UN Double Standards Again on Display With Syria Resolution

By Salim Lone

11/02/05 "
ICH " -- -- The beginning of the drive to justify the use of force or other serious actions against Syria for its possible involvement in Rafiq Hariri’s killing is reminiscent of the run-up to the 2003 US-led war against Iraq. As then, it is the United Nations Security Council which is the instrument for escalating the tensions, with yesterday’s unanimous passage of its resolution demanding that Syria co-operate in UN investigator Detlev Mehlis’s Hariri investigation by arresting those he suspects of complicity and that interrogations be conducted outside Syria. If the Iraq experience is a guide, the demands will multiply regardless of the level of co-operation Syria offers, with the US still free to resort to war if it chooses. With or without war, the resolution will intensify charges of UN double standards and further polarize Muslim-western relations.

The arguments being advanced for intervention this time are infinitely more spurious than the claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The highly speculative and overtly political Mehlis report relies on partisan witnesses, does not offer any concrete evidence that Syria was involved in the Hariri killing and in any event contends only that such involvement is probable. The resolution’s passage offers yet more proof that the Security Council is an instrument of western power invoked principally for intimidating or punishing Arabs. It is not lost on the region that when Israel killed over a hundred Lebanese in Qan’a in 1996, and when hundreds of Palestinians were killed in Nablus, Jenin and elsewhere in 2003, no UN Security Council action against Israel was taken.

[Nor is it lost on Muslims that for all the posturing over the importance of tracking down Hariri’s killers, two mass murderers, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who have been wanted by the UN for nearly a decade for the brutal massacre of over 7,000 Muslim men and boys taken from the UN’s safe haven of Srebrenica, are still free men.]

To put maximum pressure on both Syria and the Council in advance of the vote, US president George Bush had dramatically heightened the stakes by asserting that the American use of force against Syria was an option if it did not cooperate with the Mehlis inquiry. The Hariri killing was an atrocious act, but the notion that the US could attack Syria even if its officials were involved in the Hariri assassination defies all international covenants relating to the legal use of force.

Be that as it may, the Bush threat against Syria, and a similar one against Iran if it refuses to stop enriching uranium, has seen tensions soar among Arabs and Muslims amid fears that new western aggression might be in the offing. On the surface, the fear that the US might initiate new hostilities in the region seems preposterous when the US is so hopelessly bogged down in the Iraqi occupation.

But there are numerous American strategists who believe that Iraq can only be secured if the anti-US regimes in Syria and Iran are deposed, and that in any event regime change in the two countries, however destabilizing it might be, is a prerequisite to the achievement of other strategic US goals in the region, which include direct control of Arab oil in an energy-thirsty world and a political reorganization (“democratization”) of the region to make it more amenable to US interests. So the new belligerence is clearly not about Hariri; it’s about intimidating Syria and others into toeing the US line.. [The Iraqi catastrophe and his intensifying domestic woes -- captured in President Bush’s ratings being at the lowest level since he was elected in 2000 -- have clearly led his administration to believe that a hard-line stance in Iraq, and against other Muslim countries, might be one way to recapture the national support he has lost.]

Certainly in Iraq, there is no doubt that that the US administration is embarked on a more aggressive policy. For a few months now, it had been talking about beginning a gradual pullback from Iraq in the spring. [US generals had testified in Congress in September that the presence of foreign troops fueled the insurgency, as did the “perception” of occupation. They pointed also to the success in getting three Iraqi divisions to operate independently of the US.] Then on October 7, in a major address, President Bush put paid to such talk by indicating that the anti-terror war must be won, however long it took - including in Iraq. [Ironically, this shift comes after the October 15 referendum showed that both Sunnis and the Shi’a militants led by Muqtada al-Sadr are finally willing to engage in the political process if their concerns over the occupation are addressed.]

As was revealed once again in New Delhi over the weekend, international terrorism carried out by Muslim extremists continues to be a growing and vicious threat. It can only be curbed if the US supports the forces of Muslim moderation and undertakes concrete policy changes which resonate with the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, who yearn for an end to the deepening fissure with the West. [But the decision by France, a staunch foe of the Anglo-American drive to attack Iraq, to mend fences with the super-power by co-operating with it for short-term gains over Syria, and the election of a new pro-Bush German Chancellor, are major setbacks to this hope. In addition, since the July terror attacks in Britain, Prime Minister Blair is no longer seen as merely a weak Bush follower but an angry and independent challenger of the Muslim world.]

With the current united front, there is now no major European ally counseling US moderation in projecting its power in the Middle East. The inevitable result is yet more polarization in the Muslim world and a continuing marginalization of its reformers. A tougher world, and increased instability, stare us all in the face, as the perpetrators of 9/11 rejoice.

Salim Lone’s <> last assignment in a long UN career was as spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq soon after the 2003 war. He writes regularly on relations between Muslims and the West.

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