And if President Bashar al-Assad’s half-life is as short as it looks at the moment, Moscow committed not just a crime, but a spectacular long-term financial and diplomatic blunder.
Among the few to emerge with redibility have been the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay who were prepared to condemn the Ba’athist violence against their own people, just as they have condemned sraeli behaviour against Palestinians. In that context, after the veto in the Security Council, and Pillay’s Human Rights Council report, the Americans supported a procedural innovation: an immediate UN General Assembly resolution reiterating the points in the vetoed Security Council attempt. However, the support was undercut with constant references to the “non-binding” nature of General Assembly resolutions.
This is an oblique homage to the Palestinian habit of taking Security Council resolutions vetoed by Washington to the General Assembly under the “Uniting for Peace” procedure that the US had pioneered during the Korean War in order to by-pass Moscow’s veto. Hypocrisy often disappears up its rectum like that.
Similarly pushing for the Assembly resolution are Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, each with their own culturally specific ways of dealing with unarmed protestors, not to forget Morocco, 40 years into its illegal occupation of Western Sahara. Perhaps most outstandingly Sudan, whose president is under indictment by the International Criminal Court over Darfur, still voted for the resolution.
It is Assad’s proximity to Iran that impels the sundry oil-kings into common ground with the pro-Israel neo-conservatives and, almost mind-bogglingly, al Qaida. Such a rogues’ gallery lined up against him is almost enough to make you suspect Assad of hidden virtues until you look at the admirers of Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi lionising him.
Taking their cue from Moscow, opponents of international action against Assad also complain that insurgents are now fighting back, as if there were some moral equivalence between heavily-armed professional forces and a handful of deserters and rebels who only took up arms after year of one-sided repression.
George Orwell famously said: “There is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins. Nearly always one side stands more of less for progress, the other side more or less for reaction.” In the complex web of parties involved in and around Syria, Assad clearly represents reaction. However, it could be hard to unequivocally categorise all the insurgents as on the side of progress.
But for progress, Assad surely has to go – and soon. The longer he lingers, the more danger there is that Syria slides into a sectarian mess. So far, no one has suggested a referral to the International Criminal Court, which would have sent a message to the regime and its supporters. On the other hand, that offers an escape route. One could almost foresee a palace in the Gulf in the Assad family future.
In any case, the international community needs to offer protection to the Alawites and other minorities against the risk of pogroms and to supervise a transition to an elected government. At least the US and the West realise that it can’t be them, but Moscow and Beijing still have an opportunity to become part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. A public withdrawal of support might persuade the regime that it was time to stop the shooting.
In the end, the UN Security Council, for all its faults, is the only body that could legitimately direct whatever belated peacekeeping process comes together.