The Syrian street, both the pro-regime and anti-regime rivals are furious with the international community. Opponents claim that international support has been feeble, to say the least, in supporting change in Syria. The pro-regime street argues that the international community is heralding Syria into civil strife by funding armed groups, and spreading sectarian divisions.
They believe that had it not been for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, then Syria would have been in a far better condition today, as they would have managed to solve their problems on their own, with no outside intervention.
Apart from offering lip-service and humanitarian aid, the two Friends of Syria Conferences, which took place respectively in Tunis and Turkey, failed at coming up with serious solutions to the Syrian crisis. The Syrian opposition snapped back arguing, “We are neither Darfur nor Rwanda,” claiming that an end to violence and democracy is what they were after, rather than bunkers, blankets, and medical gauze. Then came two UN resolutions, which were drowned forcefully by Russia and China, whose UN delegates snubbed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her bold words about heralding peace and democracy in Syria. Syrians had their hopes heightened when the Arab League monitors came to their country in late 2011, only to discover that they too were completely incapable of stopping the violence, simply because nobody took them seriously.
Syrians then pinned their hopes on the UN monitors, recently mandated by a UN resolution, claiming that western observers have a finer moral fibre than Arab observers. The mediocre size of the UN mission, which started off at 30 and is expected to reach 300, put a damper on the hopes of ordinary Syrians who argued, “You cannot stop the violence with 300 observers, in a country where there are over 700 hotspots spread on its four corners.”
In Kosovo, for example, over 14,000 military observers were sent to oversee peace, and Kosovo is four times smaller than Syria. The UN observers for Syria were thus a feeble attempt by the international community to silence their own constituencies, which were furious by the mayhem in Syria, and to show the world that they were ostensibly doing something creative about Syria — in order to cover up for their repeated failures. Opposition figures wanting to see a glimmer of hope in the UN mission, claiming that they would end the violence, then empower the demonstrators to further demonstrate against the Syrian regime. That of course did not happen, as the demonstrations fizzled and the death toll rose, along with explosions that rocked the Syrian capital in the last week of April and first week of May. The UN observers have been completely incapable of advancing the situation in Syria — not an inch forward — yet despite that, Kofi Annan’s thundering statement last week, saying that his dodgy cease-fire, and 6-point plan was “on track.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney put it brilliantly, that if the violence doesn’t stop, “the international community is going to have to admit defeat!”
Apart from calling on President Bashar Al Assad to step down, the US, unlike the Russians, has provided no roadmap on how to move Syria from Point A to Point B. The Americans refuse to get involved in Syria at a micro-level, and are completely uninterested in a military strike — after the fiasco in Libya —more so during election year. Heavyweights in the Friends of Syria Conference are saying that this is better for Syria, arguing that the Americans would only complicate matters, due to rising anti-Americanism on the Arab and Muslim Street.
They are calling on the US to “lead from behind” and let other countries, like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and France, lead the campaign against Damascus. Russia, China, and Iran remain strongly supportive of the Damascus regime, drowning all attempts at regime change and curtly saying no to a military strike. There is no appetite for war in Europe, however, and Nato has said it bluntly, that it doesn’t plan for a Libya II in Syria. Precisely because of the chaotic scene in Egypt, and the rise of Islamic parties in Morocco, Libya, Tunis, and Egypt itself, Syrians feel that the Americans are not enthusiastic about regime change in Syria. They would rather maintain relations with a regime that can deliver when it comes to Iran and Hezbollah, than risk the rise of Islamists to power in Syria.
Ask an ordinary Syrian on the street, even those in the anti-regime camp, and they would say: “America wants a weak Syria, and to do that, it wants the conflict in Syria to drag on. They want it to eat away at the nation from within. Democracy for Syria is not what decision-makers in Washington are after.” They draw parallels between Syria today and where Iraq stood in 1991, shortly after the second Gulf War. It took 12-years for the Americans to take serious action on Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraq withered away domestically, decaying from civil strife, poverty despite its oil wealth and sanctions.
Despite all the setbacks, the entire world, apparently, has put its full weight behind the Kofi Annan Peace Plan. Many in western circles admit that if it doesn’t work, then the Europeans and Americans don’t have a Plan B. For now, the international community has altered its rhetoric, from calling on Al Assad to step down into asking him to stop the violence, which offers de facto recognition and raises eyebrows and alarm bells for the Syrian opposition. The double-veto at the UN means that there will be no military strike for now and that either Syria will indeed be willingly forgotten by the world, or that at some point — after a new US president reaches the White House in January 2013 — the international community might get engaged in a Kosovo-like operation, without a UN mandate. Members of the opposition who lost hope in US involvement are pinning it on French President-elect Francois Hollande who has said that he would only support military action “if done within a UN framework.”
Military intervention, however, is not what sensible Syrians are after. Military intervention means more deaths, and currently, the prime objective of the people of Syria is to stop the killing, rather than increase it threefold. When that happens, a democratic process needs to start, but as of today, 14-months into the Syrian uprising, none of the steps seem close to materialisation.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine.