Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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R2P, R.I.P.

by Elliott Abrams
March 8, 2012


It was during Kofi Annan’s tenure as Secretary General of the United Nations (1997-2006) that the “Responsibility to Protect” became a major item on the international scene.  That is no feather in his cap, because the urgency of “R2P,” as it came to be called, reflected the various mass murders that had taken place during his watch ( Darfur, 400,000 dead; Kosovo, 800,000 displaced and 12,000 killed) or just before it (Rwanda, 800,000 killed) when he was an Under Secretary General and latterly the Special Representative for the Former Yugoslavia.

What is R2P? A resolution adopted at a world summit in 2005 and then by the UN Security Council in 2006 holds that governments must protect their people, not commit war crimes and genocide against them, and further than other nations may intervene in extreme cases, through regional bodies and the UN.

This week several UN officials and one former official spoke about the slaughter in Syria. Here is a BBC item about the UN’s chief of humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos, who had just visited Syria:

“The devastation there is significant, that part of Homs is completely destroyed and I am concerned to know what has happened to the people who live in that part of the city,” Baroness Amos told Reuters news agency.

Activists said troops committed massacres after they went in to the district, but Damascus blamed the rebels for many deaths.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says activist groups continue to report the summary execution of men from Baba Amr, the butchering of entire families, and the systematic mass rape of women.

In counterpoint this is what Mr. Annan had to say, before visiting Syria in his new role as peace envoy of the Arab League and the UN:

“I hope no one is thinking seriously of using force in this situation,” Annan said. “As I move to Syria, we will do whatever we can to urge and press for a cessation of hostilities and end to the killing and violence.”

Whatever happened to the responsibility to protect, one wonders. If Mr. Annan hopes that “No one is thinking seriously of using force” one must hope he is soon introduced to President Assad. And equally one must wonder what our own leaders are thinking. As usual, Michael Young, the brilliant opinion editor of the Beirut Daily Star newspaper, brings clarity to the situation:

The Obama administration wants President Bashar Assad to leave office. He massacres his population. Washington refuses to arm Syrian rebels. Iran and Russia send weapons to Assad’s killers. This is the dispiriting equation with which Syrians are living today.

What is it about the Syrian conflict that Barack Obama does not get? On Tuesday, the American president assured us that Assad would not last. “Ultimately this dictator will fall,” he declared, before adding that the United States would not engage in unilateral military action. Syria is “more complicated” than Libya, Obama observed. He was right, but its complications do not entitle him to formulate an unintelligible policy that only ensures the dictator slaughters more innocents.

The Americans insist that they don’t want to provoke a Syrian civil war by arming the Free Syrian Army. That vindication is inaccurate, disingenuous and incomplete. It is inaccurate because Syria is effectively in a civil war of sorts, one propelled by the regime and its outrages. It is disingenuous because, while Washington does not want to resort to a military option, others will, including U.S. allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the Obama administration probably won’t actively hinder such steps. And it is incomplete, because American officials have omitted from the conversation the sinister role played by Iran and Russia, confirming that they regard the survival of the Assad regime as a strategic necessity, mainly against American interests.

Whether Obama likes it or not, the only way to put the Assad regime on the defensive is to devise a plan that includes both military and political components. No one is asking that the United States go to war in Syria; but the administration can, with its Arab and Western partners, assist in organizing, training, and coordinating the actions of anti-regime combatants.

Read the entire column here.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Annan seem of one mind in opposing any useful assistance to the Syrians fighting the Assad regime, beyond bandages, medicines and the like. But if we have no responsibility to protect them, have we no moral obligation to help them protect themselves? It is offensive that while the regime continues its mass murder and devastation we are told that aiding the rebels must be rejected as “using force” and “militarizing the conflict.” If we have no responsibility to protect, can we at least avoid such hypocrisy? The Assad regime has chosen destruction, murder, and torture to maintain its dictatorship over the people of Syria. If we decide not to help them defend themselves, let’s say so and not hide behind pious platitudes.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Mike From Tampa

    neocon chickenhawk

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    For Obama confronting Syria with anything beyond words means confronting Russia … the thing he fears most .

  • Posted by elaine shallcross

    Then Russia, must be the diplomates & why not? Get this done!!

  • Posted by Danny Black

    Always appreciate the intelligent comments from Mike in Tampa.

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