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    Greater China
     Jul 28, 2012


Page 2 of 2
Syrian wheel of fortune spins China's way
By Peter Lee

Just to be safe, the Yemeni transitional government went the extra mile of granting irrevocable immunity (binding on future, perhaps less friendly governments) to Saleh and his aides.

Ironically (or predictably) the Yemen solution has short-changed the law-and-democracy friendly opposition we supposedly cared so much about, in favor of placing a new, tractable regime (best described as the old regime sans Saleh) in power.

This does not sit well with Tawakkul Karman, a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011for her brave pro-democracy and women's-rights activism in Yemen. She has been fruitlessly calling on the UNSC to direct the ICC to open a prosecution of

 

Saleh. After a visit to The Hague, she met with a reporter from AFP:
Because Yemen has not signed the court's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, the only way the prosecutor could launch an investigation is if the United Nations Security Council tells him to.

"This is unfair," Karman said on the steps of the court's headquarters. "They have to find a new way to bring everyone who is killing his people to here, to this building." [8]
However, in the matter of ICC jurisdiction, Syria recapitulates Libya and C๔te d'Ivoire, not Yemen.

Libya had signed but not ratified the treaty; so it took a UN Security Council resolution to place Muammar Gaddafi and his family and associates within the jurisdiction of the ICC while they were still in power.

Syria is in the same boat - a signer but not a ratifier. With the current regime in place, it would indeed take a UN Security Council resolution to get Assad and his associates on the hook for war crimes under an ICC prosecution, and that simply isn't going to happen.

However, if Assad were to leave power, a successor regime in Syria can issue a declaration submitting itself to ICC jurisdiction retroactively, in order to cover crimes against humanity committed by prior leaders back to the date of the court's establishment in 2002.

That, indeed, is what happened in C๔te d'Ivoire, when the current government has turned over the former president, Laurent Gbagbo, to the ICC for prosecution for crimes against humanity allegedly committed while he tried to cling to power following a lost election in 2010. [9]

Given the intense rancor surrounding the bloody crackdown in Syria and the crimes against humanity that were undoubtedly committed, it would appear extremely difficult for the international coalition to offer a convincing assurance that a victorious opposition (which, in addition to rebels bought and paid for by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, also includes a large number of principled and righteously and rightfully incensed Syrians) would not, as its first order of business, call on the ICC to prosecute quite a few leaders of the previous regime for crimes against humanity.

This was a point made by Navi Pillay, head of the UN Human Rights Commission. Reportage at the time characterized Pillay as gratuitously adding complications that would make it harder to cut a deal with Assad, but she was simply making a statement of fact.

So the offer to allow Assad to go into exile with a promise of immunity is unlikely to sway him, his backers in Russia and China, or the military and security officers nervously regarding the red harvest of judicial and extra-judicial revenge that would follow any regime overthrow.

With the Syrian regime proving resistant to a quick collapse, and anti-Assad sentiment within the regime stifled by fear of victor's justice, what's Plan B?

It seems to be Send in the Clowns.

In other words, find an ex-regime figurehead who is at least superficially palatable to the Syrian populace and sufficiently obedient to the foreign coalition, and can also persuade the Assad regime that his first act will be to push a bill through the (presumably unrepresentative, hand-picked, and tractable) transitional legislature granting a graceful exit to Assad and amnesty to his associates (aside from some carefully-chosen scapegoats) from prosecution for their past crimes in the name of reconciliation.

(It should be noted in passing that the ICC is not supposed to recognize this kind of legislated impunity and the victims of Assad and the Ba'ath regime would still have the right to apply to the ICC prosecutor to open a case, but presumably this can be finessed.) [10]

The initial candidate for the exalted role of transition leader is Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, who fled Syria amid widespread huzzahs a few weeks ago.

Tlass has been literally grooming himself for his role as popular leader for months, growing out his military haircut into a heroic Byronic mane prior to his defection.

His photographic prop is a big cigar, presumably to reinforce the image of manly leadership, and he issued a post-defection statement describing how his patriotic qualms concerning the Assad regime's brutal counter-insurgency operations had led to his sidelining from the military chain of command (and fortuitously exonerating him from implication in the worst excesses of regime forces).

He is also, apparently, France's great hope for clout in Syria, as this priceless excerpt from the Christian Science Monitor reveals:
Now, Mustafa [his father] and Tlass's sister, Nahed Ojjeh, are living in Paris, where Ms. Ojjeh is a prominent socialite who once dated a former French foreign minister.

"France has a longstanding relationship with the Tlass family, going back to the 1980s. Manaf's sister … throws lavish dinner parties and infiltrated the French political and media elites," says Mr. Bitar. "When she became the mistress of a foreign minister, there was a national security risk for France, but the president then chose to turn a blind eye because he felt there was need for backchannel diplomacy between France and the Assad regime.

"Given these old ties, France today might be thinking of grooming Manaf Tlass and counting on him to play an important role in the post-Assad transition phase." [11]
Manaf Tlass is the foppish scion of a family of mysteriously wealthy and allegedly fornicating emigres and, by Syrian army standards, also a lightweight, owing his rank to his father, who once served as Assad's Minister of Defense. Despite that, he is emerging as Saudi Arabia's favored candidate as figurehead for the new Syria. Perhaps this is because Tlass, with his embrace of non-Islamist financial and moral values, would present a reassuring secularist face to the West while at the same time serving as a compliant accessory to Gulf interests.

However, Qatar appears comfortable with another high-level defector, one who also happens to be Sunni (as is Tlass), but was an important cog in the Assad machine and has hands-on experience with the nitty gritty of restoring order in a violent and dangerous set of circumstances.

The man is Nawaff al-Faris, formerly Syria's ambassador to Iraq. According to an interlocutor communicating with the As'ad AbuKhalil's Angry Arab blog, Ambassador Nawaff is quite a piece of work, having earned his bones with the Ba'ath regime as battalion commander during the legendary Hama massacre of 1982, the action that routed the Muslim Brotherhood from Syria at the cost of around 20,000 lives in that one city:
"I know about this man, nawaf al-faris, the defecting ambassador of syria to iraq, from the ... the hama area. Hama people remember him well. He was commanding one of the battallions that committed atrocities there in 1982, and i heard it from hama and halab older people (now dead) that he personally threw 16 young boys youngest was 6, from the the rooftop of a building before their parents' eyes.

…he was very close to the regime, as much as the tlass clan, except that he commands a larger following among bedouins in the euphrates area…his flight through qatar, rather than turkey, means that the qataris have big plans for him in post-assad syria. you will hear his name again. a very very dirty and cruel man." [12]
Nawaff might be a good choice in the eyes of Qatar, but installing one of the butchers of Hama would presumably not be the kind of Arab Spring triumph that the West is looking for in Syria. So perhaps the search will continue for a more suitable candidate, while hoping that the remorseless grind of violence, sanctions, and anger will finally crack the power of the Assad regime.

However, when we talk about "events spinning out of control in Syria" we can also take it as a reference to the international game plan for Syria. Indirectly enabling regime collapse through a disorderly collection of guerillas is no substitute for sending in a big, shiny army to occupy the capital and dictate events.

The longer regime collapse is delayed, the greater the risk that important elements of the insurrection might slip the leash, start fighting with each other as well as against Assad, and contribute to the creation of a failed state where Syria used to be.

Therefore, even as international support for the insurgency escalates, the anti-Assad coalition finds it particularly frustrating that China and Russia have refused to vote for escalated UN Security Council sanctions that, under the pretext of supporting the moribund Annan peace initiative, might expedite the collapse of the Syrian regime.

For all the principled talk by Russia and China concerning non-interference and the right of the people of Syria to control their destiny, it is difficult to escape the inference that they are not particularly unhappy with the current turn of events.

After the West rounded on China and Russia for vetoing another round of sanctions against Syria, Beijing shrugged off the criticism.

People's Daily approvingly reproduced a Global Times editorial that stated:
China also opposes the UN Security Council openly picking sides in Syria's internal conflict. It insists that the Syrians should seek a political solution through their own negotiations.

This is a bottom line that must be upheld so as to prevent the West from overthrowing any regime at will. [13]
Bashar al-Assad is doing a pretty good job of staying in power and crushing the insurrection. The longer he is able to cling to power, the more shattered and divided Syria becomes - and the less useful it is to the West and the Gulf states as a proxy warrior in the battle with Shi'ite Iraq and Iran.

Notes:
1. Syrian Rebellion Enters new Stage with Aleppo, Border operations, Informed Comment, Jul 22, 2012.
2. Syria rebels 'control all Iraq border points', AFP on Google, Jul 20, 2012.
3. Turkish truck drivers accuse rebel fighters of looting, AFP on Google, Jul 22, 2012.
4. Iraqi Kurds train their Syrian brethren, Aljazeera, Jul 23, 2012.
5. Syria rebels would accept transition led by regime figure, Hurriyet Daily News, Jul 24, 2012.
6. Clinton urges Syria's Assad to plan political transition, Xinhua, Jul 25, 2012.
7. Syria opposition denies reports on forming coalition government, Xinhua, Jul 24, 2012.
8. Yemen's Nobel laureate calls for ICC trial for Saleh, Tehran Times, Nov 29, 2011.
9. Gbagbo's ICC Transfer Advances Justice, Human Rights Watch, Nov 29, 2011.
10. Yemen: Amnesty for Saleh and Aides Unlawful, Human Rights Watch, Jan 23, 2012.
11. As blast rattles Syrian regime, defecting general reemerges in France, Christian Science Monitor, Jul 18, 2012.
12. Meet the defector: the Syrian ambassador Nawwaf Al-Faris and the Hamah massacre of 1982, Angry Arab News Service, Jul 12, 2012.
13. West wrong on Chinese public's Syria view, People's Daily, Jul 23, 2012.

Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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