Monday, May 28, 2012

Obama & The Russians!

So long as Russia remains adamant at watering down any UN resolution dealing with Syria, it should be clear to all that she cannot be part of any solution.

Sunday May 27, 2012

Death toll: 51, including 25 in Hama City, 9 in Damascus City (Midan, Naher Eisheh and Assaly), 5 in Damascus suburbs (Yalda, Daraya, Douma and Ein Mneen), 6 in Homs city, 4 in Idlib and 2 in Daraa.

UN Monitors in Syria put the number of victims of Houla Massacre at 116 dead and over 300 wounded.

News
Op-Eds & Special Reports
The fact is, despite restrictions on media and aid organizations operating in Syria, the world knows what is happening there, it just doesn't know what to do about it. Will the Houla killings change anything, or will they be just another bloody footnote in a conflict that has killed an unknown number of people? The U.N. stopped counting Syria's dead months ago. NATO has repeatedly said it has no plans to intervene in the conflict. The U.N. secretary general has admitted that "at this time, we don't have any Plan B" for Syria. It's hardly reassuring given that Plan A, the six-point Annan initiative, is barely viable.

Schemes & Massacres


That this is indeed the essence of Obama’s Administration’s approach on Syria has been quite apparent for months now. That’s why when I finally had a chance to go to Moscow and meet with some of Russia’s policy people, I took it. The trip, which took place between May 18 and 25,  gave me an opportunity to know for myself how hard of a challenge changing Russia’s position will be, especially considering how attached to the status quo its leadership seems to be.

Now, and after spending a week there, and while I wouldn’t necessarily judge the differences between U.S. and Russia’s positions over Syria as unbridgeable, let’s just say that there are quite a few circles that need to be squared first before agreement is reached. The Russians are not attached to Assad, but they are attached to the regime and their base in Tartous. What the “regime” means to the Russians is Alawite control of security and military apparatuses. If regime survival under this formula is not possible, than the powers-that-be in Russia would not be too opposed to the fragmentation of Syria so long as coastal areas remain under Alawite control, which is the likely outcome in this case. To ensure getting their desired outcome, the Russians will continue propping up the regime by supplying it with arms, which they claim are not meant to be used against protesters but against future western intervention, and by continuing to be a stumbling block in the way of any meaningful UN-led action or condemnation.

Still, believe it or not, that is not even the real problem. After all, and as the NY Times report indicates, and considering their growing disaffection with Syria’s fractious opposition, the Obama Administration is indeed seeking a deal that eases Assad’s way out but keeps the regime pretty much intact. But who can sell this plan to the revolutionaries? That’s the real question and the real problem. The off-switch to this revolution, if it exists, lies squarely in the hands of young protest leaders scattered throughout the country, and the arrangement sought by Obama and the Russians is simply too cynical to satisfy them. The protest, the crackdown, the defiance, the reprisals, and the massacres all will continue even with the Assads out of the picture so long as what gets put in place after his departure continues to lack popular legitimacy. And popular legitimacy cannot be given to a regime that is still dominated by military and security apparatuses that are still dominated in their turn by Alawite generals and officers. Pure and simple.

In other words, if the Obama Administration is pinning its hopes on squaring circles in order to reach an agreement with Russia on a deal that will be dead on arrival as far as most Syrians are concerned, then, Syria’s fate as a country has already been sealed. She will be no more. Russian policymakers insist that this is an acceptable outcome as far as they are concerned, but how about American officials? Is the dissolution of Syria as a state acceptable for them as well?

But then, perhaps Senator McCain is right in his assessment of President Obama’s policy at this stage.  Perhaps, all that U.S. officials want to achieve at this stage is to kick this bucket until after the elections, without considering the serious consequences of further delays.

Be that as it may the massacre in Houla indicates clearly that we are quickly running out of time. Just consider the following facts:

There have been high level assassinations among the ranks of the Assad security establishment; its victims might have included Assad’s own brother-in-law and one of the chief architects of the crackdown so far. We still cannot be sure of that, but Assad’s failure to attend the opening session of the Parliament as per protocol and his continued silence at this stage lends some credence to claims in this regard. Some speculate that the massacres in Houla came as a reprisal for these assassinations. Not that the Assads have ever needed any justification for perpetrating their brand of terror beyond the challenge to their legitimacy.

Meanwhile, the town of Eizaz in Aleppo Province continues to be pounded in retaliation for the kidnapping of 14 Hezbollah operatives who happened to be in the area. Hezbollah media outlets claim that the 14 were pilgrims returning from Iran, sources close to the kidnappers say interrogations prove that these were Hezbollah operative and that one of them is a nephew of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Indirect negotiations have been taken place over the last couple of days, but they have so far led to naught due to continued pounding by pro-Assad militias.

Today, the pounding of Hama City and the new massacre that was perpetrated there underscores the complete failure and irrelevance of Annan’s Mission.

So, what we have now is a situation that is quickly spiraling out of control, and the Obama Administration might need to adjust its timetable accordingly. Time is not on the side of stability and reason in this conflict. Elements of the Old Regime might need to be preserved, but the U.S. needs to avoid the miscalculations of Russian officials: instability in Syria will be product of regime survival not regime change. Bringing Syrian protesters to endorse, no matter how reluctantly, any deal that allows for Assad’s departure has to include serious assurances that the upcoming change will be far-reaching and not simply decorative, otherwise nothing will be accomplished.

Note: It should be borne in mind that locals in Houla made clear from the beginning that most victims of the infamous massacre were slaughtered by pro-Assad militias who stormed into town after it was pounded by regular troops. For Russian officials to use this fact to deflect blame from the regime is grotesque. For the UN resolution to fail to name pro-Assad militias as culprits paves the ground for further acts of genocide.

Video Highlights

Sweden’s children try to draw attention to the massacres in Syria in their own way http://youtu.be/zyMqHWAh-2c

Hama City:

A new massacre took place in the city today due to the pounding http://youtu.be/kyFMiwZofls , http://youtu.be/T5sc2IsxjHo , http://youtu.be/G1gsYoGBjCw , http://youtu.be/yknYRA8ryZE of Janoub Al-Malaab, Mashaa Al-Fouroussiyeh and Al-Hadir Neighborhoods. Tanks roll in http://youtu.be/YTeFLMorKuA Homes catch fire http://youtu.be/HH5gpZoLQpk


Damascus:

Pro-Assad militias open fire against protesters in Midan District http://youtu.be/hTVlR4tzai8 It’s militias likes these who perpetrated the massacres in Houla. Rescuing the wounded http://youtu.be/tYXzfzizdKg , http://youtu.be/eSLt6pTS2PI , http://youtu.be/2mqQyKCzHbs A martyr http://youtu.be/G_-Zkp9T3rk

A similar scene unfolds in the nearby neighborhood of Naher Eisheh http://youtu.be/HqLgWtUtvKA Rescuing a wounded http://youtu.be/368FO1gXjas , http://youtu.be/qP5TWjuuvUE

Moadamiya Suburb comes under fire at night http://youtu.be/MNkpotBuLfU

Homs

Houla: four more bodies of children discovered http://youtu.be/veTMbZH_0VU Families take advantage of the presence of UN monitors to leave town http://youtu.be/v5hVRN4854Q And another ghost town is created http://youtu.be/0OfxX9CFXp0

Idlib

The town of Khan Shaikhoon comes under renewed pounding http://youtu.be/_uG2qtLKNso , http://youtu.be/b0O0bKQ8vD4 , http://youtu.be/4fmtM7rcAfY One of the loyalist checkpoints laying siege to the town http://youtu.be/i3SM2AKjalA