Don’t let Syria become Libya

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan must be allowed to mediate a real peace in Syria in lieu of a Libya-style redux.

Kofi Annan
Western forces appear to be undermining Kofi Annan's potential to end the conflict in Syria [AP]

New York, NY – All the indications are that the US and its regional allies are gearing up for a Libyan déjà vu in Syria. That is a dangerous and potentially catastrophic turn of events for Syria, and for the region at large, resulting in even more blood than the murderous Syrian regime has shed so far. 

The recent Al Jazeera report that the Lebanese navy intercepted “a ship loaded with three containers of weapons destined for Syrian opposition forces” is the most recent indication that the incessantly increasing violence has long since assumed regional and transnational proportions. The ruling regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting their proxy wars on the backs of the Syrian people. 

To be sure, just like Gaddafi’s, the bloody ruling regime in Syria is chiefly responsible for the carnage that has unfolded over the past year – for if they had allowed peaceful demonstrations to result in a peaceful transition to democracy, the US and its regional allies would not have had the opportunity to try to fish from the bloody water that Bashar al-Assad has created, nor would there be any room for the opportunist manipulations such as those proffered by Russia, China or Iran. 

The Annan Plan

A former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan is a perfectly credible intermediary, perhaps the only one with such a credential at this point, and it seems that his plan is quite comprehensive. It calls for an immediate end to bloodshed, the delivery of humanitarian aid, a process for opposition demands to be peacefully articulated, the release of political detainees, allowing foreign reporters into the country, and permitting peaceful demonstrations.

But the ruling regime in Syria is abusing the Annan plan to murder more Syrians. Weeks after the Syrian acceptance of the Annan plan, Al Jazeera continues to report a massive and bloody crackdown upon the opposition: “Syrian troops,” Al Jazeera reported as of April 24, 2012, “have killed dozens of civilians in the city of Hama, activists have said, as UN military observers toured protest centres near the capital Damascus, and both Brussels and Washington imposed new sanctions.” 

As of April 23, shells fired by Syrian security forces have killed at least 18 people in the central city of Hama, and the numbers are steadily on the rise. The UN reports that, by now, more than 9,000 people have died in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. It is now well over a year that Syrians have been engaged in a defiant battle against their repressive, criminal, regime.

 Syrian opposition:
‘Assad regime never respects promises’

Annan’s plan, again at least nominally, has the support of at least elements within the ruling regime as well as its opposition, plus what ought to be global support. The United Nations Security Council has authorised the deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers to monitor a ceasefire in Syria that formally came into effect on April 12 as part of the Annan plan. There is every reason to believe that if genuinely endorsed by all parties, the Annan plan can work. 

Both Syrian regime and its nemesis abusing Annan

But it is now all but evident that at least the more belligerent factions within the ruling regime in Syria is trying to abuse the Annan plan to try (in vain) to crush the uprising once and for all. The Assad regime is, of course, criminally ignorant – and that is the case not because the Saudis or the US are trying to abuse the situation to their advantage, but because the Syrian uprising, long in process and integral to the rest of Arab revolutions, will not die and will resurface. 

It is in the nature of these transnational uprisings and the synergy among them that, in the long run, no single nation can be robbed of its revolution – neither by their own corrupt ruling regimes nor by the ludicrous hypocrisies extending from Riyadh through Tehran and Tel Aviv to Washington DC. 

That Annan’s plan is being abused by the Syrian regime has been evident from the onset and by the uninterrupted assault on civilian population, of which the UN secretary-general has just issued yet another warning. According to Al Jazeera: Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, has said. “The Syrian government is ‘in contravention’ of an internationally agreed peace plan by keeping troops and heavy weapons in cities. He also said he was ‘gravely alarmed’ by reports of shelling of populated areas in Syria.”    

No amount of white-washing these facts by the demented segments of “the left” can exonerate the criminal disposition of the ruling regime in Syria. 

More troubling is the spread of violence, in manner and intensity, into districts in the capital where on Friday April 27, according to Al Jazeera, “at least nine people [were] killed and dozens injured by a reported suicide bomber in the Damascus district of al-Midan”.

But the Syrian regime is not the only party trying to abuse the Annan mission. US officials are itching for it to fail, as the EU foreign ministers too have imposed a new round of sanctions on Syria, without allowing for the Annan plan to have a chance.

More recently, the wives of the German and British ambassadors to the UN have released a video urging Syria’s first lady to help end the bloodshed in her country. The film, posted on YouTube, asks Asma al-Assad to urge her husband to stop violence against Syrians. 

All these otherwise logical and perhaps even necessary gestures can systematically accumulate into a pretext for a US-NATO military strike along the lines of the Libyan model.   

Signs of that possible eventuality are already evident. According to Al Jazeera: “The French foreign minister has said the UN Security Council should consider military action in Syria if an international peace plan fails to stop the violence under President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Alain Juppe also demanded on Wednesday that 300 UN observers authorised to go to Syria be deployed within 15 days. He said Paris would consider peace envoy Kofi Annan’s scheduled report on May 5 as a deadline for Damascus to comply with the plan.” 

If this is a UN-Arab League plan that Annan is trying to implement, why are the French issuing these sorts of ultimata? Who died and made them the arbiter of truth? Annan must decide his own deadline and the terms of his negotiations, not the French. 

The same attitude is equally evident in the US, where The Christian Science Monitor recently reported how “the ongoing violence in Syria, despite the regime’s lip service to the Annan peace plan, has pushed the Obama administration to weigh stronger steps”. Particularly noteworthy in this report is the position of the pro-Israeli neo-con operation in Washington DC, known as WINEP (The Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy). Christian Science Monitor reports: 

“No one here [in Washington] thinks the Annan plan is going to work,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This plan does not deal with the disease itself. The disease is very simple. You have a minority-dominated regime that is not about to give up power, that has a 42-year record of not being able to reform, ruling over an opposition carved out of the youngest population in the Middle East outside the Palestinian territories. It’s just a storm.”

Such cliché-ridden verbosities, typical of WINEP sophomoric prose, reveals where exactly the drum beats of a US-NATO military strike against Syria are being orchestrated.

 Annan urges Syria to respect ceasefire

Neither the US nor its European or, a fortiori, its Saudi partners, is in a position to assume the moral high ground. As Bassam Haddad, Jadaliyya co-editor, has in a recent interview on Al Jazeera rightly stated “the emphasis on the United States’ role as being pivotal in promoting democracy in the region” is entirely flawed.    

Let the Annan Plan work

The Syrian democratic uprising is caught between a bloody ruling regime at home and an ever-belligerent imperial design that wants to micromanage those democratic aspirations to its own advantage – which laser-beams on what it deems best for its garrison state: Israel. Israel is the biggest loser in the Arab Spring – for the expansionist militarism that is the Jewish state has no blasted clue how to deal with open-ended Arab democracies. Arab dictatorship is its preferred choice as to how to manoeuvre to keep itself floating. 

The Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is absolutely correct that post-revolution Egypt is a larger threat to Israel than Iran  – but his habitual warmongering calls for troop deployments to Sinai border, whereas that threat is not a military threat; it is a democratic threat. A free and democratic Egypt is infinitely more dangerous to the Jewish apartheid state and its occupied territories than the repressive theocracy of an Islamic Republic that can scarce keep itself in power against its own rebellious population.  

But the world at large is now heroically and imaginatively liberated from the criminal atrocities of the geopolitics of the region that wishes to safeguard the Israeli garrison state at all cost – costs that become quite steep during a US presidential election year. In that geography of despair, now finally exposed and overcome, Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel become beacons of democracy, and the combined calamity of the ruling regimes in Iran and Syria, plus their client operators in Hezbollah become “the resistance front”. It is the obscenity of that equation that is once and for all exposed for what it is: an obscenity. 

Remember the Libyan uprising, when African countries wanted to negotiate a deal with Gaddafi, but the NATO bombing did now allow it to develop – sharing responsibility with Gaddafi’s own criminal banality trying to abuse that peace plan to stay in power. The task that now Kofi Annan is facing is that which South African President Jacob Zuma was trying to accomplish in Libya, when he conducted incessant shuttle diplomacy on behalf of the African Union to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.  

Three months into the bombing of Libya, the African Union was still trying to solve the conflict peacefully. “We are here today to say that it is important that such a process be conducted and owned by the Libyan people, involving mutual concessions in a dialogue without predetermined conditions,” said Hamady Ould Hamady, the Mauritanian Foreign Minister, addressing the Security Council on June 15, 2011, on behalf of the AU High Level Ad Hoc Committee on the Crisis in Libya. 

This time in Syria, let Annan be Annan – a peace envoy, a harbinger of non-violent transition in Syria – and not an excuse for the US-led military intervention. It is not just the criminal ruling regime in Syria that is trying to abuse the Annan plan hoping to crush the opposition. The US and its allies too are trying to abuse Annan as an excuse to wage a military strike. But Annan’s plan can work. He is the only one in a position to give the ruling regime (not just Bashar al-Assad) a way out of this bloody cul de sac. Unconditional surrender should never be the ruling paradigms in these or any other conflict resolution – not because Gaddafi then or Assad now deserves a face-saving strategy, but because Libyan and Syrian people need it for their future. 

What ultimately prevents that possibility is not just the quagmire of violence in Syria. It is the imaginative geography of world politics that has historically written Asia, Africa, and Latin America out of the vital decisions affecting the globe. The US and EU have assumed disproportionate power of decision-making in global affairs and the UN is simply a diplomatic extension of their warmongerings. It is that grotesque geography of imperial domination that must be once and for all dismantled for the world determined to liberate itself, to begin to see itself. 

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. His new book, Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism has just been released by Zed.