Tragedy and farce in Syria

Jerusalem Post, 05/04/2012

Recent developments show that the West appears to have acquiesced to the continued rule of the Assad family dictatorship.

The supposed acceptance by the regime of Bashar Assad of UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan represents the latest phase of the Syrian dictator’s strategy to buy time in order to crush the uprising against his rule. According to the plan, the regime is obliged to withdraw troops and armor from Syrian urban centers by April 10th.

On Sunday, the second “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul issued a deadline for Assad to begin implementing the plan. Assad, the conference declared, would be judged on his “deeds, rather than his promises.”

A Norwegian major-general, described as a “veteran Middle East peacemaker” has been appointed to lead the UN support team that will soon depart for Syria. UN press releases have not yet clarified to which areas of the Middle East Major-General Robert Mood has actually brought peace in the course of his career. In any case, he and his team are to evaluate the situation on the ground and hold talks with both sides in order to assess the prospects for the deployment of a team of unarmed observers in Syria.

Having accepted Annan’s plan, the regime is now ramping up its attacks on centers of the uprising. The army is continuing its rampage through defiant Idleb Province and the Deraa area.

On the day following the regime’s announcement of its latest acceptance of Annan’s proposals, 60 Syrian civilians were killed by Assad’s forces.

Assad wants to achieve the maximum level of pacification before offering whatever gesture he chooses to make toward implementing the Annan plan. There is no reason at all to think that Assad’s notional acceptance of the UN envoy’s proposals will have any serious effect on the bloody counterattack currently being conducted by the Assad regime.

THE PATTERN is familiar. In November, the regime proclaimed acceptance of an Arab League plan. The blood-letting, however, continued apace.

A team of hapless Arab League spectators, led by a suspected Sudanese war criminal, General Mustafa al-Dabi, were dispatched to the country.

These men spent a few weeks watching Assad’s forces butcher Syrian civilians before being quietly withdrawn. The regime has also twice before announced its acceptance of proposals by Annan – to no noticeable effect.

The current plan envisages the commencement of an “inclusive, Syrian-led political process” that will follow a “cease-fire including the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from inside and around populated areas.”

These are the key elements of the Annan proposal, which also calls for the release of “arbitrarily detained persons,” free movement across Syria for journalists, provision of humanitarian aid via a UN mechanism and respect for “freedom of association” and the right to peacefully demonstrate.

The most immediately notable aspect of these proposals is their somewhat otherwordly quality.

They envisage no timetable for a transition of power and do not even call for the dictator to step down. Rather, Assad is supposed to begin an openended process of dialogue with the opposition.

The Assad regime has taken the trouble over the last year to develop tame opposition elements, with which it will be happy to continue talking and to broadcast the talks via its official media outlets to the world. The regime can then claim that it is complying with the demands of the international community. A small percentage of the very large volume of Syrian citizens rounded up and detained without charge by the regime over the last year may be released. At the same time, the slaughter of the real opposition, mobilized by local coordinating committees and by the Free Syrian Army, will continue.

The regime will proclaim that while it accepts Annan’s plan, it cannot be expected not to take action against “armed gangs.” A few carefully marshalled international journalists may be permitted to enter, as took place after the acceptance of the Arab League plan.

These journalists will be encouraged to film scenes of normality in Damascus.

Assad’s allies in Russia and China will be pleased with the turn of events and will make encouraging noises. It is possible that the UN Security Council may even succeed in passing a watered-down resolution setting out a timetable for further progress in Syria. None of this will have the slightest effect on the civil war already under way in the country.

All of this is quite obvious, and is disputed by hardly anyone among serious observers of events in Syria. It is therefore difficult not to conclude that there is simply no real interest on the part of the West to help bring about the end of the Assad dictatorship.

Assad has benefited throughout from a de facto international coalition that supports him. Iran and Hezbollah provide the assistance on the ground. Russia and China are responsible for the diplomatic cover.

Either opposing international efforts will be made to help the Syrian rebels transform themselves into a real, physical threat to the dictatorship, or the dictatorship is likely to survive.

This reality is quite clear, and has been clear throughout the uprising. Arms and training for the Free Syrian Army and moves toward a buffer zone in the north, or acquiescence to the continued rule of the Assad family dictatorship. Currently the West is choosing the latter course.

Karl Marx, in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, famously asserted that “great world-historic facts and personages appear twice. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Marx, however, did not foresee the current international response to the situation in Syria. This manages, uniquely, to combine the essential qualities of tragedy and farce into a single picture.

About jonathanspyer

Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy. He is the director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and analysis (MECRA), a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for strategy and Security (JISS) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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1 Response to Tragedy and farce in Syria

  1. Jonathan Karmi says:

    The interesting question is why is the West happy for Assad to remain in power ? Is it foolishness ? Is it fatigue after Afghanistan and Iraq ? Is it complacency following the long period of relative peace since WWII ? Has that caused the West to go soft, decadent and morally decayed ? Or is it they don’t fancy the Syrian opposition that much ?

    Personally I think Western policy is a disgrace. There are millions of people in Syria fighting a dictatorship and a good proportion of them will be wanting to have the freedom taken for granted in the West. They should be helped.

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