In Paris, a rally was organized to support the Syrian people on the first anniversary of the uprising against the Assad regime.
Francois Mori, Associated Press
A FIGHTING CHANCE
"The Obama administration's policy strikes a good balance. It does not commit the United States to intervene on behalf of the Syrian opposition, nor must it lead to that. But it does give the opposition a chance to prove itself sufficiently unified and militarily capable to warrant a Libya-style intervention."
RON KREBS, associate professor of political science, University of Minnesota
Editorial: U.S. strikes balance in approach to Syria
- April 9, 2012 - 7:33 PM
Syrian President Bashar Assad's homicidal crackdown on his own people has claimed at least 9,000 lives. Thousands more have been wounded, and many others have been brutalized by Syria's Orwellian police state.
These crimes against humanity, in plain sight, have horrified the world, with strong condemnation coming from many of Syria's neighboring countries, and even a plea from Pope Benedict in his Easter message. There should be global consensus that such abuses will not stand, and that Assad has to go.
But the organ best-positioned to do so, the United Nations Security Council, has been paralyzed from advocating for more forceful action because of cynical vetoes by permanent members Russia and China.
A more modest effort did get through the Security Council, empowering international envoy Kofi Annan to act on behalf of the U.N. and the Arab League. He negotiated a cease-fire that was scheduled to start today. But the plan was met with charges of duplicity when the Syrian government broke its promise of an immediate military pullback from urban centers and instead shelled four cities.
Over the weekend Assad added new demands, including written guarantees that opposition fighters would unilaterally disarm, that are likely to sabotage the peace plan.
A parallel international effort by the "Friends of Syria," an ad hoc group led mostly by Mideast nations, is trying to change the dynamics in Syria. The United States, which risked being on the wrong side of history in previous Arab Spring uprisings, made the right call in joining the group.
The Obama administration has pledged about $25 million in humanitarian aid and has provided communication equipment to the Free Syrian Army rebel group, which has chosen to defect and fight back instead of killing fellow Syrians.
Several Arab nations have gone further, pledging about $100 million to pay opposition fighters so that they can support themselves and their families, who are often targeted by Assad. So far, however, Friends of Syria has declined to send arms.
While that may be the next step, direct military involvement is not currently on the table. Rather, this is an effort to save Syrian lives. And, reflecting the omnipresent geopolitical stakes in the conflict, it's also a strategy aimed at isolating Syria's only real regional ally, Iran.
On this point, there should be no illusions: Besides Turkey, the Sunni Arab countries in the Gulf are the driving force in the coalition, and they are in a struggle for regional hegemony with Persian Shiite Iran.
"Whatever the international community is going to do, the United States is not going to lead it," said Marina Ottaway, senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The Gulf Cooperation Council -- and to some extent, pushed by the GCC, the Arab League -- is moving toward taking a more decisive position than it has ever taken. They don't do it out of love for democracy: They are doing it out of hatred for Iran. But it's probably not a bad move."
It's also not a bad move in the effort to defuse tensions over Iran's potential nuclear weapons program, which poses an existential threat to Israel and could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Mideast.
Regardless of motive, standing up for Syrians oppressed by a ruthless regime is the right thing to do. Ideally, Russia and China will realize that it's counterproductive to prop up the thuggish regime in Damascus and will reinvigorate the U.N. Security Council process. In the meantime, continued U.S. support is critical as the opposition rebels fight for survival.
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