- Last Updated: 12:03 AM, May 31, 2012
- Posted: 11:08 PM, May 30, 2012
Last weekend’s massacre of at least 108 Syrians in three villages near Homs was a “game changer,” according to Britain’s UN ambassador. It was an “eye opener,” said his German colleague. A “tipping point,” chimed in the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, former Secretary General Kofi Annan.
It’s none of the above.
Despite President Obama’s renewed pleas to President Vladimir Putin, Russia will use its veto power to block any new action by the Security Council. And America’s onlypolicy now is UN-based — so forget about changing, awakening or tipping anything in Syria.
The Sunday massacre at the cluster of villages known as al-Houla culminates 14 months of atrocities in President Bashar al-Assad’s civil war, for a total of at least 12,000 deaths so far. This one was particularly gruesome: 49 children and 34 women were among the victims — many either shot at a close range or had their throats slit.
Grotesque YouTube videos and other documentation of the horrors moved France’s new president, Francois Hollande, to become the first Western leader to suggest a military intervention to oust Assad. But he still insists on authorization from the UN Security Council — where Russia (with its ally China) will say nyet.
Meanwhile Obama is reading polls that show little public appetite for new Mideast engagement. So America, the only power than can muster a coalition outside the Security Council, is instead leading behind European diplomats, UN careerists and — yes — Russia.
The New York Times reports that the administration is urging Putin to copy our semi-successful maneuvering on Yemen. There, Saudi and Western diplomats eased an ostensible US ally, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, out of power — while keeping our considerable anti-terror alliances in the country intact. Similarly, goes the pitch to Putin, Moscow could protect its interests in Syria even after helping us push out its client, Assad.
Putin’s not buying it. Russian diplomats told Security Council colleagues yesterday to forget about not only military authorization, but also about any new sanctions, including a Syrian arms embargo.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said in Moscow, “Consideration in the Security Council of any new measures to influence the situation now would be premature.”
Putin is concerned that if Assad goes, so will the Russian fleet’s remaining access to warm waters: the Syrian port of Tarsus. He’s probably right. Unlike Yemen’s complex situation, Syria’s civil war is at its core a struggle between Assad’s ruling minority sect, the Alawites, and the Sunni majority. It’s a winner-take-all battle, so an Alawite loss will likely be Moscow’s, too.
The battle lines are also regional. Shiite Iran and Hezbollah (its Lebanese satellite) arm, train and finance Assad’s forces; Sunni powers — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar — back the rebels. (The chaos also attracts pro-Sunni jihadis).
Russia sends arms to Assad, even as the West preaches against “militarization” of Syria’s armed bloodbath andasWashington continues to play with that Russian “reset” button.
We’re left with nothing but the Annan plan for Syria — even though its central component, a “ceasefire,” never took effect, and even though the 300 UN monitors that Annan sent to Syria are reduced to counting the corpses.
Our UN ambassador, Susan Rice, has been the administration’s most vocal skeptic of the Annan plan. Yesterday she told reporters, “We may be beginning to see the wheels coming off of this bus.” But, like the rest of the administration, she has yet to pitch any other plan.
Any alternative to a diplomatic, UN-based Syria policy carries political risks that the administration plainly refuses to take on in this election year. So we’ll likely just pray for the wheels to stay on so we continue to ride this bus downhill. In neutral.
America and our allies will pay for it later on.
Twitter: @bennyavniFollow @NYPostOpinion