Syria: our collective impotence?
The massacre in Houla more grimly and acutely describes the extent of international impotence in the face of atrocities committed in what is Syria’s bloody civil war. “What if”, is never a very clever question in diplomacy. But what if there had been no Iraq War; what if Nato had not translated its ambition to protect civilians in Benghazi into determination to pursue regime change and the eventual end of Gaddafi?
Last night New York witnessed the most cohesive and shocked United Nations response since the war in Syria began over a year ago. But where does it go? The option of military intervention has been so polluted by failures in Afghanistan and Iraq that the appetite for more is stone-dry. The UN was careful to try to limit the international action in Libya to concentrate on the protection of civilians. We know from Human Rights Watch that some sixty or more Libyan civilians were killed in Nato action. Collateral damage in such an engagement is inevitable. But the heavy bombardment of the areas in and around Tripoli in a bid to dislodge the Gaddafi regime has according to Nato diplomats to whom I have spoken ‘queered the pitch’ in Syria for any form of military intervention.
Yet the deaths of perhaps 50 children in the assault on Houla would, under normal circumstances call forth a physical international response. Few think there will now be any. Worse, President Assad himself knows it.
There is, in addition the continuing question about who is involved on the rebel side beyond the disparate band of rebels themselves. A well-connected Saudi businessman told me last week that it is an open secret in the Kingdom that both Saudi and Qatar are present in arms, cash and some personnel.
Add to all this the proximity of Syria to Lebanon and Israel. Add too Iran’s involvement with the Damascus regime and we have an infernal combination of danger in which the international community has somehow rendered itself powerless to do more that watch and shout. And how many babies, young children and women, will that save?
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