International paralysis over the tragic civil war in Syria is laying the groundwork for even greater tragedies to come. Bad as the situation is now, all signs are that worse lies ahead, and the forces that eventually displace President Bashar Assad are likely to be deeply mistrustful of the outside powers that have stood by while he brings the country down upon him.
Fresh evidence of how bad things are comes from the United Nations’ own high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. She says an “exhaustive analysis” of casualty reports since the uprising against Assad’s regime erupted in March, 2011, shows that at least 60,000 people have died — far higher than previously thought. Failure of the international community to do anything meaningful to stop the slaughter “shames us all,” she says. “Collectively, we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns.”
Can it get worse? Sadly, yes. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, says that without a political settlement, Syria is headed toward “Somalization” — the emergence of feuding warlords in a state of unrestrained Hobbesian all-against-all — and could be “transformed into hell.” He predicts as many as 100,000 dead in 2013.
There’s no question where the bulk of blame lies for the UN Security Council’s pathetic inaction. China and, especially, Russia have blocked any meaningful measures against the Assad regime, which is apparently determined to fight to the death — if not its own, then that of tens of thousands of its people. One of its own senior generals, who fled to Turkey over Christmas, says the Syrian army has degenerated into “a gang for killing and destruction.”
It’s understandable that the United States, in particular, was reluctant to plunge into yet another Mideast conflict when it was far from clear that Assad could be ousted and there was no united Syrian opposition to his discredited government. Now the balance has tipped. Forces opposed to Assad have come together in a coalition recognized by the U.S., Britain, France and other countries. And it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before Assad is driven from power.
Outside countries, including Canada, should continue to donate generously to UN funds to help refugees. And the time is past for the U.S. and other major western powers to drop their objections to stronger measures, such as arming the united Syrian opposition. As long as Russia and China block meaningful diplomatic moves through the UN Security Council, the only answer to the Assad regime’s refusal to budge is force.