Diplomacy is failing Syrians as Russia rejects the latest UN Security Council draft resoltuion aimed at stopping al-Assad's brutal crackdown on his own people. Russia's threat of veto is within UN rules, but a rising Syrian death toll is a consequence that's tough to justify.
While the United Nations Security Council panders to Russia’s demands over what it will and will not permit be done with Syria, the killing squads of Bashar al-Assad systematically get on with the job of eliminating those who dare to question the regime.
That it is exactly thirty years ago that Assad’s father Hafez crushed Syrian Islamists in the city of Homs, wiping out between 10,000 and 20,000, has not gone unnoticed by those now caught in the violent struggle for their futures.
In order to prevent demonstrations to mark such a potent anniversary, tanks now block main squares.
The United Nations and Human Rights groups estimate Bashar’s tally after eleven months of uprisings, now stands at close to 6,000 and climbing.
Such a number, combined with the fervour of the protesters indicates clearly that Syrians opposing the brutal regime have now invested too much to ever fade back in to the shadows...as if they could. The question is now how many more will die before the world can bring the killing to a halt?
It is times like this when the UN is criticised for being an impotent talk-shop; a mix of idealism and realism that often struggles to meet the expectations of it. However our world full of supposedly brilliant people has to date failed to come up with an alternative, so the UN is all we have.
Its most powerful arm - the 15-member UN Security council is currently involved in a circa Cold War/East-West power game with the United States leading the charge to bring about regime change in Syria, and Syria’s chief arms supplier Russia, waving around its almighty veto to ensure no demands for Syrian regime change see the light of day.
It is called diplomacy and is the core business of the UN, but is hard to take when the threat or use of the veto allows a UN member state to blatantly continue abusing human rights.
If diplomacy at this level is the art of negotiation between states, then Russia's resort to threats to veto is certainly within the rules - even while Syria continues to lay siege to its own people.
To rid the UNSC of the veto the very elite entitled to it – USA, Russia, China, France, the UK – would have to vote it away. It is difficult to think of any state or politician freely surrendering such a weapon of control. So it remains the prerogative of the few post-WWII powers, which fails to acknowledge the rising clout of others, including Brazil, India and Germany.
The veto also often impacts to the detriment of the little guys.
Ask the Palestinians whose human rights have been systematically abused by the United States use of, or threat to use its veto, thereby permitting the continuation of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.
Now however, the US (amongst others for sure) is expressing utter exasperation with Russia’s intransigence on the wording of the Arab League resolution to crack down on Syria’s regime.
Perhaps when the Palestinian issue comes back to the top of the UN agenda the US could ask why it is morally bankrupt for Russia to sell arms to Syria which are used against the Syrian people and not equally bankrupt for the US to sell – and often give – arms to Israel which are used against Palestinians?
But this stage is not some planet for the politically naive. Diplomacy would inevitably grind to a halt if all vested-interest relationships and hypocrisies had to be laid bare and resolved before solutions could be formulated.
There is no doubt Assad has a following in Syria – there are many over and above the loyal security forces who benefit much from connections to the regime.
I spent the last week in the Middle East (Kuwait and Lebanon), and the main issues concerning those I met with are the very real possibility of a strike on Iran leading to war in the Middle East, and, the seemingly endless bloodshed and potential for civil war in Syria.
Lebanon has pro-Syrian enclaves and apologists for Assad.
I was told to my face that there is nothing going on in Syria...that it is easy to go there freely and often and all this stuff that is shown on television is not happening. Business is apparently continuing and those who believe otherwise are being duped. Truly.
Syrians are crossing in to Lebanon over the border about 20km north of Tripoli. Some are Assad-friendly, some activists, others members of the Syrian National Council (the main opposition) and army defectors opposed to Assad. The civilian refugees include small children who have turned to begging or trying to sell trinkets on the streets of cities and towns like Beirut and Byblos. Ask these children where they are from and they will tell you “Syria”.
What happens in any country in this region impacts like dominoes on others.
In Kuwait there was support for the Gulf Countries pulling out of the Syrian Observer Mission – which is now suspended anyway – simply because those states believed the Mission was being used as a cover for Assad’s killing fields.
There’s a consensus that Assad will eventually go. The troubling and bloody question is when? Can there be a political solution to this standoff? Could Yemen provide the blueprint where Assad, like Saleh, steps aside and his deputy takes over until elections can be held?
Perhaps Russia could offer him exile, considering Russia’s determination to avoid any intervention Libya- style. Bashar and his family could be whisked off to Moscow (or Siberia perhaps) and, unpalatable as it is, given immunity in exchange for the lives that will certainly be lost should he remain in Damascus.
The very fact that Assad is being told by his neighbours that he can no longer continue is, in this region, unprecedented. There was no such regional ganging up on Mubarak, Ben-Ali, Saleh, or Qaddafi...so hopefully Assad can be convinced that he will escape a similar plight if he gets out of the way - now.
Russia is correct that a Western solution cannot be imposed on Syria, with its complicated religious melange and minority Alawite rule over majority Sunni population. Syrians need to be the architects of their own future, but such idealism has to be balanced by the reality that each day of diplomatic stonewalling costs lives.
The majority of the Security Council has already bowed to Russian demands forbidding calls for regime change or military intervention. Russia has a duty to move from talking to action, even if ‘action’ turns out to be abstention now it has reassurance there will be no repeat of Libya.