On Saturday Russia and China put their cards on the table. They vetoed the Arab League’s plan for resolving the Syrian crisis, a plan that asks president Bashar al-Assad to step down in favour of his vice-president, the formation of a unity government and free elections. They are putting their money on Mr Assad, betting that he can crush the political opposition movement and growing rebel forces spreading across his country if he is just willing to be brutal enough.
Within Syria and among foreign policy mavens with ties to the opposition, the presumed and desired next step is for the Arab League nations, Turkey, and other Nato countries to arm the Free Syrian Army, the loose coalition of groups of soldiers who have defected from the military and those members of the opposition who can get and use weapons.An alternative is a military intervention by troops from various Arab League countries and Turkey to create safe zones for civilian protesters and all soldiers who wish to defect from the army. The sponsoring countries would have to make clear through every means possible within Syria itself that the goal of the intervention is to protect the population until a political settlement can be reached.
The lesson to draw from Saturday’s vote is not the veto, but the remarkable degree of support for the Arab League’s plan from the thirteen other members of the Security Council. The US and Europe should broadcast that support as directly as possible to the Syrian people, expand and tighten sanctions and exclusionary measures aimed at the Syrian elite, and provide all necessary assistance in a supporting role. Continue reading »