WASHINGTON — The once highly touted Arab Spring has become the Arab Summer — scorching hot, unbearably dry and very brutal and bloody. Last weekend, as Americans prepared to celebrate Memorial Day and commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, Bashar Assad unleashed tanks, artillery and his Quds force-trained shabiha militia to kill more than 100 Syrian civilians — most of them women and children. Though the atrocities and carnage in Syria continue, little but bluff and bluster is produced by the United Nations and the Obama administration.
In the aftermath of the May 25 massacre, 11 nations — the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and Turkey — expelled Syrian diplomats from their capitals. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — on a visit to Turkey, Syria’s neighbor and former ally — told the Alliance of Civilizations in Istanbul, “The U.N. did not deploy in Syria just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents. … We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities.”
But that’s exactly what the 300 U.N. “observers” in Syria have become in the six weeks since they were deployed in support of Kofi Annan’s so-called Syrian peace plan. Worse, the vicious Assad regime and its principal backers in Russia and Iran know that this is all hollow rhetoric. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — vying for the title of “The Most Traveled U.S. Secretary of State in History” — ought to know it, too.
In Copenhagen, on “a weeklong diplomatic trip to Europe’s capitals,” she said the Obama administration is “committed to preventing a civil war in Syria” and baldly claimed that she is “pushing” the government in Moscow to help: “I have been telling them their policy is going to help contribute to a civil war.” That kind of talk is unlikely to produce a favorable outcome in Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, no matter how many times President Barack Obama pushes the “reset button.”
After 15 months of butchery — and 13,000 dead civilians (the U.N. says it’s 10,000) — it ought to be clear to all that the U.N. can’t “prevent” a civil war in Syria; it already has started. Toothless sanctions, such as last week’s decision by the Obama administration to bar the Syria International Islamic Bank from doing business in the U.S., won’t stop the fighting. And no one, particularly the 22.5 million people living in Syria under the sanguinary Assad regime, should expect any help from Russia or Iran.
Moscow will do all in its power short of war to keep its Mediterranean naval installation at Tartus, Syria, in “friendly” hands. Tehran, striving for regional hegemony while it builds nuclear weapons, must have an ally in Damascus to keep open its supply lines for arms and materiel to Hezbollah — Iran’s proxy for what it repeatedly describes as a coming “fire that will destroy the Zionist regime.”
When asked about a U.N. resolution for military action — like the support given rebels in their effort to oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi — Clinton said, “Every day that goes by makes the argument for it stronger.” She knows better. The Russians and the Chinese would veto such action in the U.N. Security Council before it could be written.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have options. To succeed, opponents of the regime in Damascus will have to be armed, trained and equipped. The Free Syrian Army — a rebel group composed primarily of Syrian military defectors — is headquartered in Turkey. The FSA could not be there without quiet approval from the government in Ankara. Next door in Baghdad, there is deep concern about the flood of Syrians seeking refuge in northwestern Iraq. It is in the interests of both the Erdogan and al-Maliki governments — and our own — that the outcome in Syria be favorable, be friendly and respect human rights.
Seeing as our human intelligence about what’s happening on the ground inside Syria is so incredibly deficient, we don’t know which rebel groups are the “good guys” and which ones might be radical Islamists. Our friends — and we do have them in Turkey and Iraq — do know, or they could find out.
With the death toll rising daily in Syria, it’s long past time to stop the bluff and bluster about “pushing” the Russians or hoping more toothless U.N. sanctions will somehow work. What we and the long-suffering people of Syria need right now is some quiet diplomacy with our friends — and prayers that whatever we do won’t leak.