Toothless Tigers

The situation in Syria goes from bad to worse. It is estimated that the government has been responsible for the death of at least 14,000 of its citizens. A recent story tells of the attempts to “broker” a peace settlement between groups that hate one another, a nearly impossible task. The story reads, in part,

GENEVA (AP) — An international conference on Saturday accepted a U.N.-brokered peace plan that calls for the creation of a transitional government in Syria, but at Russia’s insistence the compromise agreement left the door open to Syria’s president being part of it.

The story gives us a sense of the futility of this agreement: But even with Russia’s most explicit statement of support yet for a political transition in Syria, it is far from certain that the plan will have any real effect in curbing the violence. A key phrase in the agreement requires that the transitional governing body “shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent,” effectively giving the present government and the opposition veto power over each other.

In a word, neither side will agree to the agreement: one side wants Assad to remain as President, the other will not agree to any settlement of which he is a part. The U.N. sits in the middle attempting to get the two sides to agree to something (anything!) while all the time they know full well it will not happen. As one who has always advocated reason and restraint and who hates war and bloodshed, this situation is most disturbing. It would seem that increasingly violence is the only thing many people understand and an international group that lacks the power to back up its agreements is indeed a toothless tiger. The members can meet and come to a compromise of sorts, but the people in the streets will continue to kill one another. It’s not a new story, but it is unsettling to say the least.

Leibniz told us long ago that this was the “best of all possible worlds,” and he thought he had argued his point convincingly. But it takes a giant leap of faith to accept his argument. That was a leap Voltaire could not take and he ridiculed the notion in Candide — which he wrote after the earthquake at Lisbon killed thousands of men, women and children. There have been worse catastrophes and now that war includes war against civilians as well as combatants — a situation all civilized countries agreed would not happen when they signed the Geneva Accords — the earthquake seems a minor event. And, of course, our government, which signed those agreements, is very much a part of the problem sending drones into residential neighborhoods to “take out” known (or suspected) terrorists. Doesn’t this make us the terrorists?

One wonders where we have come and where this will lead. The world needs an international group with effective sanctioning powers and a world court with punitive powers as well. I am not an advocate of power except in the case that it will invariably lead to the resolution of conflict involving innocent victims. And I have always supported the idea of the United Nations: it’s important that people come together to discuss their differences. But I recognize that a debate society that makes agreements they cannot get the parties to buy into is not what the world needs in times of trouble. This is certainly the case in Syria. As the above story says in its final paragraph, The United Nations says violence in the country has worsened since a cease-fire deal in April, and the bloodshed appears to be taking on dangerous sectarian overtones, with growing numbers of Syrians targeted on account of their religion. The increasing militarization of both sides in the conflict has Syria heading toward civil war.

It does seem that the only thing people understand in the end is power. If people will not even sit down together then might does, in the end, make right. I cannot accept that even though it appears to be the case. Perhaps that is my leap of faith.

7 thoughts on “Toothless Tigers

  1. Thanks Hugh. I keep seeing these comments of “headed toward civil war.” The news releases have been saying this for months. I think they are in a civil war. I keep wondering if Putin was not in charge of Russia, would they have a different view of what is happening with their customer? I get a sense he wants to reserve the right to do this to his own people or someone like Georgia. I think it will take the UN and Putin sitting down and saying Assad has to go. So, let’s come up with a path forward that you can support or you won’t have a customer for the long haul. The other two options are to let it play out or conduct an invasion after ultimatums.

    • I don’t see Putin sitting down with the UN if he knows they will ask him to agree to dispensing with his hand-puppet. But your alternatives strike me as the only sane ones in an insane situation.


      • The alternative to invasion as a last resort is, of course, economic sanctions. But these seem to fail as the power-brokers in those countries seem to manage to pass the suffering along to others while they continue to enjoy the high life! Sad.

  2. The drones aren’t the first time, unfortunately, the U.S. has targeted civilians in recent wars: The massive bombing of Cambodia and North Vietnam did the same, as did our “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq, which, with the ensuing decade of occupation/invasion, has claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives. (plus, our money went to pay for Central and South American death squads and disappearances). Sad.

    I think in Syria, Obama and some of the other western leaders were hoping for an Egypt or Libya-like outcome, but in Egypt the army stood by/stood down until Mubarak was removed, and in Libya the military was split initially and once the tide started to turn against Gaddafi it more or less abandoned him. That’s not happening with Assad. Hopefully, Putin comes around. The history of American (or other outside) intervention on the ground in any of the Mideast nations is pretty dismal.

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