Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Syria is drowning | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I don’t know what planet joint UN – Arab League Envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, is living on, following his recent statements from Damascus.

The man appears completely out of his depth. Can you believe that he made these statements at the same time that pro-regime Shabiha militia were carrying out an appalling and horrendous massacre in Homs that resulted in the deaths of dozens of women and children, in a shocking scene that was completely indifferent to international condemnation?

Annan said that he was “optimistic” following a second round of talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday. However he also acknowledged that it’s going to be “tough” to reach an agreement to stop the bloodshed. Speaking to journalists in Damascus, he added “it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be difficult but we have to have hope.” Annan explained that there was a general desire for peace in Syria, adding “I am optimistic for several reasons.”

I do not understand Annan’s optimism, nor do I understand how UN Secretary-General [Ban Ki-Moon] can be so sanguine about Annan’s mission in Syria.

The reality that everybody is trying to dismiss, with the exception of Saudi Arabia and the majority of the Gulf States, is that what is happening in Syria is a revolution to oust a brutal regime, not just “differences in opinion” or demands for limited reform.

The Russians are failing to differentiate between the victims and the perpetrators in Syria. More than this, they are leaning towards the perpetrators, and this is immoral, false, and a distortion of the facts on the ground. What is even more unfortunate is that the Arab League seems to have acquiesced to this during the recent meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Arab foreign ministers in Cairo. Regrettably, Arab League Secretary-General [Nabil Elaraby], the disciple of Mohammed Hassenein Heikal, has endorsed this disgraceful agreement between the Russians and the Arabs on the Syrian crisis.

It is preposterous to compare the pro-regime Shabiha militia, who have raped women and killed children in Homs and Hama, with their innocent civilian victims. This comparison, in itself, is another despicable crime.

There are those who say that what happened in Cairo between the Russians and the Arabs constitutes a breakthrough in the rigid Russian position that is supportive of the al-Assad regime. This emanates from the belief that Arab League and UN resolutions will be the launch pad for resolving the Syrian crisis, and that ultimately, such resolutions will ensure that the regime – or to be more precise, that Bashar al-Assad and his cronies – relinquish power in the same manner as the Yemeni scenario. However in my own view, this is overly optimistic. Russia is fighting with the west over the dead bodies of the Syrian people. For Russia, Syria is a theatre of war with the West, even if this comes at the expense of the innocent Syrian people. This is a battle over regional interests and security, not a struggle over a humanitarian or moral issue.

It was claimed that the Russian position was subject to the presidential election in Russia, and that if Putin won this election – as he did – then the escalatory tone that was being employed by Russia to provoke a sense of national patriotism, would slowly soften. However, the Russians rushed to reassert their “strong” stance on the Syrian crisis, which was no different than their original position. The core of the Russian position focuses on aiding the al-Assad regime to hold out, and promoting the theory – which is solely held by the Damascus regime – that a “balanced” conflict is taking place between the regime and the Syrian uprising, or the “armed gangs”, as is reported by the al-Assad media.

In reality, attempting to obtain a Russian stance congruent with the Arab and particularly the Gulf stance, in order to save the Syrian people from the atrocities that are being committed by the al-Assad regime, is like chasing a mirage.

Russian political discourse – in the same manner as Chinese political discourse – does not focus on humanitarian or moral dimensions. This political discourse views everything in a purely geo-political manner. Hence, it regards the Syrian scene as a stereotypical Cold War battle, and they cannot be blamed for that. After all, you cannot ask a stranger to share your pains!

I believe that “ignoring” the Russians and the Chinese, i.e. not being overtly hostile toward them, is the ideal solution. We should endeavour to resolve this crisis without any consideration for the Russians and their followers in Beijing.

Some might view this idea as being unrealistic. But facts indicate that if three specific countries decided to sincerely join forces and coordinate with one other, then the brutal al-Assad regime would collapse sooner rather than later, and at a far lesser cost.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, in the region surrounding Syria, are the countries capable of tipping the balance and disciplining the pro-regime Shabiha militia.

This solution does not need a miracle; rather all that is required is for the Syrian opposition to be given political and international legitimacy, namely through the recognition of the Syrian National Council [SNC]. If the SNC were provided with buffer zones in Jordan and Turkey, they could resist and surround the pro-regime Shabiha militia from the north and the south, namely via Bab al-Hawa and Jisr ash-Shugur in the north and Deraa in the south. In addition to this, it would also not be difficult or costly to arm the Free Syrian Army [FSA], providing it with weapons like RPGs in order to counter the al-Assad regime’s helicopters.

Indeed merely providing explicit political support and weapons to obstruct the free movement of the al-Assad regime’s tanks and aircraft would be more than sufficient to topple the regime. This would allow the Syrian opposition to redress the mismatch of forces and increase the defections from the al-Assad regime.

We do not need international or regional “consensus” in order to support the Syrian people; particularly as such “consensus” has never and will never be achieved.

Following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, no international consensus was obtained to drive Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. Anyone who looks at history, and reviews the arguments that were made at the time, can clearly see this. When the Muslims in Bosnia were being massacred by the Serbs, no international consensus was obtained to support the Bosnians. Indeed, the Russians – at the time – supported Belgrade against the Muslims. If we had focused all our attention on convincing the Russians to change their position, we would still be in the midst of the Balkan crisis today, whilst massacres would still be taking place throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina!

Those who fear civil war breaking out in Syria, if the opposition is armed, or Sunni extremists coming to power, like US President Barack Obama or Egyptian Foreign Minister [Mohamed Kamel Amr], are giving Bashar al-Assad the green light to continue to pursue his military campaign and butcher more Syrian women and children, in the same manner as what happened recently in Homs.

They must realize that the al-Assad regime was not overthrown by the efforts of the first Dabi mission [Arab League monitoring delegation], nor will it be toppled by the “second Dabi mission” which is headed by Kofi Anna today, as described by my colleague Iyad Abu Shackra in his own column for Asharq Al-Awsat.

On the contrary, the international reluctance to carry out clinical airstrikes against Syria, as suggested by US Senator John McCain, only serves to incite the Syrian revolution, as it will provoke the Syrian revolutionaries to take the decision to respond with violence to avenge the massacres that are being committed by the regime. This regime has never stopped promoting sectarian violence and inciting the fears of Syria’s minorities.

The Syrians won’t stop protesting no matter how long it takes. However, the most extreme voice will win in the end, particularly as the world has turned its back on the tragedies being suffered by the Syrian people.

Protests started peacefully in Syria, but after a whole year passed with conspiracies, international procrastination, successive missions and ridiculous Arab League solutions, the FSA and the military dimensions of this battle have emerged.

If this undervaluing of the tragedy being suffered by the Syrian people persists, we won’t be able to blame the opposition if it turns to military and security escalation, or even if it turns to extremist political discourse which could go beyond the borders of the Syrian State.

In summary, it would be wrong if anyone in the world or the region assumes that time alone is capable of aborting the Syrian revolution. No, this revolution will only get stronger and nastier, particularly with the international community letting down the Syrian people and proposing paltry solutions.

We must brace ourselves for another chapter of bloodshed, tears, and instability in Syria. Within a few months, such missions and political solutions might be viewed as nothing more than empty political talk, far removed from reality.

Regional and international countries can still introduce some initiatives, but time is running out, and we may soon be crying over spilt milk.

In summary, let’s forget about the Russians and the Chinese, Obama’s reluctance to take action, and the conspiracy theories being espoused by some Arab parties. Those who are willing to take action and who believe in the Syrian revolution should act now: namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan and Turkey. At the very least, those of the above who are ready to take the initiative must do so now!

Reaching a consensus is impossible. Those who are ready should act.