Various Syrian opposition groups met in Cairo this week to sketch out a draft of a potential constitution and lay out the steps of a political transition, but they could not agree on the more basic and concrete issues of whether to support armed resistance to the regime or call for Assad’s removal.
The Kurdish delegates brawled and eventually withdrew from the conference entirely over whether Kurds would be treated as a recognized minority in a new Syrian state or if they would simply be known as “Syrian citizens of Kurdish descent.”
Meanwhile, in Geneva, despite hopes for a new international consensus on Syria that would include Russia and China, the June 30 “Action Group” meeting produced little action.
Instead, it resulted in a vague agreement that called for political transition and elections but not President Bashar al-Assad’s exit, much like the failed plan that former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan unveiled in April.
A spokesman for a Syrian opposition network said in obvious frustration, “The Action Group on Syria just gave Assad license to kill for another year.” Another representative scorned the new agreement, known as Annan II, as having “no value on the ground.” A Syrian National Council spokeswoman elaborated on these criticisms by objecting to Annan II’s ambiguity and the absence of a timetable for implementation.
Western leaders, in contrast, demonstrated an unbelievable level of wishful thinking and naïveté in their optimism about next steps. They expressed the belief that Russia and China will persuade Assad to resign, although the two states’ unyielding resistance to the inclusion of that condition in the second Annan plan clearly indicates otherwise.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that she expects Assad will “see the writing on the wall” and calmly and politely step aside for his replacement after 15 months of massacring 14,000 people in his country who demanded he step down. If Assad will not take the hint, Clinton plans to ask for a U.N. Security Council resolution to force him to comply with the provisions of the Geneva arrangement—despite the fact that Russia and China have blocked such efforts in the past and show no signs of altering their positions.
Russia’s cynical efforts to prop up its Syrian ally with arms while denouncing foreign intervention prompted Heritage’s James Phillips and Luke Coffey to call for the Obama Administration to go outside the U.N. framework—where Russia and China can sabotage effective action—to address the Syrian crisis.
All in all, it could not be a worse time for the Obama Administration to show such a lack of resolve and leadership. Assad continues his murderous reign because he is sure that no power has the right combination of will and capability to stop him. With substantial help from the U.S. and its allies, the Syrian resistance movement has a chance of convincing Assad otherwise—but the longer the Obama Administration equivocates, the more Syrians will die.
Sinclair Stafford is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm