A Brief Further Comment on Syria

25 Jul


            Some of the sharpest critics of my posts contend that I focus too much attention on Israel while exempting the far worse Syrian regime from any sort of harsh condemnation. In fact, I did write a post devoted to the Syrian situation on May 31, 2012 in which I referred to the criminal character of the Assad regime and pointed to such bloody deeds (Crimes Against Humanity) as the Houla massacre that had occurred a few days before. In my mind, there is no doubt that the behavior of the ruling clique in Damascus is genocidal, and should be condemned and appropriate international action undertaken to protect the people of Syria.


            But what is appropriate in such a situation is far from self-evident. The clarity of condemnation should not be confused with devising a prescription for action. Military intervention rarely succeeds, violates the right of self-determination, and often expands the scope and severity of violence, especially if carried out from the air. Furthermore, we know little about the opposition in Syria, to what extent its governance of the country would be based on the rule of law and human rights. There are confusing reports about rebel atrocities as well as concerning the role of Al Qaeda operatives leading some of the rebel forces, and also indications that Gulf money and weapons have been supplied to these forces ever since the beginning of the anti-Damascus uprising. Every government has the right to fight against its internal enemies, especially if heavily assisted by hostile external forces, although that right must be exercised within the framework of constraints imposed by international humanitarian law.


            Reflecting this complexity, the leading governments have turned to the UN as the least bad option, and its former Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to do all in his power to bring the killing to an end, and broker some sort of political compromise. So far it seems that neither side is prepared to lay down its arms, and so the killing goes on. The UN response seems feeble, and it is, but in the absence of a better alternative, it is the best that the organized international community can do at this stage, especially given the standoff between the permanent members of the UN Security Council. In this regard, with all sorts of factors at play, the Syrian slaughterhouse is best interpreted as a tragic predicament for those outside the country and a tragedy for those trapped within.


            Finally, it is certainly true that I have given overwhelming emphasis on my blog to the Israel/Palestine conflict. This is due partly to my recent work as a UN appointee, partly because I feel the United States through its diplomacy and financial contributions is so deeply and unacceptably involved in the conflict, and partly, no doubt, a matter of accidents of birth, friendship, and experience. In the period between 1965-75 I was comparably preoccupied with opposing the Vietnam War. I offer no apologies for either of these preoccupations, but readily admit that I could have chosen others.

16 Responses to “A Brief Further Comment on Syria”

  1. deepaktripathi July 25, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    Thank you, Richard, for making the case, once again, with such clarity. The brutal and criminal nature of the Syrian ruling order is known and is being denounced worldwide. The essence of the current debate surely is about the apparent haste of the West to take the military option to overthrow the government in Damascus. And that haste leads many to question the Western and allied Arab powers’ motives after the Libya experience. Prosecution under international law cannot be replaced by secretive and legally dubious methods to overthrow and murder heads of state.

    As for Israel, my primary objection – moral and legal – is that it always invokes the argument of exceptionalism with American support; that it is different and can do almost anything to others because Israel is a democracy. In order to avoid my comment becoming too long, it is enough to say that it is very flawed democracy, if that, for which critics have made plenty of argument. Denouncements of others must not take the necessary attention away from Israel.

  2. peri pamir July 25, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    fair enough, and yes, i did read and appreciate your first commentary on Syria after the Houla massacre, wondering why your engagement took so long in coming. but its still a relief to read this clarification..i also believe your general critique is sadly true, except that as with all civil conflict, a lot of innocent people get caught in the crossfire or are deliberately targetted which is the most tragic and unacceptable part of this war

    • Richard Falk July 25, 2012 at 5:07 am #

      It took so long because I was concentrating on other things, but also because Syria seemed particularly complex with many unknowns and radical uncertainties, and lots of contradictory allegations. And yes, it is such a sad commentary that there is no way to stop the killing, protect the people, hold the criminals accountable.

      BTW, where are you?

  3. sudhan July 25, 2012 at 4:16 am #

    Dear Dr Falk

    It is always enlightening and heartening to read the issues you deal with. Your overview of the Syrian situation and the slaughter that is going on there shows that the tyrannical regime of Assad wants to cling to power at every cost. That includes using its military power to crush those who have stood against him. We are also aware that a time comes when even the most tyrannical regimes are no longer able to contain the opposition to their regime. The same thing has been going on in Syria.

    I agree with your views that international community has limited options to intervene in a complex situation such as Syria’s internal developments. The United Nations is not in a position to take any bold initiatives because of the power politics played by the permanent members of the UNSC. Does that mean we should wash our hands of any responsibility and let the slaughter of the Syrian people continue at the hands of the Assad clique? I also believe that a man of your wide experience in international relations and diplomacy should take a bold stand against the brutal onslaught of the Assad regime, explore ways how best to stop the carnage and also to meet the demands of freedom that the people of Syria have long been deprived of by the Assad family. To stand on the side-lines at this juncture will not produce any positive results. We need a general mobilisation and active work to combat the Assad clique and its slaughter of the Syrian people. I think, we who live outside Syria can do much to help the people of Syria.

    With regard to your involvement with Israel/Palestine issue, all I can say is that you have shown what a principled man can do and what sort of pressures bear in doing what is right. You have been subjected to much abuse and calumnies at the hands of Zionists, Rightist forces and political reactionaries. But you have stood your ground and all kudos to you. We are proud of your work and your example. However, to expect that you could have dome more for other international issues brings us to judging the capacities of an individual unrealistically. No one can do all what calls for serious attention. You are not an exception. But those of us who believe in the rule of law, human rights, freedom of subjugated people from occupation, struggle against war criminals like Bush and Obama, etc., can do much in this age and in the present conditions.

    Peace and Justice Post

    • Richard Falk July 25, 2012 at 4:59 am #

      Thanks for your thoughtful post and its much appreciated words of support. I am grateful to you also for taking issue with the view that because intervention is not a positive option, nothing can and should be done to stop the atrocities, stop the killing, and hold the Assad regime accountable. I think you are right to challenge me in this way, and I will give further thought to offering a better response.

  4. Fred Skolnik July 25, 2012 at 5:36 am #

    It has taken me a while but I think I am beginning to figure you out.

    It seems to me that you have no real interest in the settlement of conflicts or the achievement of peace between nations but only in finding “oppressed” people through which to channel and vent your personal resentments. You have chosen the Palestinians, and that, as you say, is coincidental, it could have been someone else, and that is at least honest, because what is important to you is not the Palestinians as victims but Israel and the United States as culprits. Remove them from the equation and you lose interest in the welfare of the Palestinians. The fact that they were herded into camps and have been treated like animals by their fellow Arabs for the past 65 years does not disturb you in the least. The fact that Hamas has unleashed a reign of terror in Gaza in its war against secular life also does not disturb you in the least. In fact, none of the oppression that Arabs have been made to endure under Islamic rule falls under your definition of human rights violations. This strikes me as very odd. It has also struck some of your admirers as a little odd and you have gone to certain lengths to rationalize your particular biases. I am not going to speculate about your hatred of Israel and America. I will only say that it strikes me as being a lot stronger than any sympathy you may have for the Palestinians or anyone else.

  5. Francis Oeser July 25, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    “We know little about the opposition” as you say, BUT someone is arming them, and the UN has implicit attitudes of regime change in its pronouncements. The mess is the result of a general bigotry, underhand actions and the rest of the world interfering in internal affairs, none of which can lead to a satisfactory solution. Let’s accept the mess is of our own making and draw back until one or both sides agree to our help.

    • monalisa July 25, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      To Mr. Oeser:
      I agree with you in some points.

      We don’t know the real facts. We are feeded by the mainstream media with some pictures and with it some “information” marked as “facts”.
      The “Friends of the Syrian People” as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called them, are feeded with the best arms nowadays through Lebanon (from the Sea mostly) and Irak.
      Calling rebels “Friends of the Syrian People” points direct to the desaster and “humanitarian war” in Libya. The complete infrastructure has been demolished, Bombs with DU material were used, and what we saw in the different TV channels (I have seven in German language, one in French (which I don’t understand so very good, same goes to the Italian and Spanish ones) and in English language BBC, CNN, France 24, and Al Jazeera was almost the same mainstream feeding. Only about three channels were different from the other mainstream channels.

      So what has been “pointed to” by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shows the way the USA and some other Western Countries (and maybe too Saudi Arabia and Israel) would like that this desaster in the Syrian revolution should/wiil go.

      Syria is a very special country: I think there isn’t any country like it on our globe. They have more than ten different ethnic groups and beliefs, especially the different Christian ones.
      It could only function – that people lived together despite different believes – because religion and politique were separated.
      If that will be in the future ?
      And which “promise” got those paid “rebells” with their most modern arms ?


  6. Alon Amid. July 25, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    Humbly enough, it is most difficult for me to overlook the biased opinions and double standards which are being displayed in your text in some rather high definition.

    “Every government has the right to fight against its internal enemies, especially if heavily assisted by hostile external forces, although that right must be exercised within the framework of constraints imposed by international humanitarian law.” How is this different from the situation in Israel?

    Well, there is a slight different. The terror organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, both work from the outside. In which case, a nations sovereignty and right to defend itself gains greater importance and need.

    Put aside that specific fact, the Hamas and Hezbollah are also being funded and supported by Gulf money and arms. And yet, it seems not to bother you.

    With your permission, I will quote again: “Furthermore, we know little about the opposition in Syria, to what extent its governance of the country would be based on the rule of law and human rights”.
    It would be safe to say that the current regime is hardly demonstrating the rule of law or protection of basic human rights.

    This is a wake up call. Something fishy is happening in the UNHRC.

  7. Jose Luis August 10, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    I simple agree with you Richard! Thank you for all your great articles!

  8. Vivere Pericoloso August 14, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    This conflict, 2012 Syrian Civil War, has become a proxy war between Russia & China and U.S. & its allies and a spiritual sequel to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

    • Richard Falk August 14, 2012 at 3:37 am #

      It is certainly a proxy war, but also a bitter internal struggle being further deformed by competitive interventions on both sides.

      • F. Everett September 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

        Dear Dr. Falk,

        Excellent article, as always. The Assad regime has now been definitively shown to not have been responsible for the Houla massacre, isn’t that correct?


        F. Everett


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