The United Nations Security Council is suffering from what experts are calling the Libya hangover effect, a disorder chiefly symptomized by deafening silence and decisional paralysis, which has neutered the Security Council in the face of Syria's widespread violent repression, impeding the passage of any type of resolution against Damascus -- be it toothless sanction, effete condemnation or otherwise.
This, despite the fact Syrian President Bashar Assad has committed atrocities on par with those inflicted by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. Yet NATO, after forecasting the mass slaughter of innocent civilians, took swift action against Libya by enforcing a no-fly zone that transmogrified into a systemic bombing campaign.
Although clear evidence suggests Assad's employ of terror has arguably been even more twisted than Gaddafi's, Damascus has gone largely unscathed -- a dubious dichotomy vividly illustrated by Nick Cohen in a weekend Guardian piece:
For a tyrant whose forces took 13-year-old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, burned him, mutilated him, shattered his knee caps, cut off his penis and sent his corpse to his parents as a warning against participating in opposition politics, Bashar al-Assad receives remarkably forgiving treatment.
NATO's violation of the letter and spirit of UNSCR 1973 sits at the heart of the matter, a resolution passed in March under the auspices of "protecting Libyan civilians." In an interview with the Financial Times on Sunday, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev claimed Moscow was duped into supporting the Libyan intervention because the original mandate was loosely interpreted by Western powers, causing the mission's scope to rocket from limited engagement to full-scale bombardment.
As a result, Russian opposition to UN action has become categorical, evidenced by Moscow's threat to veto a sanction-less censure. Medvedev explained Russia's position: "We will be told the resolution reads 'denounce violence,' so some of the signatories may end up denouncing the violence by dispatching a number of bombers. In any event, I do not want it to be on my head."
In addition, the Russians believe intervention will only exacerbate the situation and could upset the regional balance because, in their eyes, Syria is still a linchpin to Mideast stability. They also contend Syria does not present a threat to international security and that the Syrians themselves must resolve the upheaval without foreign interference.
Syrians abandoned by the international coalition could easily point to Russian leaders as the primary villains. And it's highly likely Russia's stance has been shaped by domestic political forces and a Putinian grudge against NATO for embarrassing Moscow by exploiting the Libyan ordeal to suit Western neocolonial designs.
However, if NATO never abused its powers by taking the resolution from no-fly zone enforcement to regime change under the guise of "responsibility to protect", the situation would perhaps be much different. And the international community would be empowered to at least officially recognize that something wicked is astir in Syria.
Then again, one could argue Russia has taken the "high road" at exactly the wrong time and has overcompensated in its resistance, because refusing to even condemn Assad goes beyond reason. Silence was complicit consent to bomb Libya and now it has an antipodal effect because it lends legitimacy to the despot of Damascus.
Ironically, this is where Russia and U.S. interests seem to intersect, considering just months ago American leaders, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were calling Assad a "reformer". This, of course, was when Assad was a member of America's Preferred Tyrant Program. The U.S. has refrained from explicitly asking Assad to step down -- a reluctance that contrasts sharply with their enthusiasm in demanding a change in Tripoli. Meanwhile, Assad slaughters and detains with impunity.
The core problem isn't whether or not the global powers have reacted quickly enough to oust a given tyrant. The focus should be on how we got here. The underlying cause is the global elite's decades-long support of the same tyrants now being toppled. Assad and Gaddafi were committing similar crimes against humanity before the onset of Arab Spring -- but that's when they were our tyrants.
Let there be no confusion -- highlighting moral inconsistencies between Libya and Syria policy is not meant to suggest the international community ought get on the same page and invade Syria. Point being, global leaders should think twice before invading countries like Libya and telling the world it was done for humanitarian purposes. They should think twice before wholeheartedly backing a militarized opposition movement while standing silent and providing limited support to an entirely peaceful one.
Violence should be used to quell violence as a last resort. There was no justification for any foreign power to have bombed Libya and there is no justification for any foreign power to intervene militarily in Syria.
Plus, the Syrian people have been unequivocal in their desire for nonmilitary support because the use of force would degrade their movement. Hopefully the global elite will hear this message and grasp the concept that military intervention is not an option at this critical moment. And hopefully they understand that although violence is not the answer -- neither is silence.
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