately, any attempt to use military means can only give Assad carte blanche to perpetuate misery on an already demoralised and defenceless people. War may be seen as a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, not a good. Any form of war represents a failure of diplomacy, and an act of war should only be seen as the last and not the first option of democracy.
The tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best to do man’s worst. The opposition should be encouraged to the political dining table, because the war can only fester if one of the parties in this conflict wants something more than it wants peace; for war is a tacit reflection of the morally, intellectually and artistically bankrupt. The opposition should also accept that one cannot shake hands with clenched fists but that the fragrance always remains with the hand that gives the rose.
There is no doubt that Assad has been wedged into a diplomatic and political corner, and it is not surprising that Russia’s Foreign Minister recently stressed Assad’s willingness to engage in a national dialogue, even though an overwhelming majority of the members of the opposition have said that dialogue is not an option. Most of the opposition to dialogue is reportedly coming from those outside the country; who do not bear the direct brunt of Assad’s carnage. But with the “Obama administration saying that it is not considering invading or arming its rebels to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power” you wonder where their blind resolve to fight an army with much superior power is going to come from.
As I mentioned in my previous article, the Syrian saga has been dogged by the interests of the various stakeholders. According to global analysis firm Oxford Analytica, Russia currently has an estimated $4 billion worth of arms contract in Syria. It is therefore plausible that a regime change will be “critical to the financial survival of some Russian companies; especially at a time when global economies are in need of financial resuscitations. In addition, Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base for its Black Sea Fleet is located in the Syrian port of Tartus. Russia has significant interests in Syria’s infrastructure, energy and tourism industries. It should therefore not come as a surprise that Russia is leaning on the side of Assad, if for nothing else but for national interests. Winston Churchill once said, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interests”.
China is another big investor in Syria, outstripping other major suppliers to the tune of about $1.2 billion. Among other interests ranging from banking, leisure, construction, communication to oil deals, analysts are tempted to name this renewed trade relations as the “New Silk Road”; an allusion to the entente that existed as far back as 1949, when Syria was one of the first Arab countries to establish diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China, following Mao Zedong’s victory. The US and its allies have used every trick of economic sanctions in the book to stifle Assad’s regime, but a close look at Syria’s bilateral relationships could give pointers as to how Assad has survived them. Wedged between these China and Russia is the conductor Iran, reportedly orchestrating affairs with its new found status as the main beneficiary of the Arab Spring; courtesy of western political midwifery.
As I have mentioned in the past, sanctions can be a preferable option to war but they hardly work; as they only strengthen the state and weaken the people. A typical case in point is India’s recent increase in its oil import from Iran, following the impending US and EU ban on Iranian oil imports. The failed Arab League initiative was doomed even before it took off the ground. Among other reasons, it was seen with suspicion as promoting the interests of the US and its allies. The “Arab Awakening” is increasingly now seen as giving room to big power pragmatism and the pursuit of vested interests.
With the region fast becoming a hotbed of geopolitics, many cynics are reluctant to see the awakening as a political sea change by individual countries. Instead, it is now viewed as an opportunity for countries like US, China, Russia and Europe to reshape their presence in the region. The current status quo is reminiscent of the region 40 years ago; a period that saw the toppling of monarchs that ushered the likes of leftist leaders like Gaddaffi and others.
Strangely as it may sound, it is plausible to assume that it is such suspicions, misgivings and political grandstanding that have partly contributed to the diplomatic gridlock and impasse that is becoming a problem called Syria. If the above assertion is to be given such credence, the people of Syria may have just become political pawns on the diplomatic chessboard. If the current situation is allowed to continue without a viable endgame, the people of Syria would be forgiven if they feel betrayed by the international community; especially by Russia and China.
The hope is that all the stake holders can all do their share to redeem Syria, in spite of all the absurdities and all the frustrations and all the disappointments. The scary prospect is that, if Assad should go, what would be expected of a regime born of bloodshed out of tyranny? If Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are samples to go by, don’t hold your breath. It will be sad to live the people of Syria up the creek without a paddle. My sincere hope is that the so-called Arab Spring does not become an Arab Winter of the deepest perma-frost.