After 15 months of relentless slaughter, the developments in Syria, with shockingly inordinate amounts of slain women and children, have demonstrated the international community's ineptitude and contemptible moral bankruptcy in the face of horrific carnage. The failure to stop the crisis stems from the international community's unwillingness to take stern measures to end the killing while it continues to take cover under the Annan plan and mouths countless verbal condemnations of the Assad regime, knowing full well that they will not succeed. Those that can change the course of events in Syria, including the U.S., EU, Turkey and the Arab League, have shamefully demonstrated the most startling shortsightedness coupled with wishful thinking in the face of insurmountable odds.
With the suspension of the observer mission in Syria, Mr. Annan has conjured yet another "ingenious" reformation of his beleaguered plan by calling for the creation of a "Syria Contact Group" that perplexingly includes Iran and Russia, who have and continue to provide President Assad with the means by which he slaughters his own people. While Mr. Annan is genuinely trying to end the killings by diplomatic means, his desire to preserve his reputation as an international mediator continues to stand in the way. Annan's new plan (like the previous ones) will soon prove futile. Meanwhile, thousands more innocent Syrians will die due to the West's inability to garner the moral courage to decisively act.
In scenes of grotesque horror, hundreds of children have been killed since Syria's uprising began, and thousands more have suffered unimaginable torture and abuse. With utter depravity, young children have been forced to witness the mutilation and execution of their fathers, only to soon meet the same fate as that of their family members. Their throats are slashed while cradled in the arms of caring mothers. Young girls and women suffer the wickedness of sexual violence at the hands of unconscionable monsters and are then killed in full view of their loved ones. Though barely scratching the surface, these events stand in stark contrast to the machinations of the international community, specifically those powers who can feasibly act to end the suffering. Whether out of their unique political interests in sustaining the Assad regime (i.e. Russia, China, and Iran) or the weak lack of will and misguided political calculations by Western powers to intervene, there is no willingness to provide the opposition with the necessary equipment to effectively defend themselves and absolutely no appetite to use military means against the government's merciless onslaught.
To top this inexcusable display, the support for the first Annan plan that passed the United Nations Security Council precisely due to its toothless character set the lowest denominator for international action possible. Prior to the resolution that adopted Annan's initiative, Russia and China were responsible for blocking the Arab League-backed effort in the Security Council that called on Assad to cede power and begin a political transition, thereby jettisoning any hope for a political solution to the conflict. The formation of a contact group at this juncture is ill-conceived and will prove as hopelessly ineffective as the first Annan plan. This course of action will no doubt provide Assad with more time to continue slaughtering his citizens unabated.
The confounding irony of the contact group proposal is the call for Iranian participation, which defies all logic given Iran's alleged role in providing crucial support of Assad's regime in the form of men and material, which has enabled the Assad government to continue its uncontainable conduct. Whereas Russian involvement may be deemed necessary by virtue of its deep relations and influence on Assad, Iran has allegedly been involved in, and is complicit in, the day-to-day massacres in a desperate effort to maintain the Alawite (a sect that has roots in the Shia faith) domination. Iran represents a country that has been destabilizing the Middle East since its own revolution in 1979, a country that has allegedly been behind the insurgency in Iraq for the past decade, a country that is allegedly racing toward the development of a nuclear weapon, a country that has defied five Security Council resolutions while preventing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from conducting unrestricted inspections, a country under intense international sanctions due to its intransigence, and a country that seeks regional hegemony by preserving, at all costs, the "Shia Crescent" that stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Mr. Annan's wisdom leads him to believe that Iran should be part of the solution when in fact it is very much a part of the problem. In light of Iran's aforementioned record, his supposed wisdom bears no further comment.
Suppose an international contact group is formed with or without Iran. By what measure and means will it succeed if the intention is merely to remove Assad from power? Even if Assad is replaced with a liberal reformer who dedicates himself to human rights and equality, there is no chance for success when the entire government apparatus (thousands of individuals from the internal security, military, intelligence services, the interior ministry, as well as the Ba'ath elite) who have vested interests in maintaining the current order and fighting for their lives, remains in place. In supporting Annan's new proposal, the international community is engaging in an illusory approach that is guaranteed to fail at the expense of the very lives of the Syrian people. It is extremely difficult to conjure up a higher form of hypocrisy and ineptitude.
Though the conflict is spiraling into a civil war, there are two potential options to solve the crisis. The first is to offer Assad immunity from criminal prosecution and provide him, his family and his criminal gang safe passage to a number of Arab countries that are willing to accept them, including Saudi Arabia. This approach presupposes that the removal of Assad will bring about a solution to the conflict, but this claim lacks crucial merit and is ultimately a nonstarter. Indeed, Assad has not merely inherited the presidency from his father but an entire governing apparatus that has been built around him and stands guilty of these ghastly crimes. Any diplomatic solution that revolves around Assad's exit will have to include the removal of thousands of individuals who lead various branches of the regime. Their departure should be followed by the formation of a government coalition that is representative of all Syrian factions and will steer the country through a transitional period of four to five years. The West must avoid the illusion that quick elections will provide a solution -- Egypt, Libya, Yemen and even Tunisia offer glaring examples of the failure of this approach.
Should the undeserved offer of clemency fail, there is no doubt that the Arab League, United States, European Union, and Turkey should join together to decide on military action aimed at bombing selective military targets in Syria. After several sorties the bombing should stop and a clear message should be sent to Assad that it would resume unimpeded if he and his clan do not relinquish their positions. Although I prefer a peaceful solution, in times of tragic impasse, it takes a certain level of counter-violence to prevent a much greater catastrophe. Now that a Turkish jet fighter was shot down by Syrian air defense, and if NATO stands firmly behind Turkey, Ankara will likely be more inclined to carve out a large section of Syria to provide cover and a space from which Syrian opposition forces can operate while providing aid to refugees and protecting the whole area by imposing a no-fly zone. Russia, Iran or China will not risk challenging the U.S. and the EU as long as Russia is informed, through private channels, that its interests in Syria will be preserved.
It is time to stop engaging in illusions and shameful hypocrisy and adopt a realistic framework to end the Syrian killing machine. The Alawite-dominated regime has, for decades, subjugated its people to subhuman conditions, denying them basic human rights while letting them be consumed by poverty. The international community must rise up to its moral obligations to halt the bloodshed. The failure to do so will precipitate the loss of credibility of Western powers in the region while submitting to the whims of Russia and Iran and plunge Syria into a full-fledged civil war.
Follow Alon Ben-Meir on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AlonBenMeir