How Trump’s tweets affect relations with Iran

by Claude Salhani

– US President Donald Trump is undermin­ing his administra­tion by shooting from the hip with contradictory and often deceitful and misleading postings on Twitter. This very unpresidential behaviour will weigh against him in any nego­tiations he may have with foreign leaders, especially those mis­trustful of the United States for what they perceive to be biased policies.

The Trump administration’s modus operandi has been to deflect one potential crisis by creating another in the hope that the media’s — and therefore the public’s — focus will shift from a potentially embarrassing outcome created by the fallout of the first crisis. The primary tool of choice has been the US president’s Twit­ter account, which has caused his presidency immense damage.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow described Trump as “dangerous and unpredictable, gauche and greedy, temperamen­tally unsuited and emotionally unsound”. His Twitter episodes, Blow said, “make him look not only foolish but unhinged”. “Pres­idential credibility is American credibility,” Blow wrote.

From January 20th to date, Trump’s tweets have time and again sent his White House staff members scrambling to defuse one live wire after another.

During these weeks, the periodical barrage of tweets has harmed the president’s office, damaging its prestige and cred­ibility. Trump’s tweets have hurt the standing of the United States, probably more than all the accusa­tions thrown at it by the regime in Tehran.

When the media kept pressuring the Trump administration to dis­close information about potential Russian involvement in his presi­dential campaign, Trump came up with the ludicrous allegations that former president Barack Obama had him wiretapped.

US Representative Adam Schiff, D-California, who receives top intelligence briefings in his role as ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, expressed particular concern that Trump’s mischarac­terisation or fabrication of classi­fied information might affect the Iran nuclear deal.

One week after Trump put out his accusatory tweets alleging that the former president had illegally wiretapped his phones inside the Trump Tower in New York, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to downplay Trump’s dia­tribe by saying the president had used the word wiretap in quota­tions and did not mean he thought Obama personally wiretapped him

Trump is coming under pressure from close advisers in the White House to get tougher on Iran, as tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic reached new heights and face ad­ditional stumbling blocks.

Several unrelated incidents have contributed to rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. During the first week of March, Is­lamic Revolutionary Guards Corps naval units hampered a US vessel sailing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Observers see the move as Iran’s testing Trump to see what it can get away with.

Many within the administration want to see the nuclear deal be­tween Iran and the United States and other world powers renegoti­ated. They are not alone in not trusting the Islamic Republic.

Besides imposing sanctions, however, US options are limited. Sanctions imposed by the United States in the past have achieved only limited success, given the ease with which Iran can import without hassle from Dubai, just across a narrow waterway, as it has been doing for centuries.

Perhaps Trump would rather get into a tweeting feud with Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has apparently revived his Twitter account.

 

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Why Bashar Assad survives the Syrian deluge

by Claude Salhani –

Logic, if it applied in this war, would dictate that by now — six long and murderous years into the conflict — Syrian President Bashar Assad should carry the blame for the sectarian violence that has placed his country on the brink of destruction. In any other context, in any other country, he would have been removed from power and brought to stand trial.

However, in Syria, particularly in time of war, there is another type of logic that prevails. As with almost every other aspect of daily life in the region, do not always seek explanations in which one would naturally look. In the Levant, as in other parts of the Middle East, answers may be found in the country’s tribes or in traditions.

In Syria, it is the logic of sectarianism, political schisms and the deep-rooted hatred dividing the various religious communities that guides everyday political decisions and what may pass for logic. It is largely thanks to those guidelines of tribal survival that Assad is still in power despite half the country and most civilised democracies calling for his resignation.

Why has Assad managed to remain in power?

To better understand what keeps Assad so solidly in command when a large portion of his people, most of his neighbours and much of the Western world vie for his demise, one should visualise an inverted pyramid.

Imagine an upside-down pyramid with Assad at the bottom, in a sort of Herculean manner, struggling like Atlas to keep the rest of the infrastructure sturdily on his shoulders and intact. Remove Assad and the structure crumbles.

Right above the president there is the extended family: Mother, brothers and sisters along with their spouses and children. On the next tier one can find cousins, uncles and in-laws. Above them are the top party officials and the senior military personnel. Interjected among all the above is a scattering of loyal bodyguards and their close families.

Remove any of those rows of people and the ones above them crumble and crash. Do not forget that above those mentioned there are hundreds of rank and file who belong here simply because they happened to be born into a particular religious sect. Aside from the political and religious affiliations, many of those within the inner circle are connected through lucrative business deals.

This is a very similar infrastructure to the one that existed in Iraq during the time of Saddam Hussein. It was precisely what frigh tened former US president George H.W. Bush and his team and kept the United States from taking drastic action in the period between the two Gulf wars.

Assad’s position is comparable in many ways to that of Saddam when he ordered his army to invade Kuwait.

There are also fundamental differences between the ruling Ba’ath Party in Iraq prior to the US invasion and subsequent occupation and the ruling Ba’ath Party in Syria, not least of which is Iran’s position in the conflict. Iran plays a major role in the region’s politics.

In the war in Iraq, the Iranians supported the opposition to the regime. In the Syrian war, the Iranians are backing the regime.

Another similarity between the Gulf wars and what is going on in Syria today is the important role being played by the Kurds. They were a major contender in the fight to bring down Saddam and the Kurds remain a power to be reckoned with in the fight to bring down Assad. Suffice to say that, this time around, the Kurds may be somewhat closer to attaining their long aspiration of an independent homeland.

However, as history has a habit of repeating itself…

Saddam was eventually deposed, so why is removing Assad from power so difficult and so complex? Three good reasons: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Once, not too long ago, sidelined from Middle East politics, Russia under President Vladimir Putin finds itself again practically at the level of influence previously enjoyed by the Soviet Union, if not actually even more so.

With these new developments in Syria, the United States will find it can no longer act unilaterally. Another major difference is that Assad was able to call on Iran and on Hezbollah militiamen from next-door Lebanon, whereas Saddam had no friends left.


Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

 

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Much more than brute military force needed to defeat ISIS


By Claude Salhani

US President Donald Trump has reiter­ated his intent to go after the Islamic State (ISIS) and eradicate the jihadi terror organisation, which has taken over large regions of Iraq and Syria and claimed responsi­bility for many vicious attacks in the West.

“We defended the borders of other nations while ignoring our own,” Trump said February 28th in opening remarks to a joint ses­sion of the US Congress. “We will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and keep those out who will do us harm.”

To that end — at least in part — the US president said he would increase by $54 billion the budget devoted to the US Defense Depart­ment. This would be the largest increase in military spending in the country’s history.

However, anyone vaguely famil­iar with the issue at hand knows that much more than pure military force and oodles of dollars are needed to defeat ISIS, or, as Trump calls it, “radical Islamic terrorism” — a phrase his national security adviser H.R. McMaster suggested the president not use.

For the United States, the bad news is that the funds that are go­ing to be allocated to the Pentagon mean cuts in other government ex­penses. As Trump won’t likely pro­pose raising taxes, this means that the added funds for the military will come from other areas, such as education, public broadcasting, the arts and, very possibly, the US State Department.

This comes at a time when the United States needs to bolster its diplomacy rather than flex its military muscle. Trump is reported to have received proposals from the Pentagon regarding ISIS.

If the United States launches an all-out war to finish ISIS to “remove this vile evil from the planet”, as Trump said, a US-led alliance will need to destroy ISIS not only mili­tarily but also tackle its ideology. Washington will need an experi­enced corps of diplomats — special­ists in their regions — because the fight against ISIS will require astute tacticians to work behind the scenes in the corridors of power.

For the war against ISIS to be successful, the United States and its allies must have an iron-clad plan. The United States will need to establish a sort of Marshall Plan and not to leave a void that would benefit those who wish to see America fail.

The war to eradicate ISIS cannot be fought on the military front alone. The United States must consider the effects a full attack will have in the Arab world and particularly on the youth in cities where many are idle due to lack of jobs, making them easy recruit­ment targets for the jihadists.

Both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush understood the need to have a firm coalition lined up before going into battle against Saddam Hussein. Despite the United States’ far superior military force, with troops better-trained, better-equipped and having ac­cess to better intelligence, they made great efforts to recruit Arab countries into coalitions to fight Saddam.

Trump needs to plan carefully and strategically for the post-combat phase of the operation. The errors committed in Iraq during the first few days of the US occupation must not be repeated in the battle to defeat ISIS. This offensive needs to happen in coordination with friendly governments in the region and the United States should have a plan that can be immediately im­plemented in areas liberated from the jihadists.

While the United States will play a central role, it must not appear as though the mission was entirely developed in Washington. The challenge is identifying which countries or groups have their own agendas. For example, while Kurdish forces should be part of the US-led alliance as they have had success fighting ISIS, getting them and Turkey on the same side will be a challenge.

So, too, will convincing predomi­nantly Sunni Arab countries to stop their support of jihadist groups because they see those groups as natural allies against rising Shia in­fluences in the region. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be the battle to change the education system in countries where the curriculum includes teaching the children how to hate.

 

 

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War on ISIS more complicated than Trump says

By Claude Salhani

One of the promises made by Donald Trump on the cam­paign trail last year was that one of his priorities would be “the total destruction of ISIS”.

Trump has repeated this pledge several times since tak­ing office and has asked the Pentagon to provide him with options on how to deal with the jihadist threat. They are limited and none of them are really good for the United States. Among those possibilities is arming the Kurds or putting US troops on the ground.

The United States has been arming and advising the Kurds for a while now, though that is not without potential negative backlash.

So complex is the situation in Syria that each solution comes packaged in more problems. If you manage to solve one problem, you get four or five more that pop up in its place. For example, arming the Kurd­ish militias could have serious repercussions from one of Wash­ington’s principal allies in the region, Turkey.

The Kurds deserve all the help they can get. They have been at the forefront of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS). However, arming them would irritate the Turks, important US and NATO allies, who would vehemently oppose giving the Kurds, whom they consider terrorists, any as­sistance.

Deploying troops in Syria would drop US forces into a bubbling cauldron of a sectarian conflict. Suffice to look at what happened in Lebanon in 1983 when the US Marines got caught in the intricacies of the country’s civil war. Now multiply this disaster twentyfold.

The fight to exterminate ISIS is going to be a very difficult be­cause the solution is not purely a military one. This problem demands the close cooperation of multiple government agencies and departments as well as the participation of a number of countries in the region.

The intentions of the US presi­dent may be honourable and courageous in trying to rid the world of what is considered such a ruthless terrorist group that even al-Qaeda views ISIS mem­bers as extremists. However, the question remains whether the United States has the long-term commitment needed to see this battle through to the end.

ISIS has hijacked a peaceful religion for its own designs. It has committed the worst atroci­ties, from decapitating hostages, enslaving non-Muslims in towns and villages they occupy and throwing homosexuals off rooftops, to burning to death prisoners they capture and the systematic killing of tens of thousands of Shias

Fighting ISIS will require far more than deploying several thousand US American troops to Iraq and Syria if the Trump administration is serious about the destruction of the jihadist group. The forces battling ISIS would need to attack the group and their allies on multiple fronts. Besides fighting ISIS on the military front and killing as many of its members in battle as possible, there is a need to look at the long-term effects the fight would have on ISIS and its followers.

The solution to the ISIS problem is best depicted in an episode of the made-for-televi­sion hit Homeland. In one of the episodes, top-level CIA officials debrief an operative who had just returned to Washington af­ter spending more than a year in parts of Syria occupied by ISIS.

The field agent is asked what it would take to defeat ISIS. He replies that the United States would need to commit 350,000 military personnel on the ground and then devote the next 30 years to reshape the country’s education system at the cost of billions of dollars to the US taxpayer.

“That’s never going to hap­pen,” replies a CIA official.

Indeed, the solution to defeat­ing ISIS and the dozens of associ­ated groups requires a carefully designed long-term agenda that can be implemented from the ground up. The problem is that US foreign policy is conducted from one presidential election to the next, changing direction every four years. Meanwhile, the Islamists are following a care­fully designed plan for the next 350 years.

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The wider issue of travel bans goes beyond Trump

The debate over US President Donald Trump’s attempt to impose a ban on travel to the United States on people from seven majority Muslim countries continues. Tens of thousands of opponents to the measure have taken to the streets in dozens of cities across the United States and Europe in protest.

This affair, controversial as it might well be, may have yielded positive derivatives. It brings to the forefront of world politics the issue of travel bans on groups or individuals. Trump’s ban, which was blocked by a federal judge in Seattle whose ruling was upheld by an appeals court, has high­lighted the recourse of many governments to impose travel bans, within and outside the realm of the law.

In today’s global economy, peo­ple increasingly view the freedom to travel as an essential right that should be enjoyed by all, regard­less of nationality or faith but dep­rivation of that right continues.

In Egypt, rights groups say, authorities have prevented human rights lawyers from leaving the country. To Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the bans are part of a larger campaign to suppress independent, critical voices inside the country.

Since the ouster of president Muhammad Morsi from power in July 2013, Egyptian authorities are said to have arbitrarily banned at least a score of leaders and mem­bers of Egyptian non-governmen­tal organisations from travelling abroad. Others prevented from leaving the country include mem­bers of political parties, youth activists, bloggers, journalists and academics.

This behaviour, rights advocates say, goes counter to international human rights law and Egypt’s constitution, both of which protect the right of Egyptians to leave and enter their own country.

Egypt is not the only country in the Middle East imposing travel bans.

In Qatar, the home of the televi­sion satellite network Al Jazeera, authorities have prevented a prom­inent human rights lawyer and for­mer Justice minister from leaving the country. Najeeb al-Nuaimi was one of the lead counsels defending ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hus­sein. He has also defended Qatari poet Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for writing a poem attack­ing the Gulf state’s monarchy. Ajami, who was accused of inciting violence, spent four years in jail before being released in 2016.

“Authorities in Qatar pre­vented… Nuaimi from travelling without informing him about any possible reasons,” the Gulf Centre for Human Rights protested.

Also, many Iranians have been arbitrarily prevented from travel­ling outside their country by the theocratic regime.

Travel bans should not be used as political tools. Governments should not try to prevent people from travelling because of their nationality, politics or religion. They should not misrepresent arbitrary bans as justified by security considerations when they are not.

There can be legitimate security concerns, especially in the global fight against terrorism. In recent days, Amnesty International might have been mixing apples and oranges when it condemned Tunisia for preventing hundreds of individuals from travelling overseas because it suspected them of harbouring an intent to join jihadist groups. By banning these would-be jihadists, the Tunisian government said it was helping safeguard peace and secu­rity in the world. It might have a case there.

This is a quandary for any government when it suspects its younger citizens have been radi­calised and recruited by terrorist groups. Slapping travel bans on terrorist suspects is not the same as imposing restrictions on non-governmental organisation leaders or intellectuals.

Returning to the ban Trump wanted to impose, the proceedings that have unfolded during these last few weeks have surprised many Americans and no doubt left more than one leader in the Middle East speechless.

In a rare demonstration of the extreme complexity of the inner workings of a democracy, the Unit­ed States has shown the world that, despite being the most powerful man on the planet, the president of the country can be challenged by a simple judge — who can live to tell about it.


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Palestine — the forgotten cause

By Claude Salhani —

With the brouhaha over its attempts to decree a travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, the Trump administration has much on its hands as it tries to imple­ment unpopular decisions.

However, it might be worth re­minding those new to Washington that there still lingers what has long been regarded as the root problem of the Middle East’s instability: The struggle of the Palestinians in their dispute with Israel and their aspira­tion of establishing a Palestinian homeland.

Sadly, there has been no shortage of violent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa over the last several decades. For the longest time, much of this violence and the raison d’être of some Arab regimes was said to be due to the ongoing state of no war, but no peace either, that existed between the Arabs and Israel.

The Palestinian-Israeli dispute was one of the prime justifications for the Assad dynasty to cling to power in Syria all those years. This is just one example.

Following the 1967 war when Israel expanded its territory by occupying the West Bank, includ­ing Arab East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, the main item on the political agendas of most Arab states appeared to be focused on a single objective: The liberation of Arab land. At least publicly, that was their agenda.

Palestinian lands had been occu­pied in stages. The bulk of the land that formed the modern state of Israel was carved out from British-mandated Palestine in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. To the Palestinians, this became known as Nakba — the catastrophe.

The new state of Israel ran from Lebanon’s southern frontier in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Jordanian city of the same name alongside the Israeli port city of Eilat. The rest was grabbed in the June 1967 war.

A few years later Israel refused to withdraw from a narrow strip of land along Lebanon’s southern border known as Shebaa farms and part of the village of Ghajar. While geographically the occupation of these two bits of Lebanese territory may not seem paramount to estab­lishing a long-lasting peace accord, it nevertheless complicates matters by bringing the Lebanese Hezbol­lah group into the picture.

During the heydays of the Pales­tine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the mid-1970s and on through the early 1980s, when the PLO and affiliates such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and a slew of others were based in Beirut, the question of Palestine was never far off the minds of many Middle Easterners.

Talk to any Arab official in any ministry in any Arab country from Kuwait to Oman and from Yemen to Morocco and invariably the conversation would shift to the question of Palestine. The resolu­tion of the Arab-Israeli dispute was believed to hold the magic key to the Middle East’s many problems. Alas, no one had an appropriate reply to the question of Palestine.

Ironically, the closer the Palestin­ians got to Palestine, the farther they seem to be from their dream of establishing an independent Palestinian state. The PLO seemed far more able to influence not only Israel but many Arab leaders from its headquarters in Beirut than it is now from its offices in Ramallah in the West Bank, where the issue of Palestine seems to have been taken off the front burners of politics.

It is important to note that no progress has been realised on the road map towards peace without the participation of the American president. From Richard Nixon to Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton and to Barack Obama, whatever little steps were taken towards reaching an eventual state of peace in the Arab-Israeli dispute could not have been achieved without direct US involvement at the highest level.

The root problem in the Palestin­ian-Israeli conflict is best explained by Giora Eiland, a former major-general in the Israeli military who served as head of Israel’s National Security Council. Eiland said: “The most Israel can offer remains unac­ceptable to the Palestinians and the least the Palestinians can accept remains too much for the Israelis to accept.” Meanwhile, the stalemate continues.

There was one positive sign to emerge from the Trump White House when the president com­mented on Israel’s announcement that there were plans to build new settlements in the occupied West Bank. US President Donald Trump said building them now would not be advisable.

Perhaps Trump would be tempted to try his hand at finalis­ing a lasting peace accord between the Palestinians and Israelis and to succeed where all other presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower have failed. Now that would be an ac­complishment.


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The failure to predict

By Claude Salhani

The Obama administra­tion will no doubt be blamed for the sad state of affairs that have plagued parts of the Middle East during its time in office. That would be justified in part in regards to the precarious condi­tions found in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Barack Obama and his administration failed to act decisively when they should have engaged in a more comprehen­sive policy in the region.

Equally guilty are previous US administrations, most notably that of George W. Bush, not for its inaction in the region but more for its actions. If Obama will be re­membered for his lethargic policy regarding Syria’s civil war, Bush is to be remembered for starting a war in Iraq that was uncalled for. Sure, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator but, like other despots in the region, he provided security for his country and kept would-be jihadists at bay. Continue reading

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Inauguration Day — the novel

 a novel by Claude Salhani 

get your copy today on Amazon.com and other outlets.

inauguration-day-by-claude-salhani

 

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A look ahead at the Middle East in 2017

by Claude Salhani

As a new year begins, journalists and analysts often try to project what may lay ahead for the Middle East during the next 12 months. What major changes are likely to occur? Will the conflicts that have darkened the region finally come to an end? Will its countries mature politically and adopt greater democratic reforms, albeit at their own pace?

Alas, one does not need a crystal ball to predict that the outlook for greater change in a positive manner does not bode well for the region.

Considering the numerous conflicts raging across it, one does not need to be a prophet nor have the capacity to read tea leaves to predict that violence will feature high in the forecast for 2017.

Starting with Syria and the devastating war that has been ripping the country apart for nearly six years, there appears to be no end in sight or any immediate relief for the Syrian people. The probabilities are therefore high that 2017 will be another bad year for Syria and that despite the fact that it may very well be the year in which the Islamic State (ISIS) is defeated.

Even the total defeat of ISIS will not come without serious repercussions for the region and even for countries beyond the Middle East. Several European countries and the United States could feel the fallout effect of ISIS’s demise.

One immediate concern is what is likely to happen to the thousands of young jihadi fighters who left their adopted countries in the West and in the East, too, to join ISIS? How likely is it that they could ever be reintegrated into normal society without raising problems of one sort or another?

And what of the fate of the millions of refugees who have unwillingly created new cities on the outskirts of normality across the region and beyond? Jordan’s second-largest city is a refugee camp.

Is it at all reasonable to plant millions of people in makeshift camps, often amid crime, drugs and prostitution, and expect the results to yield the makings of normal society? These camps are the perfect breeding grounds, the incubators of tomorrow’s problems.

If by some miracle the war in Syria were to end overnight, the country would face new challenges in 2017 as it tries to rebuild. Indeed, this war and the refugee crisis it has created have presented the region with a whole new set of problems.

Lebanon has weathered the war next door and successfully thwarted advances of ISIS. At the same time, the Lebanese have finally agreed on a new president after a more than two-year hiatus. Of course, their choice, much like the American people’s choice for president, leaves much to be desired but that is another story.

Violence continued in 2016 and again very likely to continue in 2017 in the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula as another civil war and proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran goes on and on interrupted by ceasefires and attempts to reinstall calm. Efforts to bring peace to Yemen have been as successful as the attempts to stop the war in Syria.

On the other side of the Arab world, conflict continues in Libya where ISIS may also be playing its last card and where concentrated efforts to eradicate the jihadist terrorist group seem to be working.

Political instability in 2017 will very much be the order of the day in Egypt, Sudan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. The Turks and the Kurds are very likely to go at each other in 2017 as the Kurds continue to aspire for an independent homeland much to the displeasure this may cause in Ankara, Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus.

Is there good news across the region? Well, Saudi Arabia continues to introduce reforms, albeit at a very slow pace. The United Arab Emirates seems to be riding a positive wave of development despite the drop in oil revenues. Morocco appears to have avoided any great crisis this year and it is hoped that in 2017 it will maintain that stability as will Tunisia and Algeria, though greater efforts in the latter would not hurt.

Here is to wishing you all a very happy new year in 2017.

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Why the UN Security Council vote on Syria is not the solution

By Claude Salhani

The UN Security Council has voted — unanimously — to dispatch international observers to the beleaguered Syrian city of Aleppo to provide safety to residents wishing to flee combat zones.

There are many reasons this vote is more an attempt to absolve the international com­munity and to allow its members to shed some of the guilt they have been carrying on their shoulders like old rifles, whose function is more decorative than useful.

This resolution, which comes five years late, helps Western powers feel good with themselves rather than meet to the basic needs of the people of that city, one that has become a symbol of this dreadful war.

The reality is that this resolu­tion should have come long ago. Indeed, this vote comes much too late and offers far too little.

Why this scepticism?

Because observation forces have never stopped atrocities or put an end to fighting in the many parts of the world they have been deployed to.

Typically, there are too few observers for the force to be effective. The regions they typically deploy to are large enough that those wishing to commit war crimes without being seen simply go around the corner from where the observers are positioned.

Observers are not peacekeepers nor are they a peace implementa­tion force. In fact, UN observers have no authority on the ground, nor do they have the means to intervene militarily if they had to.

Typically, what UN observers do is precisely as their title indicates: They observe. They observe and report to the Secu­rity Council, which files a formal complaint with the offending party or parties.

To put things into perspective, this is what likely happens: Let us imagine that a group of 100-150 civilians — men, women and children of all ages — is trying to make its way out of eastern Aleppo when they suddenly stumble upon armed men who may or may not be members of the Syrian Armed Forces.

As the gunmen round up the civilians, UN observers arrive. They intervene, telling the armed men their actions go counter to conventions of war.

The conversation unfolds in English with a mixture of varying Asian accents on one side and heavy Arabic accents on the other. Both sides have difficulty understanding the other.

Nevertheless, the UN troops succeed in delaying what would have certainly been an execution. Underline the word “delaying”, as it is what transpires. The international observers suc­ceeded only in buying a few more minutes for the ill-fated civilians trying to flee Aleppo and the horror that has developed there.

The UN observers believe they have convinced the gunmen to stand down and lower their weapons.

A few minutes later the observ­ers hear gunfire coming from the area they had just left. They rush to the scene where they find the lifeless bodies of dozens of refugees. The observers write up a report and file it to headquar­ters in New York.

Headquarters tones down some of the wordage from the original report, replacing language used by the observers with more diplomatic grammar.

The report goes before the Security Council where it is read. In their final analysis, the observers confirm that the massacre was perpetrated by forces loyal to the Syrian president — perhaps but not a certainty — by members of the Syrian Armed Forces. Syria is chastised by the Security Council. The ambassadors of the United States, Britain and France — permanent members of the Security Council — denounce “in the strongest term possible that such actions will not be tolerated” or else.

Or else what?

Precisely. With Russia having the right to veto any Security Council resolution, the Western powers can only go so far.

How are the perpetrators of such hideous war crimes pun­ished when they are backed by a sovereign state? They are threat­ened with economic sanctions. Syria has been under sanctions for years for its support of terrorism.

There is a threat to sever diplomatic relations but, then again, is it wise to pull out all US diplomatic personnel and leave Damascus entirely to the Rus­sians?

So it goes. Another UN resolu­tion that will be ignored. At least now the blame for the continued violence can be laid entirely on the Syrians and ot

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