06.01.2012 09:28 PM

In Sunday’s Sun today: the world is beyond saving

The photograph, posted by a famous journalist, isn’t just horrible. It is beyond words.

CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour tweeted it to her 325,000 Twitter followers. The photograph shows three dead children arrayed for burial. Two of the children appear to be young enough to still be in diapers. They’re babies. There’s blood on their tiny faces.

All three were murdered by militia loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad last weekend. Forty-nine children were killed in Houla, in central Syria; in all, more than 100 civilians were butchered. The world’s response? Just more talk, but no action.

In Canada, the federal government’s response was equally a joke — many months after the Syrian genocide began, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird finally decided to merely expel some Syrian diplomats. That’s all. When I suggested online that the federal government’s reaction to the worsening Syrian tragedy was pathetic, no less than Maher Arar concurred.

“Too little too late,” agreed Arar, who was wrongly imprisoned and tortured in Syria in 2002-03, with the complicity of the RCMP. “This is no more than a face-saving tactic on the part of Canada.”

28 Comments

  1. smelter rat says:

    Bravo, Mr. K. Well said.

  2. R. Maloney says:

    Warren,

    I have been reading your stuff for years. I appreciate your willingness to just lay it out there and draw attention to what should be obvious wrt Syria…it’s about time somebody did.

    RM

  3. Mark says:

    I agree that our government’s position is insufficient. What more should we do?

  4. lance says:

    No more war. Not with or for anyone not our allies.

  5. Kevin says:

    The irony of a Liberal using Maher Arar’s imprisonment in Syria as an attack on the current Conservative government is beyond the pale.

  6. Dude Love says:

    Unfortunately Syria will never be considered for a military action against the current regime due to its highly effective anti-aircraft defenses (supplied by both the US and former Soviet Bloc). Syria is not easy military pickings like Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

    • The Doctor says:

      I’ve certainly read the same thing via other credible sources. E.g., Syria’s military capability is much, much more formidable than Libya’s was. So I agree that people who simply say “we should do something about this” or “we should do more” ought to pony up and specify what exactly it is that they think should be done.

      • Philip says:

        Why are there no other options other than to do nothing or a mounting bombing campaign?

        • Dude Love says:

          Hug a Thug or Dance with a Dictator works wonders for solving world problems.

          • Philip says:

            I gather it was too much of an effort to come up something not written on a bumper sticker? If a person wants lazy, just look for the nearest Conservative.

          • Dude Love says:

            If you look at the history and geopolitics of Syria, the country is wealthy, well armed (by both the US and Russia) and is able to by pass all embargoes due to its location, as a well trained military (again thanks to both the US and Russia) and has a large influence on poor countries in the region. So diplomatically, Assad doesn’t care. If Syria was a soft target, Isreal would have dealt with Assad years ago.

            Last time I checked, dictators don’t hand over the keys to the country easily unless they are on the losing side of a revolution or other military action.

            PS. Actually, my bumper sticker says I the proud parent of an honors student.

          • Philip says:

            The Syrian armed forces is definitely one of the top 2nd tier militaries in the world . Their AAA network, in terms of experience and capabilities would give anyone a run for their money. The Syrian have repeatedly gone up against one the of the premier air forces in the world, the Israelis, it’s only made them better. Just one of the many reasons why an air campaign against Syria would be a non-starter in my opinion.

            As a regional power, Syria won’t be easy to influence by external forces, particularly the United Nations. You are completely right about that. Moral ‘suasion, as Kipling called it, does have some teeth and has to be applied vigorously by the world community. I think the recent appearances by Assad, trying to distance himself from the clearly endorsed executions in Houla, shows that moral outrage can affect even the most secure dictator. If he didn’t care what the world thought of him, he wouldn’t be out trying to tap dance his way out from underneath the killings. While moral persuasion doesn’t help those Syrian dead or their families now, it acts more like an avalanche gathering more and more momentum until it becomes unstoppable. The drawback is that process takes time, time the Syrian people may not have. But let’s not neglect to use that outrage. Right now Russia, Syria’s large power ally, is particularly vulnerable to external pressure.

            I guess I disagree with your assessment that dictators in general, and the Assad regime in particular can only be removed by military force. If nothing else, the break up of the Warsaw Pact has shown us that external military force isn’t the “magic bullet” that will topple regimes. Egypt is the another example, although, to be fair we don’t know the final outcome. I’m leery about using military force to solve the world’s problems, not from any inherent pacifism but from a knowledge of exactly what the sharp end looks like. Syria isn’t a military job for Canada, certainly not for N.A.T.O but there are other regional powers, notably Turkey, Jordan and Israel, who do have a stake in the stability of that country. Why not have Canada offer assistance and direction to those regional powers?

            I appreciated your points but I don’t feel that Syria is a binary problem, either do nothing or full on military assault.

          • JamesHalifax says:

            Philip,

            While true the Syrian military is very strong in the region, it is still a minor player when it comes to the modern military might of the West. (read: America)

            It’s true the Syrian’s could put up a better fight than Libya or some of it’s neighbours, but the outcome is not in doubt. The USA could crush syria pretty quickly, but the drawback is not simply American casualties.

            As soon as the first bomb falls we’d have the usual suspects decrying American imperialism, capitalist slaughter..etc..etc…..

            It would also provide another recruiting drive in Muslim countries who would see it as just another attack by the West on a Muslim country…though I’m sure many Syrian’s would appreciate the help. Well, at least those who have not yet been murdered by the Assad Regime.

            Also, if the WEST was to use force against Assad, we’d have a very predictable outcome. The French might provide a few air-to-air refuellers that aren’t needed, the German’s would provide moral support, but nothing militarily, the other NATO allies would express concern about civilian casualites and Amnesty International and other like-minded (war is always bad groups) folks would call for a press conference and denounce the violence.

            I agree with Warren. Force is the ONLY thing that will get rid of Assad. The Syrian military is strong as far as Muslim countries go, however, they still wouldn’t stand a chance against the USA’s military might. The USA is more concerned about the publicity…….not the AA defences of Syria.

            Frankly, it’s a no-win in many respects. Use Force….face the fallout from the Usual suspects, especially the UN which can’t admit it’s own uselessness. Who takes over from Assad? Could they be even worse? (In Egypt’s case…maybe) Etc..etc….

            As for your suggestion that Israel play a hand in the removal of Assad….hmmm……

            I can see no quicker way for the Muslim countries in the region to come to Assad’s assistance.

            As I said….it’s a no-win except for the Syrians who want to see Assad taken down. Even then, you can be sure that after Assad’s removal, we’d have Syrian’s demanding compensation for the bombing campaign…etc…etc….

          • Philip says:

            James:
            While the paper match up between the USAF and Syrian air defense looks like a slam dunk, I’m not so sure. Ultimately the USAF will dismantle the Strian network but it will take lots and lots of low level AAA suppression packages applied over months and months. American flight crew casualties, the inevitable Syriain civilian casualties and six months (or more) of round the clock operations aren’t going to entice the Americans to go this alone. The United States has justifiably been out the world’s policeman business for a long time now. Syria isn’t going to change that at all.

            Whether or not N.A.T.O becomes involved is an interesting question. A lot of “ifs” would have to fall in line before I could see that happening. Particularly absent a U.N Security Council Resolution authorizing the use of force. The most likely non-U.N sponsored scenario I can imagine would be large scale Syrian government attacks (division level +) across the Turkish border. At that point the N.A.T.O articles kick in. I could definitely see an enthusiastic and violent European/North American member response. But those attacks would have to be large and run by government formations, not the level of attacks coming across the border now. N.A.T.O could and should offer both civil and military support to Turkey now as an indirect way to apply pressure to the Assads. Jordan also offers some opportunities for N.A.T.O, with upgrading of their air defense and special forces capabilities being the most immediately effective. Not boots on the ground in Syria but N.A.T.O boots and capabilities on their borders.

            Israel will be seen as involved with any Western military strike against Syria, even if that means simply granting over fly permission. As will Turkey. Which other Middle Eastern governments are going to run to the aid of the Assads? Even the Lebanese government would be thrilled at a weakened Syria.

            As I have said before, a military operation (whether strictly air or the whole package) isn’t the only option and perhaps the worst option available to Western Powers at this time. The Assads should be removed but it will have to be by the Syrians themselves, backed by some of their neighbors.

          • JamesHalifax says:

            Philip, I wrote that using Force is the only way to get rid of Assad…..I never said it would be pretty.

            the Americans (and it would be the Americans who assumed the role) would bomb the hell out of the Syrian’s to soften up their defences. They would use cruise missiles for the first few strikes, followed by stealth aircraft and smart bombs. The air campaign would do a good job of getting rid of most Syrian defences.
            It would not take months and months….it would take a week or two of heavy attack, but as you mentioned, the civilian casualties would be very high. Given what we have seen of the Assad regime, and other Muslim countries in the region, you could be sure a lot of dead bodies would be broadcast on the Arab news each night….even if the Assad regime had to kill them itself.
            Another factor to consider is the training of the Syrian Air Force. As we’ve seen in past conflicts, Arab/Muslim countries may be able to purchase advance weapons and aircraft from more advanced states, however, it takes advanced training to use them. When the American pilots show up…Arab pilots usually bail out or leave while they have the chance.

            I do agree that the final outcome would rest with the Syrians themselves, however, given what we have seen in Egypt and other “arab spring” countries……we may miss Assad when he’s gone. How long after Assad’s fall before the Islamicists start massacring the Christians or Shia? I’d give it a week or so before that started.

            The whole thing is ugly, and there really will be no winner. If we take them out by Force…..we still lose as the arab countries condemn us, and use it to fuel even more hatred towards the West.

            As I wrote before….it really is a no win scenario. The Americans could pound them into submission, but as Colin Powell stated about Iraq…..”you break it, you own it”

            Not sure we’re ready to fund the next dictatorship.

          • Philip says:

            Again?

            On it’s own, America is not going to apply it’s military force in Syria. For all the reasons I mentioned above. It’s not looking for another war, after Afghanistan and Iraq and it has stopped being the world’s policeman back in the Bush Sr. years. For a lot of very good reasons. That particular fantasy of yours is simply not going to happen.

            Within N.A.T.O or as part of a United Nations Security resolution? Perhaps, but the things which would have to fall in place for that to happen put the Western use of force into some pretty long odds.

            Do nothing? Well, Edmund Burke had it right in regards to what it takes to encourage bad men. Doing nothing isn’t on the table anymore.

            So what can Canada do? It gets creative, finds solutions and we do the heavy mental lifting which we used to be good at. The real world isn’t a binary place, it never has been.

  7. fred says:

    “Russia has also continued to sell arms to Syria. A Russian cargo ship heavily laden with weapons arrived in Syria last weekend.”

    Putin wants to keep Assad in power, and Syria is only around 35th in proven oil reserves. Call me jaded.

  8. Michael Behiels says:

    I have been calling for the application of the R2P doctrine in Syria ever since the civil war erupted.
    NATO was all too eager to intervene in Libya because of the oil but has turned away from the Syrian crisis because intervention does not serve NATO’s interests and the EU is in a serious economic crisis.
    Assad will continue his slaughter of Syrian citizens as the world looks on in disgust and politicians shut their eyes and ears to the suffering.
    We know when this happened before and we know the terrible consequences of a policy of misplaced and amoral appeasement.

    It is a very depressing time for citizens of the world as they watch the failure of their governments to protect innocent citizens from slaughter at the hands of dictators.

    Please demand your political representative to pay attention and do something.

  9. dave says:

    The murders in Syria are depraved. How do we stop this?It would help to have a bit of confidence in our decision makers, and in whether or not they are telling us everything.
    I would like an intrepid journalist to determine, and tell us, whether or not the following happened:

    2 resolutions before the UN Security Council, one from the West(USA and us), and one from Russia.
    Both have ways to stop the violence, and get negotiations between Assad regime and opposition going.
    But West has added pre condition – that Assad step aside, and hand power over to a (vice president?) – something most diplomats figure Assad regime will not do.
    Russian foreign minister Lavrov goes to Damascus to see what Assad regime will respond.
    Before Lavrov is in Damascus, West suddenly introduces its resolution ot the Security Council.
    Russia and China veto the resolution.

    Western media and politicians show outrage and excoriate Russia and China for blocking peace.

    If we are going to natter on about our brave women and men in uniform fighting for all that is good and just, we should certainly show them the decency to try to be straight up about why we are sending them on missions against foreigners.

  10. kenn2 says:

    I’m not jaded, but at a certain age, you know that you have to pick your battles.

    It seems even harder for the average Canadian to be proactive on world issues these days, because they’re not a sliver of daylight between the positions of Canada and the US, when it comes to the middle east. Canada hasn’t had an independent world view since the last election or two. Don’t call Ottawa, call Washington.

    And, really, beyond our sincere desire to protect innocents… what is the right course of action, longterm? Remember how the initial Western response to the Arab spring was between tepid and dismissive? That’s because all those despots we now profess to despise – Ghaddafi, Mubarek, Saddam Hussein,etc were still acceptable if flaky partners when it came to oil supply. They were all US allies and clients at some point. So, in general the west was ok with the dictatorships as long as the oil flowed. There were over 4000 westerners working in Libya’s oil regions (mostly for western companies) at the outbreak of Libya’s civil war.

    Do we aid the rebellion and hasten the end of Assad, or do we aid Assad to put down the rebellion and keep Syria a secular dictatorship, instead of possibly a new Islamic hotspot? I wonder what Israel’s hoping will happen…

    But this is my own rationalization. Warren, with your soapbox, maybe you can cut through where I’d fail. In this, you have my support.

    The world is the world, I happen to think it still contains much that is good, and it’s still capable of growth.

  11. Smitty says:

    Syria is a country of many tribal groups, and the Assad tribe rules because it controls the Army. The rebellion is a tribal attack on Assad, so it’s a matter of which tribe survives. Assad intends to survive regardless of the UN or US objections to his slaughter of enemy tribes.

    Muslim Arabs are split religiously and tribally. They cannot maintain a homogeneous democratic system because they are their own enemies. Soon Afghanistan will collapse back to it’s tribal Taliban roots, and the Afghans who got rich after the invasion will flee the country they are still milking for all it’s worth.

    Soon Egypt and Libya will be “governed” by the Muslim Brotherhood — the Islamic extremists who reject the tenets of democracy. Just watch.

  12. Leon Wu says:

    So Iraq Pt II? Unfortunately while military intervention sounds like a panacea, it will only open up a new can of worms. There will be collateral damage, civilian casualties and dead soldiers. The people who support and benefit under Assad will not go quietly (they’ve seen what happens when you fall from power: Iraq), expect more IED’s, ambushes, massacres and probably suicide bombers as radicals take the opportunity to strike foreign soldiers (those who couldn’t get bus-fare to Afghanistan).

    If this country is truly willing to pay more taxes to fund a long-term military campaign, willing to sacrifice hundreds of soldiers to bring peace to Syria, then we will save the Syrian people from a ruthless dictator. Unfortunately we aren’t. When the 100th Canadian soldier dies, we’ll start demanding to pull out. When taxes are raised 1% to pay for this war, we’ll start protesting. We in the west do not have the stomach to spend a decade in Syria along with all the blood and treasure to bring stability and foster a democracy. Remember how Iraq was supposed to be easy-in, easy-out?

  13. Lawrence Stuart says:

    In you piece I think you at least flirt with a false analogy. The situation in Syria is not equivalent to the murder in Montreal.

    In the murder case, you have a single person committing a heinous act for which there are well established legal remedies. He will be caught. He will be prosecuted. He will be punished. Gods willing.

    In the case of Syria you have a nation state coming apart at the seams. You have conflicting great power and regional power interests. You have sectarian strife. Scratch that: you have, in all but name, a complex civil war. There are no white hats and black hats. Yes, Assad should go. But if you were an Alawite, or a Christian, you might, with very good reason, see things as being a whole lot more complex.

    We look for justice, for action, but where do we look? There is simply no there there.

    And so we are caught, as Richard Falk says in this sad and wise al Jazeera article, in the tragic space between the impossible and the unacceptable:

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/852rg4g

  14. Jon says:

    Because of the Syrian situation I believe that the United States and Britain would be fully justified in invading Fiji and Canada could stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with our U.S. and U.K. allies in the fight against “Epeli”!

  15. Adem says:

    Assad is an “Alewite” arab which is Shia muslim. About 3/4 of Syria is Sunni muslim, and they are mounting the rebellion against Alewite Assad. Alewites are tolerant to Orthodox Christians in Syria, whereas the Sunni are extremist muslims now.

    The Alewites and Christians are fighting for their position and lives in the Syrian civil war. If they lose, they will be slaughtered by the extremist muslim majority. Assad must break the back of the insurrection centered in Hom, otherwise there will be a horrendous bloodbath in Syria.

    It’s a civil war, and civil wars are typically bloody affairs. Since Assad controls the army and militia groups, he has the upper hand against the Sunni muslim majority. The Russians prefer to back the Assad Alewite regime to stop Syria from falling into the hands of the muslim extremists. The US is jawboning, but the muslim-controlled UN is calling for a halt to the fighting on behalf of the Sunni’s.

    Gonna be interesting …. because the UN, NATO, and US cannot occupy Syria because they would have to go over the Russians.

  16. Steve T says:

    As much as Assad sickens me, so did Saddam, Mubarak, Ghaddafi, the Taliban, etc… Yet, for the various levels of assistance that the West provided in ridding countries of those monsters, there doesn’t seem to be much change in the Middle East world order. Nor are Muslims suddenly ringing the praises of the West (not that they necessarily should, entirely, but you know what I mean).

    Therefore, I suggest we stop engaging in these matters, and only intervene when the regime directly threatens us. Perhaps not the most generous approach, or the most humane, but the current approach hasn’t worked very well either.

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