Monday, October 12, 2015

The Setback


Most pundits and analysts writing about Syria today tend to ignore that year-long period where the nonviolent protest movement flourished and dictated the pace of events, despite the massive crackdown unleashed by the Assad regime. Had it not been for the indifference with which this movement was met on the international scene, a civil war could have been preempted. But no one wanted to deal with the question of preemption even when the portents of upcoming mayhem were evident, and no one wanted to deal with the global responsibility to protect civilians, be it from natural disasters or actions by their governments, even when the situation at hand was as close to a textbook case as we can get in the real world.  

Indeed, world leaders and pundits are quite comfortable with ignoring something very important about the United Nations: its raison d’ĂȘtre is not only to protect the peace but to spread respect for human rights as well (UN Charter: Preamble, Article 1.2 and Article 1.3).

Meanwhile, the actions of all those rebels fighting against their oppressive governments are endorsed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself, so long as these actions did not include war crimes (“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble)

The founding documents of our existing international order and all subsequent documents and accords that sought to flesh out certain articles included in them, such as the Responsibility to Protect, point towards a certain direction, towards a world where human rights are universally respected, and humanitarian interventions are encouraged. Without input from the United States, neither the UN Charter nor the Universal Declaration of Human rights would have come out the way they did. This is why the policies and the worldview of the Obama administration have been far more harmful than a Russian or Chinese veto.

Indeed, serving as the leader of the free world has repeatedly proven to be a thankless job, especially considering that the U.S. is not exactly a neutral entity whose entire reason for being is to play such a role. But the choice made by the Obama administration to simply resign from this position and re-consign the U.S. to its pre-WWII, or even WWI, role of being a power among powers, interested only in protecting its own interests and defending itself, not bothering to lead the free world and steering the rest in a certain direction, that choice is a total betrayal of the whole system, its values and the promise of liberty. People who believe in human rights and democracy but whose fortune is to live in undemocratic societies are now completely on their own and have nowhere to turn. Cynical and ideological pundits would say that the U.S. has always been the wrong choice for partners in this regard. But then, what is the right choice: Russia? China? Iran? Because when the Syrian people tried to do it on their own, they found themselves facing a regime that was not on its own, but heavily supported by Russia, Iran and China. With the U.S. and Europe refusing to interfere on their behalf, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar stepped in, and because these countries cared little for democracy, and addressed the conflict, just the Assad regime did, from a purely sectarian angle, the result was the current mess we see today in which democratic and moderate forces are marginalized. 

The point: 70 years-worth of progress on the human rights front has been undermined, reversed in fact. This might seem good only for those who are lucky enough to live in places where their rights are not being abused, and who have no personal connection whatsoever to anyone whose rights are being abused. That excludes a lot of people; some will say the majority of all humankind. How could this be good?