* We are going to “lead from behind,” explained the Obama adviser, because “the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world.”
* “But who truly reviles America the hegemon? The world that Obama lived in and shaped him intellectually: the elite universities; his Hyde Park milieu (including his not-to-be-mentioned friends, William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn); the church he attended for two decades, ringing with sermons more virulently anti-American than anything heard in today’s full-throated uprising of the Arab Street.
“It is the liberal elites who revile the American colossus and devoutly wish to see it cut down to size. Leading from behind – diminishing America’s global standing and assertiveness – is a reaction to their view of America, not the world’s.”
* Video below: President Obama’s lighter side, at the expense of Donald Trump
* Named below: Some of the Assad family thugs working with Bashar
Bashar al-Assad (right) with his brother Maher (left) and brother-in-law Major General Assef Shawkat (center)
(You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. You first have to press "like" on that page.)
1. They couldn’t even muster a press statement
2. Video: President Obama’s lighter side, at the expense of Donald Trump
3. Obama’s serial indecision” (By Michael Gerson, Washington Post, April 26, 2001)
4. “The Obama doctrine” (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, April 29, 2011)
5. “The Syria Lobby: Why Washington keeps giving a pass to the Assad regime” (WSJ)
6. “Six Syrians who help Assad keep an iron grip” (By Ian Black, The Guardian, April 28, 2011)
7. “Why are Palestinians killing people who support them?” (By Khaled Abu Toameh)
8. Why not just move the UN Human Rights Council to Syria? (By Claudia Rosett)
THEY COULDN’T EVEN MUSTER A PRESS STATEMENT
By Tom Gross
I attach six articles below. (The authors of four of these are subscribers to this email list.)
First, a few introductory points of my own:
It would probably be much easier for the West to pressure the regimes in Bahrain and Syria now, were a different government in place in Teheran. Once again, we are seeing what a huge mistake it was for the Obama administration to have failed to swiftly support the pro-democracy campaigners in Iran following the rigged election of 2009, giving the regime there valuable time to regain control and institute a crackdown that continues to this day.
The Obama administration official quoted by The New Yorker last week saying the president’s strategy was to “lead from behind,” also said “We were still trying to engage the Iranian government and we did not want to do anything that made us side with the protesters.”
Now in Syria, President Assad, the man who Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and John Kerry as well as European leaders all deluded themselves into thinking was a reformer, is using tanks to fire on unarmed Syrian civilians. Among those shot dead there on Friday were at least 16 people (including women and children) carrying olive branches. And Bashar Assad has ordered Syrian soldiers who refuse to fire on civilians to be shot, according to Al-Jazeera and the BBC. (Several have already been summarily executed for refusing to obey orders.)
Compare Obama’s lame reaction against Assad with Egypt. Assad, in case anyone needs reminding, is an enemy of the U.S., and has a human rights record far worse than Egypt’s. It took just six days of protests for Obama to urge former Egyptian leader and longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak to begin a transition from power “now.” But almost two months after he began slaughtering his own people, there has been no such call by Obama on Assad to go.
Even The New York Times has finally realized that the West’s cozying up to Assad will do no good. In a lead editorial last Thursday, the Times wrote: “Even after the violence began, Mr. Obama and his aides kept quietly nudging in hopes that Mr. Assad would make the right choice. In retrospect, that looks naïve.” (It is only “in restropect” to The New York Times, of course.)
And while the Syrian army again used ground troops backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and snipers to attack the Omari mosque in the city of Dara’a on Saturday, the UN Security Council hasn’t even been able to muster a press statement condemning the regime.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, stepping into the fray, said at a press conference on Friday that “the inability of the international community to make a declarative decision in the UN Security Council to condemn Syria for the violence and murder of innocent people by the Assad regime against its own citizens, raises the question about how much Israel should rely on the international community and that their considerations regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict are honest and balanced.”
-- Tom Gross
Among past recent dispatches on Syria, please see:
OBAMA HAS A LAUGH AT DONALD TRUMP’S EXPENSE
And before reading the serious critique of Obama’s dramatic foreign policy failings below, here for you amusement, is President Obama showing his lighter side, telling jokes at the expense of real estate mogul Donald Trump on Saturday night, mocking his possible presidential ambitions in remarks at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
“APART FROM MORAL CONSIDERATIONS, WOULDN’T THE COLDEST PRAGMATIST SEE BENEFIT IN THE OVERTHROW OF IRAN’S MAIN ALLY IN THE MIDDLE EAST?”
Obama’s serial indecision on the Middle East
By Michael Gerson
The Washington Post
April 26, 2001
An administration that lacks a consistent foreign policy philosophy has nevertheless established a predictable foreign policy pattern. A popular revolt takes place in country X. President Obama is caught by surprise and says little. A few days later an administration spokesman weakly calls for “reform.” A few more days of mounting protests and violence follow. Then, after an internal debate that spills out into the media, the president decides he must do something. But hoping to keep expectations low, his actions are limited in scope. By this point, a strategic opportunity is missed and the protesters in country X feel betrayed.
This record of serial indecision has damaged American interests. The Obama administration initially stood aloof from the Iranian Green Revolution, even though democratic regime change may be the only realistic alternative to American confrontation with the Tehran regime over its nuclear ambitions. In Libya, Obama waited until Benghazi was in the shadow of genocide before an incremental response. Obama has deployed American credibility in Libya – eventually supporting regime change – while pursuing policies that seem designed to result in stalemate. In Syria, the administration calls for “meaningful reforms” while Damascus employs mass violence against mass protests. Apart from moral considerations, wouldn’t the coldest pragmatist see benefit in the overthrow of Iran’s main ally in the Middle East?
It is no longer credible to blame these failures on inexperience – an argument that years of experience tends to undermine. A novice can learn from his mistakes. Obama apparently doesn’t view these outcomes as mistaken. So what explains his positive preference for ambivalence?
First, there is the political context of Obama’s 2008 election campaign. Since George W. Bush embraced democracy promotion, Obama would devalue it. Since Bush called out enemies, Obama would cultivate them. But the return to nuance turned out to be remarkably superficial. Did Bush’s decisiveness really discredit the idea of decisiveness itself? Events in the Middle East have forced the Obama administration to gradually abandon its philosophy of Bush negation, but the vestiges of that view have slowed an effective response at every stage.
A second explanation concerns Obama’s leadership style. He still acts the part of a college professor who has unlimited time to sift and debate his options, as though extended deliberation were a virtue and indecision had no cost. But changes in the Middle East are demonstrating how difficult it is to conduct a seminar during a hurricane. Hesitance precludes options.
Third, the administration’s national security team does little to challenge Obama’s predisposition toward vacillation. Vice President Biden is, to put it kindly, a quirky foreign policy thinker with a history of getting large strategic issues wrong. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is focused on the war in Afghanistan, making him naturally resistant to American involvement elsewhere. Hillary Clinton has shown flashes of resolve, but the daily task of any secretary of state is to manage the status quo.
Finally, on foreign policy issues Obama seems to have drunk deeply at the well of academic liberalism. In the immediate aftermath of the Green Revolution in 2009, he said, “It’s not productive given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections.” Obama was arguing that American support would somehow stain or delegitimize Iranian democratic aspirations – even as protesters were appealing for our help. This sounds more like the buzz of the faculty lounge than the leadership of an American president charged with defending and advancing history’s noblest ideals.
Some mix of these factors has combined to render the Obama administration blind to the promise of our times. Ending tyranny in the traditional centers of Arab cultural influence – Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus – would be a transformation akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It would demonstrate the exhaustion of authoritarianism in the Arab world and open the possibility of more successful, hopeful societies in the region. This transformation involves considerable risks. But those risks are magnified by an administration that refuses to take risks – that is willing to speak or act only when it becomes obvious that silence and inertia will bring disaster.
Now the Arab revolt has led to a predictable counterreaction – the attempt by regimes such as Libya and Syria to prove the efficacy of brutality. Their success would undermine American interests for decades. Presidential administrations don’t get to choose their historical challenges. But they can firmly take a side.
THE OBAMA DOCTRINE
The Obama doctrine: Leading from behind
By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
April 29, 2011
Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the president’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.”
– Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker, May 2 issue
To be precise, leading from behind is a style, not a doctrine. Doctrines involve ideas, but since there are no discernible ones that make sense of Obama foreign policy – Lizza’s painstaking two-year chronicle shows it to be as ad hoc, erratic and confused as it appears – this will have to do.
And it surely is an accurate description, from President Obama’s shocking passivity during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution to his dithering on Libya, acting at the very last moment, then handing off to a bickering coalition, yielding the current bloody stalemate. It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) “international community” to do what only America can.
But underlying that style, assures this Obama adviser, there really are ideas. Indeed, “two unspoken beliefs,” explains Lizza. “That the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world.”
Amazing. This is why Obama is deliberately diminishing American presence, standing and leadership in the world?
Take proposition one: We must “lead from behind” because U.S. relative power is declining. Even if you accept the premise, it’s a complete non sequitur. What does China’s rising GDP have to do with American buck-passing on Libya, misjudging Iran, appeasing Syria?
True, China is rising. But first, it is the only power of any significance rising militarily relative to us. Russia is recovering from levels of military strength so low that it barely registers globally. And European power is in true decline (see Europe’s performance – excepting the British – in Afghanistan and its current misadventures in Libya).
And second, the challenge of a rising Chinese military is still exclusively regional. It would affect a war over Taiwan. It has zero effect on anything significantly beyond China’s coast. China has no blue-water navy. It has no foreign bases. It cannot project power globally. It might in the future – but by what logic should that paralyze us today?
Proposition two: We must lead from behind because we are reviled. Pray tell, when were we not? During Vietnam? Or earlier, under Eisenhower? When his vice president was sent on a goodwill trip to Latin America, he was spat upon and so threatened by the crowds that he had to cut short his trip. Or maybe later, under the blessed Reagan? The Reagan years were marked by vast demonstrations in the capitals of our closest allies denouncing America as a warmongering menace taking the world into nuclear winter.
“Obama came of age politically,” explains Lizza, “during the post-Cold War era, a time when America’s unmatched power created widespread resentment.” But the world did not begin with the coming to consciousness of Barack Obama. Cold War resentments ran just as deep.
It is the fate of any assertive superpower to be envied, denounced and blamed for everything under the sun. Nothing has changed. Moreover, for a country so deeply reviled, why during the massive unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria have anti-American demonstrations been such a rarity?
Who truly reviles America the hegemon? The world that Obama lived in and shaped him intellectually: the elite universities; his Hyde Park milieu (including his not-to-be-mentioned friends, William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn); the church he attended for two decades, ringing with sermons more virulently anti-American than anything heard in today’s full-throated uprising of the Arab Street.
It is the liberal elites who revile the American colossus and devoutly wish to see it cut down to size. Leading from behind – diminishing America’s global standing and assertiveness – is a reaction to their view of America, not the world’s.
Other presidents have taken anti-Americanism as a given, rather than evidence of American malignancy, believing – as do most Americans – in the rightness of our cause and the nobility of our intentions. Obama thinks anti-Americanism is a verdict on America’s fitness for leadership. I would suggest that “leading from behind” is a verdict on Obama’s fitness for leadership.
Leading from behind is not leading. It is abdicating. It is also an oxymoron. Yet a sympathetic journalist, channeling an Obama adviser, elevates it to a doctrine. The president is no doubt flattered. The rest of us are merely stunned.
THE SYRIA LOBBY
The Syria Lobby
Why Washington keeps giving a pass to the Assad regime.
The Wall Street Journal
April 27, 2011
How does a small, energy-poor and serially misbehaving Middle Eastern regime always seem to get a Beltway pass? Conspiracy nuts and other tenured faculty would have us believe that country is Israel, though the Jewish state shares America’s enemies and our democratic values. But the question really applies to Syria, where the Assad regime is now showing its true nature.
Washington’s Syria Lobby is a bipartisan mindset. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” said Nancy Pelosi on a 2007 visit to Syria as House Speaker. Former Secretary of State James Baker is a longtime advocate of engagement with the House of Assad. So is Republican Chuck Hagel, who in 2008 co-wrote an op-ed with fellow Senator John Kerry in these pages titled “It’s Time to Talk to Syria.” The Massachusetts Democrat has visited Damascus five times in the past two years alone.
Yesterday, the New York Times quoted a senior Administration official saying the U.S. was reluctant to criticize the Syrian President because he “sees himself as a Westernized leader” and that “he’ll react if he believes he is being lumped in with brutal dictators.” This was meant as a defense of U.S. policy.
The argument made by the Syria Lobby runs briefly as follows: The Assad family is occasionally ruthless, especially when its survival is at stake, but it’s also secular and pragmatic. Though the regime is Iran’s closest ally in the Middle East, hosts terrorists in Damascus, champions Hezbollah in Lebanon and has funneled al Qaeda terrorists into Iraq, it will forgo those connections for the right price. Above all, it yearns for better treatment from Washington and the return of the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau held by Israel since 1967.
The Syria Lobby also claims that whoever succeeds Assad would probably be worse. The country is divided by sect and ethnicity, and the fall of the House of Assad could lead to bloodletting previously seen in Lebanon or Iraq. Some members of the Lobby go so far as to say that the regime remains broadly popular. “I think that President Assad is going to count on . . . majoritarian support within the country to support him in doing what he needs to do to restore order,” Flynt Leverett of the New America Foundation said recently on PBS’s NewsHour.
Now we are seeing what Mr. Leverett puts down merely to the business of “doing what he needs to do”: Video clips on YouTube of tanks rolling into Syrian cities and unarmed demonstrators being gunned down in the streets; reports of hundreds killed and widespread “disappearances.” Even the Obama Administration has belatedly criticized Assad, though so far President Obama has done no more than condemn his “outrageous human rights abuses.”
Maybe this is all part of the Administration’s strategic concept of “leading from behind,” which is how one official sums up its foreign policy in this week’s New Yorker. But the deeper problem is a flawed analysis of the Syrian regime’s beliefs, intentions and capacity for change. Run by an Alawite minority, the regime was never going to break with its Shiite benefactors in Tehran and join the Arab Sunni orbit. A regime that builds its domestic legitimacy on hostility to Israel is also unlikely ever to make peace, even if it recovered the Golan.
So it shouldn’t surprise that Damascus has only stepped up its anti-American rhetoric since President Obama came to office offering engagement (and lately returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus after a six-year hiatus), or that its ties to Tehran have only grown closer (as Amir Taheri describes nearby), or that it continues to meddle in Lebanon, which it sees as a part of “Greater Syria.” What is surprising is that for so long the U.S. has refused to stare these facts in the face.
Though the Administration complains of lacking leverage with the regime, it could recall our ambassador and expel Syria’s emissary from Washington. As the Foundation for Defense of Democracies suggests, the U.S. and Europe could also freeze and seize the assets of the Assads, designate Syria’s elite units responsible for human rights abuses as Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities, impose sanctions on companies providing the regime’s tools of repression, and provide the Syrian opposition with encrypted communications technology to dodge the regime’s surveillance. All this would damage the regime while signaling the opposition not to lose courage.
The Obama Administration’s single biggest strategic failure during this Arab spring has been not distinguishing between enemies and friends. Syria’s House of Assad is an enemy. The sooner the Administration abandons the counsels of the Syria Lobby, the likelier it will be that Syria becomes a country worth lobbying for.
THE ASSAD FAMILY MAFIA
Six Syrians who helped Bashar al-Assad keep iron grip after father’s death
The core of the Syrian regime seems solid, with closeness to Assad’s family more important than formal responsibilities
By Ian Black
Middle East editor
April 28, 2011
Bashar al-Assad came to power amid high hopes for reform after three decades of his father Hafez’s iron rule. But 11 years on he seems determined to crush the unrest sweeping across Syria. And there is no sign that he is taking a softer line than the coterie of relatives and security chiefs who advise him at the heart of the regime’s inner circle in Damascus.
Syrian and western analysts, diplomats and academics say the president is bent on using force to preserve his regime – and ready to ignore international pressure.
Political gestures, they argue, have come too late, and have been overtaken by the worst repression since his father crushed an Islamist uprising in 1982.
“Assad has decided to shut this down,” said one western diplomat. “The regime is playing survival tactics. It’s a security-led approach, first, second and third.
“There is a widespread perception that the president has stronger reforming instincts than the people around him,” said another veteran Syria-watcher. “Some may be more hardline than others, but this is one regime and it will be judged by what it does collectively.”
Syrian opposition figures describe Assad as having taken “a strategic decision” to intensify the crackdown, possibly after secret consultations in late March.
Defections from the lower levels of the ruling Ba’ath party in the southern city of Deraa do not seem a significant loss, though they could have a snowball effect. Overall the Ba’ath party has become less important under Bashar’s rule than it was during the Hafez era.
Assad’s recent cabinet reshuffle did little to convince critics of his readiness for real change as government ministers are far less important than security chiefs, who make the key decisions. Closeness to the Assad family remains far more important than a job title or formal responsibilities.
The core of the regime seems solid and close-knit. Assad’s chief advisers are almost all members of the president’s minority Alawite sect (which makes up just 12% of Syria’s 22m people) and several are related to him. Unlike in Libya, no senior Syrian figures have joined the opposition, which has no territorial base. Hence the onslaught on Deraa, which seems designed to prevent the southern town from becoming one. Here’s a look at some of the key figures in the inner circle.
Bashar’s younger brother, commander of the elite Republican Guard and the army’s powerful 4th mechanised division, which has been involved in suppressing unrest in Deraa. Maher is Hafez’s youngest son and helped persuade Bashar to end the short-lived period of liberalisation dubbed the “Damascus spring” shortly after he became president in 2000. Named by UN investigators as implicated in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Hated and feared.
Married to Assad’s sister and Hafez’s only daughter Bushra, a significant figure in her own right. Now deputy chief-of-staff of the armed forces and former head of military intelligence. Shawkat was reportedly shot and wounded by Maher al-Assad in a row in 1999. Also named by the UN in the Hariri murder case. Under US sanctions for his role in Lebanon.
Bashar’s maternal cousin. Syria’s leading businessman has built an economic empire worth billions over the past decade. Subject to US sanctions for “public corruption”. Probably closest to the president in the inner circle and widely seen as symbolising nepotism and corruption. Extensive interests in oil and telecoms (owns Syriatel) as well as real estate. He also owns the country’s only private newspaper – the remainder are directly controlled by the state. His brother Hafez Makhlouf is head of general intelligence – the feared Mukhabarat.
Head of military intelligence. Served in the Republican Guard and as head of the powerful air force intelligence service. Led the security committee investigating the sensational 2008 assassination of the Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, which was hugely embarrassing for the regime and widely blamed on Israel.
MUHAMMAD NASIF KHEIRBEK
Deputy vice-president for security affairs. Seen as a close Assad confidante and a survivor from the Hafez era. Subject to bilateral US sanctions over his role in Lebanon. Assad’s key political link to Iran – a vital foreign alliance. His son also occupies a senior post in internal security.
Ali Mamlouk Special adviser on security to Assad and a former Mukhabarat chief who is close to other intelligence agencies. Features in leaked US cables released by WikiLeaks boasting of Syria’s prowess in penetrating terrorist organisations.
Other influential figures round Assad include the vice-president, Farouk al-Sharaa; Ali Habib Mahmoud, the minister of defence and army commander; and General Hisham Ikhtiar, director of the Ba’ath party’s National Security Bureau. Assad’s adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, a British-educated academic, is credited with improving the president’s media image, but her promises of significant reforms early on in the crisis have rung hollow since the violence escalated.
Syrian opposition sources have been playing up claims of desertions from the armed forces as well as unconfirmed reports that regular army soldiers refused to fire on protesters in Deraa and clashed with the Fourth Mechanised Division. But the scale of such incidents remains unclear.
Experts generally agree that the army and security forces remain loyal. “We haven’t seen the kind of splintering between the political leadership and the military that we saw in Tunisia and Egypt,” said Mohammad Bazzi of the Council for Foreign Relations. “Syria is a different case because the military establishment, the leadership of the military and the security forces is largely Alawite … the sect that Assad comes from. And they’re beholden to him and … see their survival as intertwined with Assad’s.”
Eyal Zisser, Israel’s leading expert on Syria, and Assad’s biographer, concurs. “In Syria, unlike Egypt, the regime continues to enjoy the unconditional support of the army and security forces,” he wrote in a recent report. “Indeed, the leaders of the Syrian army … know that unlike Egypt, where the defence minister took the reins of government from Mubarak and became the favourite son of Tahrir Square, in Syria the protesters also want the heads of the top brass of the army and security forces, so that if Bashar falls, they fall too.”
Senior Syrians are clearly worried but still insist the situation can be contained. “We will have a few months of difficult times, but I don’t think it will go further,” one official predicted privately. “It will be a period of unrest and not an overthrow of the regime. That is highly improbable.”
WHY ARE PALESTINIANS KILLING PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT THEM?
Why are Palestinians killing people who support them?
By Khaled Abu Toameh (a leading Palestinian journalist)
April 26, 2011
In April, two “pro-Palestinian” activists were murdered by Palestinians – one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip.
The fact that the two were staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause and were known for their deep hatred of Israel was not enough to save their lives.
In the eyes of their murderers, the two “pro-Palestinian” activists were “infidels” who sought to spread corrupt Western values.
While it is true that that the two slain activists had helped the Palestinians – each in his own way – they also contributed to radicalization through their fierce anti-Israel rhetoric. Nevertheless, in the end, the two were murdered by the same radicals they had helped and assisted for years. That is because these radicals do not see a difference between one “infidel” and another. Those who promote hatred against Jews also call for the death of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and others.
Even more serious, one of them, Israeli Arab actor and film director Juliano Mer-Khamis, had been born to a Jewish mother. This alone was perhaps a good enough a reason to fire seven bullets at Mer-Khamis as he walked out of the Freedom Theater, which he had helped to establish in the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp.
Mer-Khamis was so devoted to helping Palestinians that he moved to live in the refugee camp a few years ago, where he built the theater and trained young Palestinian men and women as actors.
He also played a key role in incitement against Israel, radicalizing young Palestinians even more.
Despite his actions and rhetoric, however, Mer-Khamis received death threats, and his theater was firebombed before he was assassinated on April 4. Mer-Khamis was not accepted by some Palestinians because he was an Israeli citizen born to a Jewish mother and an Arab Christian father. His fierce support for the Palestinians even raised suspicions that he could be a Mossad agent who had been planted in the camp.
Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, who was abducted and murdered in the Gaza Strip three weeks later, was said to have been “more Palestinian than many Palestinians.” He was even known as a Hamas supporter who hated Israel more than many Palestinians do.
But in the end he was brutally murdered because, in the eyes of the assassins, he was an “infidel” seeking to spread moral corruption.
Both Mer-Khamis and Arrigoni were murdered because of what they stood for – not because of what he did or did not do for the Palestinians.
In wake of the murders, “pro-Palestinian” folks would do well to weigh their words: it is fine to support the Palestinians, but why does that always have to be accompanied by strong incitement against Israel? It will not buy you a pass.
WHY NOT JUST MOVE THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL TO SYRIA?
Why not just move the UN Human Rights Council to Syria?
By Claudia Rosett
April 27, 2011
With the Assad regime murdering hundreds of protesters, it’s patently grotesque that Syria might get a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. And yet, when the General Assembly votes on May 20th on candidates for the Human Rights Council. It looks like Syria will be a shoe-in.
How can that be? At the UN, process trumps human rights, and despots are too often adept at playing that fundamental flaw like a fiddle. Syria’s regime is no exception. Seats on the 47 member Human Rights Council are doled out mainly on the basis of geography, rather than decency. Various geographic groups enjoy specific allocations of seats, and nominate members to rotate through as the seats come open. This year, four of the 13 seats apportioned to the Asian group are up for grabs, and the Asian group has nominated exactly four candidates to fill them – India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Syria. With four candidates for four seats, all Syria needs is a simple majority of 97 votes in the 192-member General Assembly. Are there that many members of the General Assembly willing to vote aye in this Orwellian exercise? Quite likely. When Libya ran for a seat in 2010 (from which it was only recently suspended), it got 155 votes. In 2009. Saudi Arabia got 154 votes, Cuba got 163, and China got the same number as the U.S. – 167.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon – loquacious in such matters as his defense of terrorist-run Gaza, or his desire to see democracies in dialogue with North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Il – has declined to opine on Syria’s bid for the Human Rights Council. Ban’s spokesman told Fox News  that this is not Ban’s bailiwick, but a matter to be left to UN member states. The U.S. State Department opposes Syria’s bid, but does not yet seem to have any clear strategy for blocking Syria, and evidently has not yet managed to persuade a fifth and preferably benign member of the Asian group to enter the running – which would dim Syria’s chances by introducing at least some real competition.
So, what to do? Even before Syria’s bid for a seat, this same Human Rights Council was already busy grossly discrediting itself. Back in 2003, its precursor, the Human Rights Commission, became an emblem of UN farce by electing Libya as its chair. The Commission was “reformed” in 2006, into the current Human Rights Council – which the Bush administration refused to join, on grounds that its structure was skewed toward capture by the usual gang of despots. President Barack Obama over-rode that policy, and in 2009 the U.S. joined the Council, arguing that it would be easier to work for change from within. That did nothing to stop the Council from indulging in such bigotries as the Goldstone Report ; or its continuing engagement with 9/11 conspiracy theorist Richard Falk, its special rapporteur  on human rights for the Palestinian territories; or Libya’s Najat Al-Hajjaji , whose chairwomanship of the old Human Rights Commission in 2003 did so much to discredit that precursor of the current Council. Russia, China, Cuba and Cameroon are all active current members of the Council. Now, here comes Syria.
If the U.S. won’t walk out, then maybe the next best solution would be not just to go with the flow, but strive to accelerate the Council’s natural trajectory. Grease the skids so the Council can complete its descent into the moral abyss. Why not try moving the Council itself? There’s no reason such members as anti-colonialist Cuba or church-averse Saudi Arabia should have to put up with the alien values implied by housing the Council, with its lavish meeting chamber, in stolidly European, church-filled Geneva. Nor is is fair that delegations of the world’s despotisms should be tempted to bank their savings chiefly in Switzerland. Give others a turn. Syria wants a seat? Give Assad the entire table. Move the Council to Syria.
Though, in the interest of the geographic fairness that so concerns the UN, it would be wrong to stop there. If the UN deems Syria worthy of a seat, it would be rank bias to wall out the likes of Myanmar and North Korea. Invite them to join, too. Nor should Asians have all the perks. Give Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe his due. If the UN deems it fitting to allocate rotating seats on the basis of geography, then why not rotate the location of the Council itself? Send it to places where it could fit right in. Base it one year in Damascus, the next year in Pyongyang, then move it along to Rangoon, Harare, Khartoum and Tehran. One of two things would happen, each useful in its way. Either the democracies of the world would finally write off the Council as the fiasco it is. Or in one of these places – Syria does come to mind – oppressed people, demanding genuine human rights, might seize the chance to break in, take over the proceedings, and give truth to the longstanding lie that this Council has any serious affiliation with human rights.
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