As Binding As A UN-Brokered Cease Fire

In a few hours another UN-brokered cease fire is supposed to take effect in Syria.  Don’t hold your breath.

This is just the latest in a series of would-be cease fires announced by the United Nations.  The cease fires were supposed to stop the systematic killing of women and children, but the Syrian government has either ignored them or taken advantage of them.  The UN announces that a cease fire will take effect in the future, and Syria continues to shell residential areas and murder civilians while the world waits to see if the cease fire will somehow take effect at the announced deadline.  Then the deadline passes, the killing continues, and the whole “peace process” starts all over again.

The Syrian situation shows that the UN is a hollow shell that is effective only when the United States and its allies are pushing for action.  Otherwise, its pronouncements are toothless, and its efforts to broker peace agreements are rejected by petty despots like Bashar al-Assad without fear of consequences.  UN “cease fire” declarations are pathetic, like a punch line to a bad joke.

The sad thing is that the people of Syria may hear the latest declaration of a cease fire and hold out hope that the UN and the “world community” will actually do something to stop the violence.  Their situation is bad enough without the UN raising their hopes for peace and then dashing them, again and again and again.



Time To Go

Yesterday a pro-government mob attacked the U.S. embassy in Syria, as well as the residence of the American ambassador.  The mob smashed windows, threw fruits and vegetables, and spray-painted graffiti on walls — apparently in protest of a visit of the American ambassador to Hama, a Syrian city that is a center for protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad.

If I were in charge, I would close the embassy now and get the Americans out of there.  Although all American embassies have a military guard, the main responsibility for security at embassies lies with the host country.  In this case, Syrian forces were slow to respond to the mob — possibly because the attack on the embassy was orchestrated by the Syrian government.

I don’t know why there is an American embassy in Syria in the first place — it is not exactly a friendly country in that difficult region of the world — but I see no reason to stay there if the Syrian government isn’t going to honor its obligations under international law.  Having an embassy in Damascus is not essential to our national interests, and leaving might actually increase pressure on the Syrian regime to change its repressive ways.  In any event, it’s not hard to envision a scenario where a Middle Eastern government teetering on the brink seeks to drum up popular support by blaming the Great Satan and taking Americans working at the embassy hostage, or worse.  Being old enough to remember the Iranian Hostage Crisis, I don’t want to risk seeing it repeated.

Through its inaction, the Syrian government has given us fair warning.  It’s time for us to go.

Bloody Syria

Another country in the Middle East seems to be rapidly descending into bloody chaos.  This time, it’s Syria.

In the last month, protests have escalated and spread across the country.  In the past week, “President” Bashar al-Assad — in reality, an autocrat who succeeded his father and exercises close to absolute power — rescinded the 48-year-old “emergency law” that allowed the state to exercise broad security powers, apparently in hopes of stemming the protests.  Then, when the unrest continued, the security forces began firing upon protesters.  On Friday, at least 100 people were killed.  Yesterday, Syrian troops shot a number of people who protested during the mourning processions for those killed the day before.

Assad was a doctor at one point in his life, practicing in London, England.  When he assumed control of Syria after his father’s death in 2000, many observers expected (or at least hoped) that he would liberalize Syrian society and politics.  Unfortunately, Bashar al-Assad has proven himself to be as inflexible and murderous as his father; with bloody hands, he will try to hold on to power.  His reign as the head of Syrian teaches a lesson that we would do well to remember — the fact that the undisputed leaders of undemocratic countries once lived or studied in the West does not automatically mean that they have adopted the peaceful cultural and political mores of western society.