Mar 23rd 2012

Ineptitude Coupled with Moral Bankruptcy

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates


A little more than a week ago, a heart-wrenching photo by Rodrigo Abd appeared in the front pages of the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. The horror on the face of this young Syrian boy named Ahmed encapsulates the enormity of pain and the unspeakable agony this innocent child has endured during the funeral of his father who was killed the day before by a Syrian Army sniper. But this is only one face of a single boy. How many thousands of Syrian children have met similar fates-children whose faces we have not seen not only because of the Syrian authorities’ restrictions on media coverage but because of the ineptitude and moral bankruptcy of the international community to prevent such a tragedy from happening time and time again?

 
I have always advocated against the use of force in any conflict and maintained that conflicts can, and should, be resolved by well-meaning people in an equitable and humane way. But sadly, at times it takes the measured use of force to prevent a far greater violence from occurring against innocent people. The use of violence against a government that employs its military machines to massacre civilians is, thus, morally justified if it saves the lives of children such as Ahmed that are shattered by innumerable tragic losses. But every major power or group of nations, directly or indirectly involved in or affected by the Syrian uprising, has shamelessly used political convenience to explain their unwillingness to intervene to stop the carnage. Clearly, the Assad regime is committing crimes against humanity but the world remains unabashedly silent. 

It is unabashedly cynical and disgraceful that major powers like Russia and China are playing politics to keep Bashar Assad in power while he unleashes his army day in and day out to commit unspeakable atrocities against his own people. As Russian-made weapon systems are firing huge, 240mm explosive mortars at parts of the city of Homs, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister commented in a briefing for foreign journalists in Moscow that, “we don’t have a basis to consider this military cooperation.” How hypocritical, bankrupt and shortsighted this policy is when in fact both Russia and China could have protected their national interests in Syria and in the region by playing a more constructive role. At the onset of the uprising, both countries should have counseled Assad to moderate his policies and act as intermediaries for a good cause, but they have not. When Bashar Assad falls, Russia and China will have to answer to the Syrian public and the Arab youth throughout the region as to what they have done. Thanks to Russian weapons and China’s unwavering support, the Syrian Army recently committed a massacre in the city of Homs and quelled the revolt in Idlib. Russia and China remained idle observers, allowing for horrifying images like this boy’s face to become commonplace once again. 

Under the so-called Obama Doctrine, it is understandable that the United States, which has just concluded a costly war in blood and treasure in Iraq and is still fighting another in Afghanistan, would shy away from engaging in another conflict that could have serious regional repercussions. But that is not the reason nor is it a good reason to allow the Syrian massacre to continue unabated. “It is the national elections stupid,” as someone recently put it. The Obama administration has simply forsaken the Syrian people and given in to Russian and Chinese bullying. The US’ stakes in the Middle East are extremely high and inaction will have far greater implications on US national security and economic interests than taking calculated military measures will. With or without a UNSC resolution, the Obama administration must act in coordination with its NATO partners. A safe haven should immediately be created on Syrian territory and a no-fly zone be declared to provide air cover for Syrian refugees and the grounds to train and organize army defectors while providing food medicine and weapons to those who are ready to die for freedom. Where are American values when desperately needed? Senator McCain was right in calling for US direct intervention by silencing Syria’s air defense.  The US would forfeit its moral obligations and its international standing as a force for good if it does not act with its partners to end the slaughter of innocent people like the father of this boy.

Although the United Nations General Assembly has condemned the Syrian atrocities by an overwhelming majority, the UNSC remains paralyzed because of Russia and China’s lack of any moral credence while armed with a veto power. Any country that refuses to come to the rescue of the Syrian people on the grounds that they must first be accorded a legal mandate to act must hear the outcries of the Syrian people and their constant pleas for help, which provide the only real legitimacy to act. Actors like Iran and Hezbollah who, under banners of religiosity, continue to support Assad’s slaughter of his own people and only debase Islam in the name of Islam. The Syrian freedom fighters have, for months, been demanding that the international community intervene militarily but to no avail. How many more thousands of Syrians must face the fate of this boy before they muster the courage to act?

Although Turkey has every reason to be extremely concerned over the rapidly-deteriorating events in Syria and is wary of taking bold action that may precipitate a wider sectarian conflict (not to mention an all out regional war) Ankara need not act alone. Ankara can, indeed must, do more in cooperation with its NATO partners.  It is one thing to claim to be a model for democratic Islam. It is another to stand firmly behind this principle and have the fortitude to act on it. It is time for Turkey to move beyond merely allowing refugees into its own territory, hosting the SNC and providing a safe haven for the Syrian army defectors. However admirable these steps are, they are inadequate in the face of continuing slaughter and Turkey’s ambition to become a regional power and effective in solving the crisis is at its doorsteps. The bloodletting conflict in Syria offers Ankara a historic, albeit sad, opportunity to change the dynamic on the ground by establishing a buffer zone, championing the cause of the Syrian people and positioning itself to exert influence in a post-Assad Syria. Finally, concerned over confrontation with Russia and Iran who back Syria, Ankara must come to terms with the fact that it cannot have it both ways. Syria is the battleground between Tehran and Ankara and severing the umbilical cord between Syria and Iran is the most desirable outcome for all states in the region. Absent an intervention, nothing will prevent Assad from persisting in the violent crackdowns that result in faces similar to this boy’s. 

The Syrian National Council (SNC) has openly called for an international military intervention to end the violence and protect civilians. But these calls will likely fall on deaf ears until the SNC makes itself a true representative body of the Syrian people and coordinates its activities with the Free Syrian Army. Thus far, the SNC has failed miserably in trying to achieve any kind of consensus, knowing full well that they must be fully organized and develop a unified political agenda for the future of Syria to command the respect and the support of the international community. Failing to move forward with one voice will further strengthen the argument of their detractors that they do not mirror the aspirations of the people and will provide more space for inaction by the countries that are reluctant to get involved. Meanwhile, more and more terrified faces like this boy’s face will continue to attest to the SNC’s ineptitude. 

Finally, of all the players, the Arab League (AL) is the most legitimate body that can act far more effectively to end the carnage in Syria. With the best of intentions, the AL has thus far been inept and failed to act collectively in an effort to force the Assad regime out of power. That said, as long as Assad is determined to crush all armed resistance, no compromise is possible. For the AL to pin down its hopes on Kofi Anan (former UN Secretary General who opposes arming the resistance and is against foreign intervention to achieve some diplomatic breakthrough) is an elusive move that would do nothing but further play into the hands of Assad. The AL should stick to its resolution of January 22, which makes no mention of dialogue with Damascus and suggests a political change beginning with Assad’s resignation and provides political cover for the Arab states to provide arms and other support to the opposition.  It is time for the AL, as a representative of the Arab world, to officially ask the US and NATO member states to help implement the AL-owned resolution. Turkey in particular needs the political cover that the AL and NATO can provide, allowing Ankara to move aggressively toward the establishment of a buffer zone. 

As this week marks the anniversary of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the sad conclusion is that all the concerned parties have miserably failed to live up to their obligations to protect civilian protesters from being ruthlessly massacred for seeking their freedom. The fact that none of these players has been able to master the will nor the means to end the carnage in Syria suggests a shameful ineptitude coupled with a moral bankruptcy that will continue to haunt us many years after the Syrian conflict has been settled. 

I salute Mr. Rodrigo Abd for risking his life to show us in a single photo the unfolding human tragedy in Syria in the face of international ineptitude.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "