Forgotten Syria, Powerless UN

People have forgotten about Syria, but not because things have gotten better there.  Instead, Syria has simply been knocked off the front page by the French action in Mali, Lance Armstrong’s confession, and countless other, fresher stories.

Yesterday, evidence emerged of another horrific mass killing in Syria.  More than 70 bodies were found by a river near the town of Aleppo; some had hands tied behind their backs and gun shot wounds to the head.  The UN estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed in a conflict between the Assad government and opposition groups that has lasted for a year.  The opposition blames the government, and the government blames the opposition forces, and in the meantime Syrians keep getting slaughtered.

Predictably, the news of the latest massacre brought another call for international intervention and action by the UN Security Council.  There will be no UN action, of course, because the Security Council is deadlocked, with China and Russia resisting any action that might be taken against the Assad government.  Even the U.S., Great Britain, and France are just pushing for resolutions that threaten sanctions.  UN resolutions aren’t likely to do much good when armed men are kicking in your door and taking members of your family out for execution.

We’re paying no attention to it, but Syria should be teaching us two valuable lessons and reminding us of a third, sad reality of the modern world.  The first lesson is that the UN is a weak institution that will rarely take decisive action; contrast the French action in Mali to the UN’s dithering about Syria, and you get a good idea of the difference between a nation and an “international institution.”  The second lesson is that the cries of the “Arab street” about mistreatment of Arabs are hollow and hypocritical.  Where are the mass protests in front of Syrian embassies throughout the Arab world when each new outrage is unveiled?  We should all remember the lack of any meaningful Arab response to the murder of thousands of Syrians the next time we hear angry Arab denunciations of claimed Israeli misconduct toward the Palestinians or American unfairness.

And the cold, cruel reality is that the world has only so much appetite for horror and outrage before it turns off the TV.  The BBC story linked above refers to the “Syria crisis,” but that’s not quite right.  A true “crisis” involves a crucial point of decision.  That doesn’t exist here, because the world seems to have accepted that the Assad regime will remain in power and continue to kill its opponents.  If there were a policeman in front of the yellow tape surrounding the Syrian crime scene, he would be saying:  “There’s nothing to see here.  Move along.”

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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.