Syria

Danger Zone

Newt Gingrich has dumbly stirred a ruckus in saying that the Arabs of Palestine are an “invented people.” It did not increase his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination: How many Jews actually vote in Republican primaries? (And many Christian Zionists are already for him on altogether non-Zionist grounds.) But it should not have caused such a furor in the first place.

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Here is a televised debate about Syria on Jordanian television. People are allowed to say anything they want. And they do. The first inklings of real democracy in the kingdom. And who’s to blame for what’s going on in Syria? The Israelis, of course. Watch this, too. Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.

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.

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Forgive the corny metaphors. But it was not I who framed developments in the Arab world with the sequence of the seasons. Still, you need only glance at the papers to recognize that Arab Spring is now Arab Winter without really ever having passed through summer or fall. Spring is, as ever, a romantic memory.  As I write, Reuters reports from the Cairo morgue that 33 to 46 protestors were killed by the police since Saturday—and that nearly 1,300 were wounded and maimed.

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On the eve of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic “Festival of Sacrifice,” Burhan Ghalioun, the de facto leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the newly formed opposition group that aims to be internationally recognized as Syria’s government-in-exile, went on international television to deliver an address.

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Friended

On a Tuesday morning in September, three buses full of Libyan tribesmen milled around the gilded lobby of the Ritz Carlton hotel in Doha, the shimmering glass capital of Qatar. The tribesmen were dressed in a mixture of suits and ties and sweeping white robes, and they had come to personally thank the emir for helping them to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. Yusef Mansoori, a member of the delegation, told me earnestly, “We would like to thank him very, very much for everything he has done for us.” Certainly, the Libyans had plenty to be grateful for.

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Since this summer, the United States has generally played a constructive role in support of the Syrian opposition. In contrast to Russia and China—whose flags are now routinely torched by Syrians after the two countries vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime for atrocities—Washington is popular with Syria’s anti-regime opposition.

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Since the Syrian people began their uprising against the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Americans have been told repeatedly that there is little they can do about the situation. Experts in think tanks, universities, and the halls of U.S. government have been eager to remind us that the conditions in Syria—with its fractured opposition, brutal and loyal military forces, and fragile regional neighborhood—simply didn’t leave much room for Americans to make a difference. But Robert Ford, our ambassador in Damascus, never seemed to accept this simplistic line of thinking.

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As the world witnesses the Syrian and Iranian regimes commit countless human rights abuses and, in Iran’s case, move ever closer to perfecting its nuclear capabilities, there’s a common belief that, short of military intervention, there’s nothing that can be done. As it turns out, however, that’s far from the truth—but the majority of the initiative must come from Europe. The European Union has thus far failed to confront the Iranian and Syrian regimes to the full extent of its ability.

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It’s just about a week since Russia and China, in a rare joint action, vetoed a European-sponsored resolution that “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by Syrian authorities.” The only thing strong about this defense of civilians was the use of the word “strongly.” And, as Colum Lynch reported in The Washington Post, the resolution demanded that Damascus “cease the use of force against civilians” and grant “fundamental freedoms” to prisoners.

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