North Atlantic Treaty Organization
After a year of bloodshed, the crisis in Syria has reached a decisive moment. It is estimated that more than 7,500 lives have been lost. The United Nations has declared that Syrian security forces are guilty of crimes against humanity, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilians, the execution of defectors, and the widespread torture of prisoners. Bashar Al-Assad is now doing to Homs what his father did to Hama. Aerial photographs procured by Human Rights Watch show a city that has been laid to waste by Assad’s tanks and artillery.
The Village Voice gives out theater awards called the Obies (for Off-Broadway), and during the 1980s the Voice’s theater department voted to bestow one of those prizes on the distinguished absurdist Václav Havel, who dwelled in the faraway absurdistan known as the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. In their New York productions, Havel’s plays ran at the Public Theater, and everyone who kept up with the downtown scene knew them well. The plays were splendidly mordant.
Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement By Brad R. Roth (Oxford University Press, 320 pp., $70) Sovereignty is back. Our debates about the global economic crisis keep returning to the problem of sovereign debt and the need for sovereign guarantees to reassure the markets. We keep hoping that somewhere, sometime, in the downward spiral of de-leveraging and disillusion there will be an authority—a sovereign—to take charge and put an end to our anxiety. This longing for an authority, after years of market follies, runs very deep. We want to know that someone is in control.
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year.
Just months ago, the prospect of a no-fly or “buffer” zone for protecting Syrian civilians was roundly rejected by just about everyone. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in early August that a U.N.-sponsored military action in Syria was “not a remote possibility.” Anders Rasmussen, the Secretary-General of NATO, was asked in Tripoli in November if a round-two interdiction might be in the offing in Damascus: “My answer is very short,” he answered. “NATO has no intention [to intervene] whatsoever.
In March 2009, the Arab League welcomed Sudanese President Omar Bashir at its summit in Qatar. Just weeks earlier, Bashir had been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC)—and a warrant issued for his arrest—for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the murder of nearly 500,000 civilians in Darfur. No matter. The Arab League rejected ICC jurisdiction as an illegal violation of Sudanese sovereignty. But now, in the months since the Arab Spring began, the Arab League seems to have undergone a transformation.
“The lion doesn’t like it if a foreigner intrudes into his house. The lion doesn’t like it if a stranger enters his house. The lion doesn’t want his children to be taken away by someone else in the night, the lion won’t let it happen.” Thus spoke Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday to the loya jirga, his country’s traditional council of elders and notables. He warmed up to the theme and the image. “They should not interfere in the lion’s house: just guard the four sides of the forest. They are training our police.
Nothing demystifies a dictator like death. The videos of Qaddafi dragged from a drainpipe, addled and bloodied, and then dead on the floor of a large freezer, harshly illustrated the absurdity of tyranny. An entire country held for forty-two years in the grip of this flabby, destructible man? It makes no sense; or rather this particular view of dictatorship makes no sense—the cinematically simple notion of the dictator as shrewdly, almost magically in control of a whole people, a solitary villain at the top whose removal is all that is required for his society to be free.