The meeting of the Action Group on Syria in Geneva earlier this week failed to come up with any meaningful stand on the worsening situation in the country. June has reportedly been the bloodiest month in the 16-month-old uprising against the dictatorship of the Assad family.
The communiqué issued after the June 30 meeting is a classic example of hollow diplomacy, where failure to firmly address the tragic situation is made up for by nicely worded statements. This has been a standard U.N. style, a pattern that seems to be steadily on the rise.
We in the Middle East are quite used to such vague and hollow statements meant solely to pretend attention when actors lack the courage or ability to adopt appropriate and principled action.
The cause of failure is obvious with respect to the Syrian case. It is the Russian — and probably the Chinese — position, which has been strongly opposed to any agreed-upon position that implies the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Yet a formula for resolving the Syrian crisis with Assad remaining at the top of the realm, which probably was possible in the early days of the confrontation, is clearly unthinkable now.
Most of the participants in the Geneva gathering were involved in previous efforts to deal with the crisis. They must therefore be familiar with the main obstacle that has prevented any progress so far. What is the point, then, of repeating a proven sterile method? And if the United Nations system functions only when the five permanent Security Council members agree, why should they head to any meeting before they secure such an agreement?
The only explanation is that the so many involved leaders are utilising human crises and tragedies for their own political expediency and ambition, without due consideration for the U.N.’s declared objectives or the proper norms of principled political conduct.
The participants in the Geneva meeting included the secretaries general of the U.N. and the Arab League, the foreign ministers of China, France, Russia, UK, U.S., Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, in addition to the European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy. Of course, former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, was there too in his capacity as the special representative of both the U.N. and the Arab League for handling the Syrian issue.
Annan’s mission in Syria, which commenced last April, has miserably failed, with violence rising to unprecedented levels instead of ceasing as envisaged by his six-point self-contradicting plan.
It is no mystery why: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay observed this week that weapons were flowing into the country from all directions, and “the ongoing provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence”.
Media reports indicate that Gulf Arab countries, with the active assistance of the United States, are arming and funding the opposition, while the government relies on Russia and Iran.
That Annan is not giving up his effort is quite positive and commendable. What is questionable, though, is his tendency to recycle the same botched plan rather than come up with something innovative.
He could at least offer a more credible and more accurate diagnosis of the situation rather than rotate in the same narrow circle of ambiguity and arbitrary politics.
Apparently, and upon Annan’s recommendation, the Action Group has formulated the new project. Following the ritual language of expressing alarm at the gravity of the situation; condemnation of the continued and escalating killing, and human rights abuses; and concern over the failure to protect civilians from intensifying violence, the group announced that “[T]he unacceptable nature and magnitude of the crisis demands a common position and a joint international action”.
But neither a common position nor joint international action has been possible. This was clearly reflected in the group’s final communiqué which once again expressed only good intentions.
“They [the Action Group members] are determined to work urgently and intensively to bring about an end to the violence and human rights abuses and the launch of a Syrian-led political process leading to a transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and enables them independently and democratically to determine their own future,” the communiqué said.
But such grand goals can hardly be accomplished by trying the same ineffective measures that were used before with counterproductive outcomes. According to the group’s final statement, these measures include a reaffirmation of the special envoy’s mandate, in addition to: “(i) … steps and measures by the parties to secure full implementation of the six-point plan and the Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043, (ii) agreed guidelines and principles for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people”.
The language used by the Geneva group continues to address the fighting parties as two legitimate entities that need to reconcile peacefully, end the conflict quietly and resume normal life as if there had been no fighting and no deep scars inflicted.
That is not going to work because the Assad regime — believing that the armed opposition and its sponsors are out to destroy it — will never accommodate such opposition; neither will the opposition agree to enter into any form of transition with Assad and his political leadership.
Every time there was a timid approach towards Syria in the past, from the Arab League, the U.N., and the Action Group, Assad drew from it encouragement and gained time to escalate his efforts against the rebellion with one clear objective: to crush it completely.
The government did that while Arab League monitors were in the field to secure an end to the violence and again under the very eyes of Annan’s international monitors.
This time is no exception. The fact that the Geneva meeting, under Russian pressure, obviously, could in no way question Assad’s authority, let alone the legitimacy, will be read in Damascus as a green light to act against the “foreign conspiracy” and the armed insurgents threatening a legitimate regime.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and its allies will continue to supply weapons to the opposition. The assured outcome of this escalating proxy war is increased violence, destruction and death.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the Jordan Times on July 4, 2012