The news items I post do nothing of the kind.
Syrian plane 'carried military equipment from Russia'
(By Richard Spencer, The Telegraph, October 11, 2012)
The Syrian passenger plane forced down by Turkish fighter jets was carrying Russian arms and military equipment to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Turkey’s prime minister alleged on Thursday night.
As the row between the three countries escalated into a new diplomatic crisis, Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a fierce defence of Ankara’s decision to intercept the plane as it flew over Turkey from Moscow.
He told reporters that equipment seized from the aircraft was still being examined but that it included ammunition and other military equipment. This included military communications devices and missile parts, according to the Turkish media.
“The Russian arms exporting agency was the sender and the receiver was the Syrian Defence Ministry,” Mr Erdogan said. “The material has been confiscated and is being examined. Carrying such materials through our airspace is against international rules.”
Russia’s ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry on Thursday to have the allegations put to him in person.
Turkey’s prime minister calls Syria crisis a ‘humanitarian tragedy,’ criticizes UN
(Published October 13, 2012 | Associated Press)
Turkey's prime minister sharply criticized the U.N. Security Council on Saturday for its failure to agree on decisive steps to end the 19-month civil war in Syria.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan told an international conference in Istanbul that the world was witnessing a "humanitarian tragedy" in Syria.
"If we wait for one or two of the permanent members ... then the future of Syria will be in danger," said Erdogan, according to an official translator.
Russia and China -- two of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- have vetoed resolutions that sought to put concerted pressure on Damascus to end the conflict and agree to a political transition.
Erdogan called for a reform of the Security Council, which he called an "unequal, unfair system" that didn't represent the will of most countries.
He spoke as Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was meeting with Arab and European leaders amid growing tensions between Turkey and its southern neighbor Syria.
Davutoglu held talks early Saturday with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and was due to meet later with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and the U.N.'s envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.
On Wednesday, Turkey intercepted a Syrian passenger plane en route from Moscow to Damascus and seized what it said was military equipment on board.
Syria denounced the move as air piracy, while Russia said the cargo was radar parts that complied with international law.
Syria's state-run news agency reported Saturday that Damascus supported a proposal by Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to find a "mechanism of direct security communication between Syria and Turkey."
SANA reported that Syrian government officials and Russia's ambassador in Damascus discussed ways to establish a joint Syrian-Turkish security committee that would "control the security situation on both sides of the border in the framework of respecting the national sovereignty of the two countries."
Turkey has made no comment on the proposal, and it is unclear whether Moscow has presented it to the Turkish government yet.
The responsibility to protect (R2P or RtoP) is a United Nations initiative established in 2005. It consists of an emerging norm, or set of principles, based on the idea that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility. R2P focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, which it places under the generic umbrella term of, Mass Atrocity Crimes. The Responsibility to Protect has three "pillars".
A state has a responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities;
The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility;
If the state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.
It's Not What We Ought To Do, But What We Can Do
(By Fred Kaplan, Slate.com, Aug. 19, 2011)
If NATO is dropping bombs on Libya, why not on Syria? Aren't the two regimes equally murderous? Where do we draw the lines on these things, and why?
These are some of the questions bandied about in the latest round of the great debate over what some call "humanitarian intervention." The U.N. agencies sanitized the term not long ago as "R2P," for the "responsibility to protect."*From a different angle, the editors of n+1 decried the whole concept, in an article excerpted in Slate, as "A Solution From Hell" (a savage play on Samantha Power's book, A Problem From Hell, which shamed many liberals into reassessing genocide as a major problem of international relations and foreign policy as an essentially moral undertaking).
To the n+1 authors, there has never been "a truly successful, truly humanitarian humanitarian intervention," not even NATO's action in Bosnia (the one instance that most skeptics concede was worthwhile) because, "while it stopped Milosevic and ensured the safety of Kosovo," the country itself is not yet "a viable state."
This is a dishonest argument in two ways. First, the authors implicitly exempt from their no-successes assessment those interventions that were not "truly humanitarian humanitarian" (their italics), which is to say, presumably, interventions that had political as well as moral motives. But it would be hard to find any interventions, successful or otherwise, for which the motives were entirely "pure." Second, by judging Bosnia a failure because it hasn't yet produced "a viable state," the authors are switching their criteria; suddenly politics are primary, and humanitarian results ("while it stopped Milosevic and ensured the safety of Kosovo") are irrelevant.
My guess (I don't know them, or even who they are, so I can't say for sure) is that the authors' main gripe is ideological. The giveaway comes in this sentence: "Wars waged by the U.S. are inevitably imperialist." (Italics added.) If that's the premise, the rest is Q.E.D.
But all the arguments on nearly all sides of the debate—including the implicit arguments in the questions that I recite in this column's first paragraph—fail to grasp the real point, which is that, while the discussion's premise (that a nation might consider intervening in the affairs of a sovereign state to relieve human suffering) is moral on its face, the issue at hand (what do we do about it?) is not.
The most thorough examination of the subject that I've read in a while is a new book by Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus called Can Intervention Work?, and the way they put it is this:
It is not a question of what we ought to do but what we can: of understanding the limits of Western institutions in the 21st century and of giving credible account to the specific context of a particular intervention.
They accept the basic notion that intervention is sometimes justified. But, they warn, there are inherent limits to what this sort of intervention can accomplish, and—as Stewart puts it in his half of the two-part book—"you don't have a moral obligation to do what you cannot do."
Stewart likens the advice he'd give humanitarian interventionists to the advice routinely given to mountain-climbing rescue societies. "Mountains," he writes, "are intrinsically risky and dangerous; they can defeat and kill even the best; therefore, if you can avoid climbing, do." And if you decide to climb on rescue missions anyway, "be prepared to turn back if conditions turn against you," for (to apply the metaphor to the issue at hand) "in interventions, as in a mountain rescue, the moral right and duty to protect lives does not require futile or destructive adventures."
And so, to return to the question about Libya and Syria: This may sound awfully cold, but we're bombing Libya because we can and because it might have good effects; and we're not bombing Syria because we can't, and it almost certainly won't.
Libya is, in fact, the most straightforward case for "R2P" action that's come along in years, maybe decades. (The widespread claim, repeated in n+1, that Samantha Power, now a member of the National Security Council, persuaded President Obama to intervene is overstated.) Muammar Qaddafi was crushing a popular resistance; he said publicly that he would soon send his hired thugs door-to-door to exterminate the protesters, tens of thousands of them, like "rats." He had the power, and seemingly the will, to make good on his promise. So the Arab League unanimously passed a resolution (a nearly unprecedented event in itself), pleading for the international community to take action. The U.N. Security Council followed with a similar resolution, which neither Russia nor China vetoed. If the Western leaders hadn't responded under these circumstances, they may as well have announced that "humanitarian intervention" as a concept was dead.
Taking action was also a good idea from a realpolitik angle. The controversy unfolded in the wake of the Arab Spring; it was in our interest for the United States and NATO to appear on the side of a popular uprising against a quasi-allied dictator (and Libya's was about as quasi an ally as could be imagined).
While many criticized Obama and NATO for doing too little, too late, I suspect that, in the end (which now seems imminent), the effort will seem about right: assisting the rebels with air support (and probably more "training and equipping" by special-operations forces than is acknowledged) but not taking the lead—and, therefore, not getting lassoed with responsibility for determining, or fully funding, the new Libyan order afterward.
It's an approach that the authors of Can Intervention Work? probably appreciate. Stewart, to the extent he supports intervention at all, advocates an approach he calls "passionate moderation," while Knaus calls his attitude "principled incrementalism."
Stewart is a well-known author, and currently a member of the British Parliament, who was once more enthusiastic about these sorts of ventures, until he saw intentions run awry and good sense run aground in Iraq. (Until recently, he also ran an NGO in Afghanistan.) Knaus, Stewart's colleague when they both recently taught at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, spent many years working with human-rights groups in the Balkans.
Stewart's half of the book is about why intervention in Afghanistan is failing, Knaus' half is about why intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo succeeded.
Both authors believe that, while there are some "crises that 'the International Community' cannot address," there are others that it can, and in those instances, there are some well-worn guidelines to follow—the main one being: There are no universal guidelines. Taking another useful metaphor from mountain rescue, it's best to learn the environment, be honest about your capabilities, and trust an experienced guide.
The main problem in Afghanistan, to Stewart, was precisely the international community's tendency to apply abstract concepts—like "governance," "stable state," and "rule of law"—to a country where they had no resonance and where the members of the international community possessed little or no knowledge of the languages, the culture, or the traditional social structures. He notes, for instance, that a 2004 document titled Securing Afghanistan's Future, written with the assistance of 100 international experts, and containing 137 pages, with 69 tables and charts, does not include any of the following words: Pashtun, Tajik, Islam, Shiite, jihad, Northern Alliance,or insurgency.
Both authors leave occasional holes in their arguments. Stewart, for instance, writes that, a few years ago, he actively opposed increasing U.S. troops, advocating instead a "light long-term footprint," mainly of aid workers, but he doesn't explain how he would have supplied them with security. Knaus, in examining various theories on why Bosnia worked, dismisses but never really refutes those that give much credit to the preponderance of U.S. military strength.
Still, this is a valuable work, at once skeptical but not hopeless, and certainly not deterministic, about the prospects of a moral element in foreign-military policy.
In the end, Knaus responds to the question of what works and what doesn't in this way:
The answer from the last two decades is that where we believe that any price is worth paying, and that failure is not an option, we are likely to fail. Where we tread carefully, and fear the consequences of our mistake, there is a chance.
Human Rights Watch: Syria using cluster bombs
(By JAMAL HALABY, The Associated Press, October 14, 2012)
Syrian government forces appear to have recently made use of cluster bombs, weapons banned by most countries because of the danger they pose to civilians, a New York-based rights watchdog said Sunday.
Human Rights Watch said in a report that Syrian activists posted at least 18 videos on Oct. 9-12 showing remnants of the bombs in or near several towns, which included the central city of Homs, the northern cities of Idlib and Aleppo, the countryside in Latakia, and the Eastern Ghouta district near the capital Damascus. Many were on a north-south highway that has been the scene of fighting in recent days.
Cluster bombs are of particular concern because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. Many bomblets do not immediately explode, posing a threat to civilians for long afterward.
Human Rights Watch said the munitions in the video were Soviet-made. Before its collapse, the Soviet Union was a major arms supplier to Syria.
It is nearly impossible to independently verify such reports in Syria, where journalists' movement is restricted and the government keeps a tight-lid on news related to the revolt, which it blames on a foreign conspiracy.
"Syria's disregard for its civilian population is all too evident in its air campaign, which now apparently includes dropping these deadly cluster bombs into populated areas," said Steve Goose, the group's arms director.
He said cluster bombs "have been comprehensively banned by most nations, and Syria should immediately stop all use of these indiscriminate weapons that continue to kill and maim for years."
The report said the cluster bomb canisters and submunitions displayed in the videos "all show damage and wear patterns produced by being mounted on and dropped from an aircraft." Some residents confirmed in interviews that helicopters dropped cluster bombs near their homes on October 9, the group said.
The group did not have information if the munitions had caused any casualties.
Human Rights Watch "is deeply concerned by the risks posed by the unexploded submunitions to the civilian population, as men and even children can be seen in the videos handling the unexploded submunitions in life-threatening ways," according to the report.
HRW said it had confirmed that the fragments shown in the videos were RBK-250 series cluster bomb canisters and AO-1SCh fragmentation bomblets.
The military publisher Jane's Information Group lists Syria as possessing Soviet-made RBK-250 cluster bombs, the report said. It said there was no information available on Syria's acquisition of the weapons.
Human Rights Watch had previously reported cluster bomb remnants found in Homs and nearby Hama this summer.
More than 32,000 people have been killed in Syria since a revolt against President Bashar Assad erupted 19 months ago. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the fighting between the rebels and the army, which has been using missiles, tanks and warplanes in strikes that devastated whole neighborhoods.
EU Foreign Ministers OK Syria Sanctions
(Radio Free Europe, October 15, 2012)
European Union foreign ministers have imposed new sanctions against the Syrian regime, agreeing to an assets freeze and travel ban on 28 Syrian individuals and two firms.
This is the 19th round of EU sanctions against the regime in Damascus since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. It brings to 181 the number of people and to 54 the number of companies blacklisted by the EU.
The measures target individuals linked to violence against protesters and companies involved in supplying equipment used for repression by the regime.
Syria and the battle for regional control
(David Hearst, The Guardian, October 16, 2012)
Two years on, they are still haggling over the name. An Arab spring? Springs are seasonal, and tumultuous though transitional government is, what they have in Egypt and Tunisia is a long way away from an Arab winter. If the wave of revolt sweeping across the postcolonial borders of the Arab world looks as irreversible as the one that brought down the Soviet empire, revolution does not fit the bill either.
Revolutions topple monarchs. This one has gone through republican dictators like a dose of salts but has yet to have the same effect on the royal families of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, although of course the royal households are rightly petrified that it still will. How about the Arab awakening? Few words can do justice to the street battles of Syria, where 150 to 200 people, most of them civilians, die each day, but awakening is not one of them. This needs a label as brutal and as clinical as the daily trade of aerial bombardment and suicide bombings. An ethno-sectarian conflict?
Words matter. Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tore into the UN, and by implication Russia, which wields the veto at the security council, for not intervening in Syria at a conference in Istanbul on Saturday. In Bosnia, he said, the UN claimed it did not know what was going on, but in Syria they lack even this fig leaf.
However, the same conference, the Istanbul World Forum, heard that if Syria follows the trajectory of other ethnic conflicts, Erdogan may be right to keep the rhetoric high, and the military response low. Turkey's response to a series of border skirmishes with the Syrian army has been muted – at least by the standards of the Turkish army.
Steven Heydemann of the US Institute for Peace rattled off some stylised facts about ethno-sectarian conflicts: they last on average between four and four-and-a-half years; foreign intervention extends the life of a civil war by 156%. Where the conflict ends by one side winning militarily, the average number of deaths is 133,000, as opposed to 86,000 if the conflict is concluded by negotiation. Most of the countries that have gone through civil war relapse into violence. And a transition to democracy is least likely to be final.
The conclusion is bleak. If Syria follows this path, the 33,000 deaths it has so far caused may just be the start of what is to come. Heydemann's logic isn't necessarily anti-intervention. If you look at the 70% of the Syrian countryside that is liberated from government control, the transition from dictatorship to democracy is already happening and the longer this conflict goes on, he argues, the more pressure Obama will come under to protect this part of the Syrian population which is vulnerable from the air.
What emerges loud and clear from Istanbul is that toppling Assad is not the problem. With the right weapons, it could be over in two months. It's the makeup and allegiance of the post-Assad government that Syria's regional neighbours are really fighting for. The proxy war being waged in Syria is a battle not for Syrians, but for regional control. The Iran government tells their Turkish counterparts every time they meet that they hate what Assad is doing to his people, but the bottom line is that Iran wants access to and influence over the government that replaces it.
For Assad's other backer, Vladimir Putin, Syria is a rerun of Chechnya pure and simple. Putin has a strong stomach for civilian deaths. Over 200,000 are thought to have died in Russia's brutal suppression of that conflict (which still rumbles on in Dagestan and Ingushetia), but he is petrified of how a victory of Sunni Islamic militants in Syria could radicalise southern Russia's soft Muslim underbelly.
Putin may or may not be right to say that we don't know who the opposition in Syria really is. But the bottom line is, it's Russia he is thinking of, not his country's plummeting reputation in a reshaped Arab world.
Russia's support for a dying regime bemuses senior Turkish officials."What is Russia afraid of losing in Assad?" one of them asked. But in downing a Syrian plane full of Russian military parts – they were communication components for the air defence system Russia has supplied Assad with – Erdogan is playing a game of chicken with Putin. Each knows that their own set of bilateral interests in the Caucasus is too important to sacrifice on the altar of Syria.
As for the other side, the Saudis are past masters at using other countries to fight their war with Iran for them. Syria is little different to Iraq in this respect. For Turkey, which tried for six months to use its soft power to persuade Assad to reform, the Syrian conflict presents a series of hard power challenges. It allows ammunition over its Syrian border, but not heavy weapons. Enough to keep the insurgents in business, but not enough for victory. It will not do anything unilaterally, particularly as there is little appetite for intervention at home. Quite the opposite. And it too wants to keep a line to Iran open.
The last word should have gone to the Syrian opposition, except that not one but two organisations turned up to the conference in Istanbul. Abdulbaset Sieda, president of the Syrian National Council sat alongside Abdulhakim Bashar, secretary general of the Kurdish National Council, whose organisation still refuses to come under the SNC umbrella. Sieda presented Syria as a multi-ethnic haven until the Ba'athists seized power 50 years ago. He spoke of the need for a national dialogue, of a written contract guaranteeing the rights of every Syrian regardless of creed. He was fulsome about the Kurds, and less than convincing about everything. Bashar, who is holding firm to a federalist future for Syria, said that toppling the regime was less of a problem than what would replace it. He may be right.
Up to 28,000 Syrians have 'disappeared' since uprising began
(Luke Harding, The Guardian, 18 October 2012)
Up to 28,000 Syrians have disappeared over the past 19 months, with civilians snatched from the streets or forcibly abducted by government troops or security forces, human rights groups say.
Relatives had been unable to discover the fate of their loved ones. Many of those abducted were almost certainly dead, while others were alive and being held in Syrian prisons or secret detention centres where they were tortured, the groups claimed.
Since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, government forces had "disappeared" peaceful protesters on an unprecedented scale, the groups said. Some campaigners have estimated the number of those who have vanished could be as high as 80,000.
A harrowing film released on Thursday by the global campaign network Avaaz shows disturbing footage of forced disappearances. In one incident, three soldiers grab two women dressed in black abayas walking down a street. They hit them and drag them away. In another, soldiers abduct a Syrian man, yanking him by the hair past a tank.
Alice Jay, Avaaz's campaign director, said: "Syrians are being plucked off the street by Syrian security forces and paramilitaries and being 'disappeared' into torture cells. Whether it is women buying groceries or farmers going for fuel, nobody is safe.
"This is a deliberate strategy to terrorise families and communities – the panic of not knowing whether your husband or child is alive breeds such fear that it silences dissent. The fate of each and every one of these people must be investigated and the perpetrators punished."
Victims were not members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is fighting government forces on numerous fronts. Instead, they were civilians or peaceful protesters whom the authorities suspected of sympathising with the opposition. Some were abducted from their homes after midnight, others seized at military checkpoints. None were seen again.
Fadel Abdulghani, of the Syrian Network for Human Rights which has been monitoring the death toll in Syria since the protests began, said the group had collected 18,000 names of people who had disappeared. It had information but no names for 10,000 more cases, as the families had been too afraid to share them, it said.
Muhammad Khalil, a human rights lawyer from the city of Hasaka in north-eastern Syria, said: "While there is no precise figure, thousands of people have disappeared since March last year. The regime is doing this for two reasons: to directly get rid of the rebels and activists, and to intimidate the society so that it won't oppose the regime."
Avaaz said it had spoken to numerous friends and relatives of people who had been forcibly disappeared. It said it would hand over these cases to the UN human rights council, which investigates such abuses. Forced disappearances are a crime against humanity and can be tried in the international criminal court.
Many people talk about the uncertainty of not knowing their relatives' fate. Mais, whose husband Anas was forcibly disappeared in Talkalakh in February this year, said: "The children need a father in their lives. It has been difficult to adapt. I have had a very hard time explaining his absence. They always ask me: 'Where is Dad? Who took him?' And I don't know how to respond. I have to lie to them. I tell them he is at work, that he is OK."
Others describe how their loved ones went missing. Ahmad Ghassan Ibrahim, 26, from the village of Qala'at al-Hosn, near Homs, vanished on 27 February. His mother, Fayzeh al-Masri, said: "My son drove his car from Qala'at al-Hosn to the city of Talkalakh. It was then when we lost contact with him. He called his aunt at 10.30pm from a number other than his …We later found out that the number Ahmad called us from belongs to the military security branch in Homs. We asked almost every security branch about him, to no avail.
"A month and a half ago we called his cellphone and someone answered, saying that Ahmad was killed by a regime sniper and buried in Rastan, but we were not able to confirm this information. We have been seriously concerned for six months. We are certain that he would not have left us or his wife, who is expecting twins. We only want to know his fate."
The tactic of forced disappearances is not new. Assad's father, Hafez, carried out a bloody crackdown between 1979 and 1982 – about 7,000 of those victims are still missing. During the "dirty war" in Argentina from 1977-83, it is estimated that as many as 30,000 people disappeared under the ruling military junta. Throughout the Algerian civil war from 1992-97, it is claimed as many as 17,000 people were forcibly disappeared.
The U.S. election and the price of sitting out Syria
(By Christiane Amanpour, CNN & ABC, October 17, 2012)
For the last 19 months Syria has fallen deeper and deeper into civil war. What started in March 2011 as another offshoot of the Arab Spring, the demand for freedom and reform, was met so brutally that ordinary Syrians decided that Assad had to go.
Left to fester, with the United Nations deadlocked over how to end the fighting, the death toll has reached 29,000 according to the Syrian opposition, and the most horrific massacres of women, children and old men have taken place. Extremists and foreign jihadists are joining the battle. With 1.2 million people displaced, the approaching winter poses as much of a threat as the relentless violence.
As worrisome as this is, recent history has shown us that when people are battling for survival, they end up taking help wherever it’s offered. When I covered the 1990s genocide in Bosnia, the people pleaded for years for the West to help. They did not. Instead the U.N. imposed a similar arms embargo that only ensured the superiority of the better-armed. So all sorts of foreign Mujaheddin came in. The parallels are eerily similar in Syria.
Will whoever wins the U.S. election make any changes to this policy of ‘Sitting Out Syria?’
Up until now, President Obama has said that his administration will only provide the Syrian opposition with non-lethal support. The Administration says it doesn't want to add fuel to the raging Syrian fire.
But all these months later, the decision to sit on the sidelines is causing unwanted blowback. The wrong fighters are getting even those small arms that are being sent by Arab countries, the New York Times now reports. It also reported that the United States has asked Arab partners not to provide the heavy anti-tank weapons, nor the missiles the rebels need to down Assad’s attack jets and helicopters.
My reporting and interviews with world leaders leads me to the conclusion that the United States never intended to get involved, with or without Russian or Chinese agreement at the U.N.. After all, this is a U.S. election year and President Obama is focused on ending wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, not getting into a new one in Syria.
But the policy of providing non-lethal aid, such as communications equipment, training and humanitarian aid, is not working.
Without U.S. leadership, other leaders in the region say they cannot take the lead. The prime ministers of Turkey and Qatar both told me they would have helped with much stronger action, such as safe areas for the Syrian opposition and a no-fly zone for the Syrian military, if the United States were on board.
Governor Mitt Romney’s position came into slightly sharper focus during his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute on October 8.
Were he president, Romney says, he would “work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.”
This goes further than what the Obama administration has said, by ensuring a whole new weapons pipeline would open at least to parts of the Syrian opposition.
When it comes to Syria policy there is a difference between Romney and Obama.
Romney has openly said in a speech what Obama hasn’t said: The rebels should be armed with heavy weapons, to defeat the Assad regime.
Again, Romney’s statement was short on specifics, and like President Obama, Governor Romney is not talking about U.S. or NATO airstrikes, nor a no-fly zone, nor a safe area to be carved out in Syria. And neither the President nor Governor Romney has ever talked about putting boots on the ground there.
However other Republicans have taken a stronger position. Senator John McCain has repeatedly said he wants Washington to arm the Syrian rebels and make a safe zone inside the country. McCain has even gone as far as saying there should be airstrikes. Just this week he, Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Lindsay Graham renewed their calls to arm Syria's rebels.
The only question now is whether there will really be a change in the U.S. position after this election.
The nightmare scenario is unfolding: The festering civil war is drawing in all the worst elements, which are not friendly to the West and likely not friendly to the idea of democracy either.
The war is now spreading outside Syria’s borders with fire and counter-fire between Syria and neighboring Turkey.
And hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are straining the capacity of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.
Sitting out this war, experts say, could leave the U.S. without allies in Syria when Assad falls, unable to shape the future, and facing a generation that will grow up embittered by the fact that in the Syrian people’s direst hour, the United States sat back and watched the slaughter.
Syria: Another Fine Mess
(Joseph Blady, Opinion Essay, HuffingtonPost.com, October 19, 2012)
The current issue of The Economist again, as it has in the past, urges the United States to get over its war-weariness and intercede in Syria's horrendous civil war. Other than the fact that war-weariness isn't something you get over like a cold, there remain reasons for staying out of the Middle East's premier conflagration du jour. In favor of involvement is the casualty list that has passed 30,000.
The Assad government has certainly lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the world, but it is literally fighting for its life. The Shiite Alawites, the minority that runs Syria, have been told in no uncertain terms that they face mass executions when the Sunnis get control. This leaves little room for the government moderating its military actions, and the chemical weapons that cast a pall over the proceedings will become an ever-greater temptation. So what should we do?
Arming the rebels is a hit-and-miss proposition. We continue to have no surety about who we'd be dealing with. One thing that's become clear is that there are ever more foreign fighters joining the rebels, and this never bodes well for our interests. We've had enough experience arming friends-turned-enemies to know that we can't be cavalier about this. The future targets may not even be our people, but could be Israelis, Turks, Lebanese of various flavors, or Saudis, to name a few. Since the amount of munitions we'd have to supply to make a difference could haunt us in the future, it might be prudent not to hand them over.
The measure considered to be "the least we can do," enforcing a no-fly zone, isn't that minor an affair. It would require neutralizing an anti-aircraft defense honed against the Israeli air force, an adequate surrogate for preparing against a NATO or U.S. air campaign. Maybe we crush them quickly, but maybe we don't. Air operations are expensive, lost aircraft more so, and bailing pilots might well land in the wrong place. We might also kill a few Russian technicians. This cannot be undertaken lightly.
Fortunately, even the most hawkish members of our government are not suggesting we send troops, other than their involvement in helping to deliver humanitarian aid. This could be done in areas on the Syria-Turkey border that are away from the fighting, but should be carefully prosecuted to avoid the impression that our people are doing any more than that.
These are the easier aspects of the problem. The tough stuff has to do with the religious and geo-political implications of anything that goes on in the region, as we are amply aware. We also have history against us. We feel we did well by getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but do we know as yet what we left behind? Iraq is still a mess, and many of our Foreign Service officers indicate a definite sense of unease that comes with the realization that sectarian difficulties have by no means been resolved. Afghanistan requires no description.
Changes in Syria are likely to set off a chain reaction of some sort. Israel would be concerned about the uncertain attitudes of a new government. A Sunni takeover would make Hezbollah nervous and Lebanon messier in general. The Kurds of Syria would be free to make common cause with those of Iraq, Turkey and Iran, possibly resulting in a renewed quest for a Kurdistan that would try to keep possession of the oil wells in northern Iraq. Iran, in its quest for regional hegemony, would become more nervous through its loss of an ally. All of these possibilities would have implications for Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
We have historically demonstrated how difficult it is to divine how such scenarios will play out, and there is no likelihood of greater success this time around. The ideal solution for Syria, however unlikely, would be a brokered settlement that would allow Assad and his people to transition out with whatever booty they can carry. This still would leave a Syria with an uncertain future and a leadership of mysterious leanings, but it would, at least, allow for a shot at a more gradual regional adjustment to the new landscape. If we're to get involved, this is where our efforts should lie. Let's leave this one to the diplomats, and give our armed forces a pass for a change.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, defended the NATO intervention in Kosovo stating: “This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values…
Turkey calls on major powers to intervene in Syria
(Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, 19 October 2012)
Turkey has called on the US, Britain and other leading countries to take immediate action to intervene in Syria to prevent a looming humanitarian "disaster" that it says threatens the lives of millions of internally displaced people and refugees as winter approaches and could soon ignite a region-wide conflagration.
Appealing to the major powers to set aside their differences over how to end the 20-month-old civil war in which an estimated 32,000 people have died, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said the crisis had gone on for long enough. The Syrian people were crying out for help and their pleas could no longer be ignored.
"How long can this situation continue? I mean in Bosnia, now we have Ban Ki-moon [the UN secretary general] apologising 20 years after. Who will apologise for Syria in 20 years' time? How can we stay idle?" Davutoglu told the Guardian in an exclusive interview in Istanbul.
"We [Turkey] are doing all we can to help these people, using all diplomatic capacity to stop this bloodshed. But there should be a much more concerted effort by the international community. The best way we can see now is direct humanitarian intervention."
The call came as the UN's peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, travelled to Damascus for crucial talks with the regime due to be held on Saturday – the latest bid, after several failed international initiatives, to bring a halt to the killing. Brahimi is expected to propose a temporary truce, beginning on 26 October, the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday, in the hope that it may lead to a permanent ceasefire.
Davutoglu stressed any new initiative must be backed by the UN security council. If it established a mechanism to guarantee international humanitarian assistance inside Syria, Turkey would support it and would allow its soil to be used as a base. But Turkey would not act alone or without UN authorisation, he said.
Alluding to the Obama administration, which has been criticised by Republicans for a weak response, as well as to Britain and other countries, Davutoglu said: "We expect the leading powers of the international community to be more firm, more decisive and clear in their policy regarding oppression in Syria."
Davutoglu said Turkey was not seeking military confrontation with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. But the international community must send a "stark warning", via the UN security council, that some of Damascus's actions constituted a "war crime", he said. Turkey wanted the immediate creation of a transitional government, leading to democratic elections. If Assad wanted to avoid facing war crimes charges in The Hague, he should stop killing his own people.
While Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, has called for Assad to step down, Davutoglu said it was ultimately a matter for the Syrian people.
"It is not our business, it is for them to decide. But after such a criminal act, such oppression and aggression, more than 30,000 people have been killed, we don't know how many are lost, millions are IDPs, and maybe more than 500,000 are refugees, how can such a person [Assad] who is responsible for these statistics continue to run a country?"
With Brahimi due in Damascus, Davutoglu said Turkey would support a meaningful peace process in Syria but its end objective must be a transfer of power.
The biggest problem for any talks process was that Assad could not be trusted to keep his word, Davutoglu said. Turkey has suggested that Faruk al-Shara, Syria's vice-president, might lead any transition negotiations. This idea was predictably rejected by Damascus, and by its main regional ally, Iran.
"We don't see a serious counterpart in Damascus for such talks who is powerful or strong enough to fulfil commitments … Last year myself personally and other senior state officials went to Damascus to convince the regime to halt the violence against civilians. But unfortunately they did not fulfil their promises.
"What is the purpose of any dialogue if it legitimises the Syrian regime? If they are sincere, there are channels to have a dialogue, UN special envoy Brahimi and many other channels. If they come to us with a proposal to end the bloodshed and allow the people to decide their own future, then there will always be a channel."
Davutoglu said he was hopeful that Russia, wary of another Libyan-style, regime-changing Nato operation, might be persuaded to soften its anti-interventionist stance, once the scale of the impending humanitarian crisis became clear.
"I have contact with [Sergei] Lavrov [Russia's foreign minister]. They have their own approach especially after the Libyan experience, but even if there was a mistake or something wrong in Libya and I don't think that there was, why should Syrian people pay the price?"
Asked about US concerns that hardline jihadi groups were hijacking Syria's uprising, Davutoglu said that possibility made a swift solution all the more urgent.
"The presence of some groups on the ground should not be used as an excuse for not being active. Prolonging the crisis will create a much more critical environment concerning these groups. We must have a solution and act as soon as possible to avoid a power vacuum in Syria.
"We must immediately establish a transitional government and let the Syrian people see a light at the end of the tunnel. At present they do not see light at the end of the tunnel. In the surrounding darkness, anyone can do anything."
Turkey has called on the US, Britain and other leading countries to take immediate action to intervene in Syria to prevent a looming humanitarian "disaster" ...