Giving peace a chance in Syria
The most chilling appraisal of present life and future prospects in civil war-torn Syria came last week when President Bashar al-Assad was heard to say: "The situation is practically better." The president's upbeat assessment must be taken to reflect his satisfaction over his armed forces' escalating aerial and other bombardment of residential areas, causing high casualties, uncounted fatalities resulting from search-and-seize assaults on civilian homes, and the expanding exodus of refugees over borders into Turkey and Jordan.
For President Assad, "better" must mean the intensification of slaughter, devastation, and ruin of normal life expectations as experienced over the 18 months when neither the government nor the armed opposition have been able to defeat the other, nor even to make decisive advances.
If that is now changing in favour of the Assad regime's firepower and on account of its support by Russia and China, the evolving situation amounts to a distressing advance for a bloodthirsty impulse, by any means necessary, to kill off opposition forces and to scorch the earth presumed to be inhabited by civil-war enemy supporters, many of them identified on a religious basis.
In its own ways, the divided opposition forces, including former Syrian military officers and political figures, have been hardly less bloody-minded. Bereft of international support, however, the anti-Assad movement has not shown the capacity to project lethal force in any manner comparable to the Libyans rebelling last year against the late dictator Muammar Gadaffi.
Initiatives by the UN, headed by the celebrated Kofi Annan, and by the Arab League, have failed to deliver peace, or any basis for talking in those terms. Against this background, Egypt, with its newly elected government, has launched a new peace initiative. This one gains curious international attention, if only for the fact that it proposes the eyebrow-raising involvement of Iran.
Embattled against the international community because of its own nuclear ambitions, Iran appears an unlikely partner in any quest for Mideast peace and stability.
As further evidence of the failure of multilateral initiatives, 120 Non-aligned Movement nations, meeting in Teheran last week, upheld Iran's case for becoming a nuclear power. Its final communiqué, however, avoided any mention of the burning issue of Syrian internal conflict.
The non-aligned outcome opened the way for other efforts aimed at making a difference in Syria, a country with which T&T has some historic ties.
French President Francois Hollande has been advocating for an internationally protected safety zone for refugees and civilian victims of the fighting. France, which is also calling on the divided Syrian rebels to form an interim government, can hardly be regarded a peace broker. Its proposal, however, aimed at safeguarding a Syrian civilian population caught in the crossfire, appears worth at least a try. Everything else, by everybody else, has failed.