Commentary Magazine


Topic: Homs

What the New York Times Omits on Syria

Reading through the New York Times this morning, there is a lengthy story by Anne Barnard about a deal brokered and now executed to allow Syrian rebels to withdraw from Homs. It’s a very good piece of reporting, but it misses two very important things which add a great deal of context to the story.

First of all, Homs is not simply “a bellwether for a nation slowly, brutally, unraveling,” and “a diverse community increasingly split among sectarian lines as populations fled, neighborhoods were destroyed and rebels held out in the Old City.” Rather, Homs is perhaps strategically the most important city in Syria. Damascus, the capital, is geographically peripheral. A quick look at a roadmap of Syria reveals that anyone who wants to control Syria has to control Homs.

Barnard is right that displacement and murder have changed the face of Syria: The violence witnessed in that country has not been random, but has been as directed as it was in the former Yugoslavia. No matter who wins in Syria, what they inherit will be a country of cantons, and the commerce and communication between them will be controlled by whomever the power is in Homs. That the rebels have now left Homs is the most indisputable evidence so far that the regime is winning.

Read More

Reading through the New York Times this morning, there is a lengthy story by Anne Barnard about a deal brokered and now executed to allow Syrian rebels to withdraw from Homs. It’s a very good piece of reporting, but it misses two very important things which add a great deal of context to the story.

First of all, Homs is not simply “a bellwether for a nation slowly, brutally, unraveling,” and “a diverse community increasingly split among sectarian lines as populations fled, neighborhoods were destroyed and rebels held out in the Old City.” Rather, Homs is perhaps strategically the most important city in Syria. Damascus, the capital, is geographically peripheral. A quick look at a roadmap of Syria reveals that anyone who wants to control Syria has to control Homs.

Barnard is right that displacement and murder have changed the face of Syria: The violence witnessed in that country has not been random, but has been as directed as it was in the former Yugoslavia. No matter who wins in Syria, what they inherit will be a country of cantons, and the commerce and communication between them will be controlled by whomever the power is in Homs. That the rebels have now left Homs is the most indisputable evidence so far that the regime is winning.

More interesting is Barnard’s cursory reference to Iran’s role in the deal. “The Homs deal, worked out between security officials and rebel representatives in the presence of Iran’s ambassador to Syria, also calls for insurgents in Aleppo Province, to the north, to lift their longstanding blockade of two villages….” She later notes, “The deal was the broadest and most ambitious yet, and in a sign of its importance to the government, it included the first visible foray by Iran, Mr. Assad’s most crucial ally, into such talks.” What Barnard omits is that the Iranian ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Reza Ra’ouf Sheibani, comes not from Iran’s diplomatic corps (where, admittedly, he previously served as a deputy foreign minister and as ambassador to Lebanon), but rather from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It’s common for the Iranians to send IRGC and, more specifically, Qods Force operatives to act as ambassadors to countries they see as key: Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. What Barnard fails to mention is that the Homs agreement was effectively brokered by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Then, again, to suggest that under Obama’s watch the IRGC is supervising and confirming the defeat of Syrian rebels probably isn’t a narrative The New York Times wants to acknowledge.

Read Less

Assad Forces Brag About Mass “Cleansing”

The Obama administration has begun planning how they’re going to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons from falling into terrorist hands. If they succeed, it’ll be the first time, and meanwhile, the president’s continuing flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood is chilling the chances for any U.S./Russian cooperation on Syria:

A key problem, however, is that we have put our chips on Muslim Brotherhood groups and the brokerage of the Erdogan government in Turkey. That is a very bad policy move, one guaranteed to generate enemies (Russia, China, Iran) for our non-policy policy while giving nations like Saudi Arabia less reason to endorse our activities… If the U.S. policy were to fence in and discourage the Muslim Brotherhood, while bolstering liberalizing elements instead — elements that exist in every nation of the Middle East – we would make it more desirable for a nation like Russia to collaborate with us on the Syria problem.

Read More

The Obama administration has begun planning how they’re going to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons from falling into terrorist hands. If they succeed, it’ll be the first time, and meanwhile, the president’s continuing flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood is chilling the chances for any U.S./Russian cooperation on Syria:

A key problem, however, is that we have put our chips on Muslim Brotherhood groups and the brokerage of the Erdogan government in Turkey. That is a very bad policy move, one guaranteed to generate enemies (Russia, China, Iran) for our non-policy policy while giving nations like Saudi Arabia less reason to endorse our activities… If the U.S. policy were to fence in and discourage the Muslim Brotherhood, while bolstering liberalizing elements instead — elements that exist in every nation of the Middle East – we would make it more desirable for a nation like Russia to collaborate with us on the Syria problem.

On the ground, Assad’s regime is digging in for a long-term Bosnia-style war and is bragging about mass “cleansing,” months after the Arab League already declared the conflict a “genocide”:

The Syrian regime showed a new determination Wednesday to crush its opponents, vowing to “cleanse” a rebel-held district in the besieged central city of Homs after nearly four weeks of shelling. Government troops massed outside the embattled neighborhood of Baba Amr, raising fears among activists of an imminent ground invasion that could endanger thousands of residents, as well as two trapped Western journalists, who have been under heavy bombardment.

It’s a small point in the greater disaster that is Syria, and it’s impossible to prove inasmuch as it is a counter-factual, but: had human rights organizations spent the last two decades focusing on Syria instead of obsessing over Israel, maybe – maybe – some of this could have been avoided. Giving those groups the benefit of the doubt, they merely were spectacularly wrong about where the greatest threat to human rights was centered.

A similar argument holds, by-the-by, for the not insignificant swaths of the Democratic Party who thought Assad was some kind of “reformer.” Their “smart power” foreign policy acumen seems to have gotten this one wrong.

Read Less

We Can’t Watch Syria From the Sidelines

The situation in Syria continues to get grimmer and grimmer as the bloody assault on Homs continues for a 20th straight day. A panel of three UN investigators has accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of crimes against humanity. News reports from Homs, including some by journalists who have died in the process of getting the news out, amply attest to the truth of these charges. Civilian neighborhoods are being shelled without mercy, and the victims have no way to get medical care.

It is difficult to see why the U.S., Britain, France and other nations–which acted last year when Muammar Qaddafi threatened to inflict a similar fate on Benghazi–sit on the sidelines today. The lack of a UN Security Council resolution, blocked by Bashar Assad’s friends in Moscow and Beijing, should hardly prevent the civilized nations of the world from acting as they did in Kosovo. No one suggests sending Western ground troops, but there is much that can still be done, ranging from air strikes to the establishment of safe zones policed by the Turkish army and the provision of arms to the Free Syrian Army, as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been arguing for.

Read More

The situation in Syria continues to get grimmer and grimmer as the bloody assault on Homs continues for a 20th straight day. A panel of three UN investigators has accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of crimes against humanity. News reports from Homs, including some by journalists who have died in the process of getting the news out, amply attest to the truth of these charges. Civilian neighborhoods are being shelled without mercy, and the victims have no way to get medical care.

It is difficult to see why the U.S., Britain, France and other nations–which acted last year when Muammar Qaddafi threatened to inflict a similar fate on Benghazi–sit on the sidelines today. The lack of a UN Security Council resolution, blocked by Bashar Assad’s friends in Moscow and Beijing, should hardly prevent the civilized nations of the world from acting as they did in Kosovo. No one suggests sending Western ground troops, but there is much that can still be done, ranging from air strikes to the establishment of safe zones policed by the Turkish army and the provision of arms to the Free Syrian Army, as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been arguing for.

Even if there is no will for any robust intervention, there are small steps that can be made. For instance, in the New York Times today we read of the difficulty of getting the news out about Assad’s murderous assault on Homs, where reporters are banned, electricity is out and few if any Internet connections are available. The Times reports that a private group called the Activists News Association in Cairo and other non-governmental organizations are “helping Syria’s volunteer journalists get the word out, organizing their video postings, compiling videos of the dead and spreading that information by Twitter and Facebook.” This is important work, and if the U.S. government isn’t helping to provide information technology to Syria’s anti-government activists, it should be. That is a bare and inadequate minimum of what we should be doing.

 

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.