Region’s sick man

Syrian protesters living in Jordan hold Syrian opposition flags and shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad during a protest outside the Syrian embassy in Amman June 28, 2012. (REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)

The latest round of international discussion on the crisis in Syria is set to unfold this weekend in Geneva, where senior American, Russian and other diplomats try to grapple with what can be done.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will sit down with Sergei Lavrov to discuss proposals as part of efforts by permanent members of the Security Council to come up with a workable “transitional plan.”

Regional countries might not be taking part, but they have made their stances known on the situation in Syria – in essence, everyone is talking about Syria, except the Syrians. While the opposition remains firmly committed to a no-negotiations stance, Syrian officials continue to trot out the same old rhetoric.

President Bashar Assad this week acknowledged that his country was in a state of “real war,” but, not surprisingly, this war is being waged by enemy powers.

Perhaps the Syrians believe Moscow is still firmly on their side. While Lavrov denied that his country backed a transitional plan imposed by outside groups, Moscow’s rhetoric continues to creep, ever so slowly, away from their long-time ally in Damascus.

Syrian officials continue to live in a state of denial, despite the steady build-up of evidence and findings by international organizations and others, which blame the regime overwhelmingly for the horrific violence.

The denial by Assad and other officials that a bloody domestic conflict is under way is finding fewer and fewer takers. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to pretend that a country that once prided itself on being the “beating heart of Arabism” is fast becoming the “sick man of the Arab world.”

All of the self-delusion of Syrian officials, about holding parliamentary polls and moving ahead with vague notions of “reform steps” has had absolutely no impact. A bloody and destructive war of attrition continues to rage and threatens the dissolution of Syrian society, after already having torn up the country’s economy.

Perhaps Syrian officials believe the international community is too divided to act, or that by expanding the number of doctors, the cure will be harder to agree on.

They are ignoring the fact that they have lost their once-cordial relations with their neighbors on their southern and northern borders, Jordan and Turkey.

Meanwhile, on Syria’s western and eastern borders, Lebanon and Iraq are looking on, largely passively.

Syria’s alliance with Iran might be seen as a bulwark of support, but the Islamic Republic is hardly an economic powerhouse, and while Russia is still in its corner, it acts based on a cold calculation of its interests and not those of the Syrian people.

Saturday’s meeting in Geneva represents a last chance for the international community to provide a workable solution; they can talk all they want, but they will have to come up with actions, and not more words.

Otherwise, the Syrian crisis will descend even further into the unknown.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 29, 2012, on page 7.




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