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Only 39 of the 300 UN monitors have so far deployed to Syria and it appears that at the rate they are being allowed into the country, the 90-day mandate for the force will have run out before all of them arrive. In fact, the process of inserting the monitors may slow down even more as a result of the terrorist attacks in Damascus on Wednesday as well as another car bomb that hit a UN convoy on Tuesday, missing UN personnel but wounded 8 Syrian soldiers accompanying the monitors.
Pathetically, Western governments cling to the illusion that the peace plan can work — and even if they have no illusions, they are unwilling to face the question of what happens next. If the peace plan has failed — and nearly everyone agrees that it has — what can be done to stop the massacre of civilians while affecting regime change?
President Obama is running away from the Syrian crisis, not wanting the United States to get drawn into a bloody, messy conflict, especially in an election year. While this may be a sound policy, not having an alternative while showing absolutely no leadership in the crisis troubles many nations in the world. Our importunings to Russia, which supplies Syria with 95% of its arms and has continued a steady flow of weapons to Syria all during the uprising, have fallen on deaf ears in Moscow. Vladmir Putin, recently strengthened by being elected president, sees Syria as the linchpin to their strategy in the Middle East.
Moscow not only supplies almost all of Syria’s arms, but Russian firms are heavily engaged in the oil and gas industry in Syria, as well as infrastructure projects. Trade with Assad amounted to nearly $20 billion in 2009. As the Jerusalem Post explains:
The Russians also have an interest in maintaining a troublesome client in the Levant in order to act as a potential tool of disruption and political pressure against the West in its own backyard. Moscow sees itself as threatened by NATO expansion eastwards.
It is useful to have a well-placed client whose capacity for trouble-making might act as a deterrent to Western schemes.
Would anything change Russia’s mind about increasing international pressure on Assad’s regime? The Russians and Chinese have been running interference for Assad at the UN for more than a year, beating back resolutions that called for stronger sanctions, and scotching talk of any kind of intervention. But the bloody nature of Assad’s crackdown has made Moscow’s position more and more untenable. This is why Russia, more than any other nation, is urging the UN to give the Annan plan more time. Outright failure of the agreement might force Russia to reluctantly back stronger sanctions that would drastically affect a Syrian economy already on life support. If food vanishes from the shelves, even some hardcore regime supporters might turn against Assad. The dictator knows this, which is why he has slacked off slightly in the killings, biding his time until he believes the UN will get tired of his games and leave him in peace — free to bring the rebellion to a bloody end.
That’s Assad’s view — he has left himself with little choice. Successfully weather the rebellion or meet his end. No sanctions, no UN monitors, no Free Syrian army or civilian opponents will deter him from trying to maintain his position. The only thing that would dislodge him would be a massive intervention by the rest of the world. And as we’ve seen from NATO, the Arab League, and the United Nations itself, this is not going to happen.
One former State Department official, Susan Slaughter, believes that eventually, the US will be forced to take a hand to resolve the situation:
“I understand what we’re afraid of, but at some point, the status quo is going to become worse than any of our fears. And at that point, we’re going to have to act,” Slaughter says. “The problem is no one can see exactly what that point is.”
A Syrian civil war that spills over into Lebanon — a nation experiencing its own sectarian tensions and whose population is divided between pro- and anti-Syrian factions — would reignite fears of a regional conflict based on religious divisions. That is one scenario where the US may act.
And the car bombings in Damascus may have brought that day closer.
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