Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who ushered in the holy month of Ramadan with a vicious escalation of his murderous campaign against his own people, remains officially unscathed by the international community.
Yes, U.N. ambassadors finally agreed last Wednesday on a statement, the first Security Council condemnation of the Syrian regime, but did so with qualifications and without naming Assad. The council couldn't criticize “the Syrian authorities” for “widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians” without also taking a swipe at the protesters, urging “all sides to act with utmost restraint.” Diplomatic equivocation par excellence!
The U.N. Security Council simply has failed the Syrian people. Instead of adopting an enforceable resolution with strong condemnatory language and specific actions against the Assad regime, it settled for the much weaker “presidential statement” communiqué.
Radwan Ziadeh, a leader in the grassroots Syrian opposition, is angry. “We were very disappointed,” Ziadeh told me over the weekend. “It was less than what we actually expected, less than what the international community should do.” The painful reality, he stressed, is the Security Council adopted a resolution condemning Libya “only 11 days” after the Qadaffi regime crackdown began.
For Syrians, Ziadeh continued, it has been “18 weeks and we still pay the price of the Security Council -- no sanctions, no referral of Assad to the International Criminal Court.”
Will key U.N. members ever reconsider their posture towards the Assad regime?
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a day after the Security Council action, warned Assad that he “faces a sad fate” if his promised reforms are not implemented. The Syrian tyrant, of course, knows that Russia is his most powerful ally, obstructing stronger U.N. actions while criticizing U.S. and EU sanctions as interfering in Syria’s internal affairs.
Assad’s latest announced political reforms, to allow for establishing political parties in addition to the ruling Ba’ath, and holding new elections later this year, are headed into the same Syrian black hole as the other reform measures his regime previously proclaimed in vain efforts to mollify the protesters while continuing to shoot them.
So, what exactly would be the “sad fate” for Assad? U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon is supposed to update the Security Council Wednesday on the situation in Syria. The only positive report would be Assad’s resignation, or, at least his ordering all Syrian government forces to cease fire.
Since that outcome is highly unlikely, and even more Syrians are being killed daily, will Russia and the other obstructionist Security Council members – Brazil, China, India, Lebanon and South Africa -- finally end their opposition to the resolution supported by the U.S, France and the United Kingdom?
Arab outrage also has been excruciatingly slow to emerge. Only on Saturday, nearly five months after the Syrian regime’s atrocities began, did Gulf Arab governments express any concern.
Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Damascus, as did Bahrain and Kuwait. Italy had already pulled its ambassador, the only European country to do so. But, inexplicably, U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford returned to Damascus last Thursday. President Obama should have ordered him to stay when they met in Washington.
Meanwhile, with Congress now on summer recess, the prospect for additional U.S. sanctions -- such as targeting Syria’s energy sector -- is on hold until after Labor Day.
Any hope for European action against Syria’s oil and gas industry is similarly delayed.
The trouble is the Syrian tyranny is not on recess. The army and security forces have shown no capacity for downtime. Indeed, the continuing brutal assaults in Hama and now expanding to other cities across Syria, show beyond any doubt that the Assad regime is determined to use the rest of August – and Ramadan – as an opportunity to press even harder to try to crush the protesters in Syria, who also continue to demonstrate remarkable determination to carry on, against all odds, their struggle.
“The killings are not convincing the Syrian people to stop the protesting,” says Ziadeh, who under the circumstances is hopeful about his country’s future. “The regime cannot continue like this. If Assad stops the killings, he will face five to six million in the streets.”
But they cannot do it alone, not without assertive, coordinated, international action. Syrians need to hear a message from the world other than “See you in September.”
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.