October 31, 2005

UN to Syria: It's Déjà-Vu All Over Again - UPDATED

Hatched by Dafydd

UPDATE 5:18 pm PST: See below.

Once again, I must trot out poor, old Yogi Berra to explain international affairs.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) just voted unanimously to impose an inspection regime on Syria similar to that imposed on Iraq... but in this case, they're looking for evidence about Syria's involvement in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.

But I have a question: suppose the team investigating Hariri's assassination, poring through records, comes across evidence that Syria accepted "large stockpiles" of weapons of mass destruction from their Baathist brothers in Iraq; is there any way that the investigation can be expanded to include that question?

I suppose I'm really asking three questions:

  1. Is there any possibility that the UN inspection team members would decide to follow such a lead if they stumbled across it?
  2. Is there any possibility that the UNSC could rein them in if they decided to do so?
  3. Is there any wiggle room for Syria to prevent the investigation turning that direction without violating the resolution?

Number 2 is the easiest to answer: since the United States and Britain are both permanent members and have veto authority in the UNSC, if the inspectors did start moving that direction, I don't believe the UNSC would, as a body, stop them; any such attempt to restrict the investigation would be vetoed by us and probably by the Brits as well.

Number 3 is so inside baseball that it could only by answered by an attorney familiar with this particular resolution and with "international law" in this area (those are scare quotes because I am very skeptical about the existence of international law in the first place). It certainly seems as if the leader of the inspection team, Detlev Mehlis, has the authority to pursue the case wherever he wants to take it:

The resolution grants the U.N.'s chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, the authority to take his investigation anywhere in Syria, demand any documents and interview any individual, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, inside Syria or abroad. Syria is also required to abide by any request by Mehlis to arrest suspects, including Assad's closest aides and relatives.

So the most interesting question is number 1: suppose such evidence of WMD transfer cropped up... would Mehlis pursue it? He is the investigator who just submitted a hard-hitting report accusing Syria of active complicity in the assassination and also specifically naming a number of top Syrians, including chief of Syrian military intelligence Asef Shawkat (Bashar Assad's brother in law), President Bashar Assad's brother Maher, and other top members of the Assad regime. So it's pretty clear that Mehlis is rock solid on the assassination question.

But I don't know how he would react to discovering evidence on the two questions that are more interesting to me than the fairly settled issue of the Hariri bombing: did Iraq transfer its WMD to Syria before the war to prevent it being found, and is Syria actively complicit (as opposed to passively turning a blind eye) to terrorists crossing the border into Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis?

How wide is Detlev Mehlis willing to expand his investigation to follow the evidence?

If he is more of a Norm Coleman or Richard Butler type, then I think the answer would be "as far as the evidence leads;" but if he's a Hans Blix clone, I would suspect "not one inch beyond the mandate."

My guess is he is somewhere in between those two extremes, so I'm left in a state of uncertainty.

One delicious Freudian slip on the part of the Syrians is contained in the article, though the Washington Post reporter, Colum Lynch, doesn't seem to have noticed:

The Syrian foreign minister, Farouk Sharaa, said Syria would cooperate, but he argued that the U.N. report produced no evidence that Syrians had committed a crime. He denied that Syrians knew in advance of the plans to kill Hariri and said such suggestions were akin to saying that U.S. officials were aware that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were coming or that British officials expected the subway bombings last summer.

In other words, Sharaa drew a comparison between the United States suffering an attack on American soil and Great Britain suffering an attack on British soil -- with a terrorist attack on Lebanese soil. Is he admitting that the Syrians consider Lebanon a "renegade province" of Syria, as Saddam Hussein used to consider Kuwait to be Province 19 of Iraq, and as China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway part of Red China? An interesting admission!

One excellent sign: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used exactly the same phrase, "serious consequences," to describe what would happen if Syria refused to cooperate as UN Resolution 1441 threatened if Iraq refused to cooperate -- which, of course, is just what he failed to do.

Even if the United Nations refuses, at the end, to enforce its own resolution (again), let's hope that America will show as much resolve in 2006 as we did in 2003.

UPDATE: Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters earlier predicted dire consequences for the Assad dynasty if this resolution passed... which of course it did, unanimously. If Detlev Mehlis exercises his mandate and demands that Bashar Assad hand over military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat or Assad's brother Maher Assad, this puts the Syrian president in a quandry:

Assad doesn't generate the same kind of fear his father did, and that means his enemies will not find themselves cowed merely by his personality the way they might have with his father.

Turning over the suspects, of course, means coughing up his own family and the people at the top of the military intelligence apparatus. Before that happens, the military will likely have something to say about protecting its own, especially after suffering the humiliation of the withdrawal from Lebanon just this year. That looks like actual suicide, rather than political suicide.

If Assad chooses not to turn over the suspects, it will likely trigger real economic sanctions: even Russia and China will be hard-pressed to vote against such sanctions if Syria thumbs its nose at the resolution that they, themselves supported. As Ed notes,

After losing Lebanon for economic exploitation, the Syrians cannot afford any more economic hurdles and will not handle this kind of outside assault. The collapse of the Syrian economy will force the monied interests out of the country, and those have provided Assad with most of his power base.

So if Ed is correct, then the real question is who will follow Bashar Assad in the UnComfy Chair? If Syria suffers an actual coup d'etat, that might well open the door for the US forces just across the border to intervene much more directly and aggressively by launching attacks on so-called "safe cities" inside Syria, where terrorists gather and plot before infiltrating into Iraq.

It also might make it easier for Syrian democrats -- and I am sure they exist -- to try to seize their own country back from the vicious Baathists who have ruled there since 1963, after Syria split from the United Arab Republic (under which Syria had unified into a single country with Gamil Nasser's Egypt). If so, I hope that we offer whatever support such democrats may request from our nearby troops and airpower.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 31, 2005, at the time of 4:33 PM

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The following hissed in response by: stackja1945

Why not have elections in Syria, just like the elections held in Iraq, and the UN does not need to get involved?

The above hissed in response by: stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 5:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

international affairs

Many people think that former Prison Inmates were 'raped' there, especially if they were ex-Cops. Most of those same people (probably all of them) have no clue what it takes to become 'Da Head Prison Pimp. Interesting...and, quite telling.

Life on Earth is a *LOT* like Life in a Prison...

Simply put...humble me understands both Prison 'affairs' and international affairs.

Showing weakness is the key here, especially if one is a male in a Male's Prison, or a male on a Male's Internationally Orientated Planet like Earth...so to speak of such 'Thangs to weak males.

Women want equal rights? Fine by gentle me, if they are willing to do at least some time in a Male's Prison...some time, as just one hour. If a woman or Woman understands what that means, then she might have a clue as to what a young boy goes through in a Prison...so to speak of such 'Thangs as a young boy in Prison.

i have *PIMPED* more males out to Prison populations than most males and Males can even imagine. Hey, Prison isn't a place that caters to weakness, and i understood that rather simple fact before turning myself in to the local authorities who were unable to catch me in the 'Free World'...so to speak of such 'Thangs whilst smiling.

Talk is cheap...Internationally or even in a local jail.

Former Prison Pimp

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 6:05 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

The Middle East is loaded with weak males...clearly a genetic problem.

The Muslim Middle East is afraid of a tiny country like Israel. Israel even kicks their butts when they put their most powerful nations together. The Muslim Middle East cries when that happens...cries for decades. The only reason that radical Islamism is still around, is because that America's Left, yes, the Democrat Party supports the likes of a Arafat and Saddam. Look at Jimmy "The Mullah" Carter and Bill Clinton...they both feared a fight. Carter's and Clinton's supporters really fear a fight...so to speak of p's backing p's.

America needs to be pruned,


The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 6:25 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

Yes, i do not understand sanity...so what!?!

The Sane World *BAFFLES* the Insane...so to speak. - KårmiÇømmünîs†

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 6:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

I still don't get it. TypePad just left a trackback at Captain's Quarters but it still won't at your place. I still consider it Six Apart's problem.

I ended my Syria In The Crosshairs post thusly:

With the passage of that UN resolution I think the very best [Assad] can hope for is life in exile, but after the Arab League blocked that option for Saddam Hussein I wonder if he even has that hope.  Should we be watching for an announcement of another "suicide," or possibly several?

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 7:34 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

Syria was in trouble when they lost Lebanon. With Syria now in more trouble, the whole middle eastern mentality is in serious trouble. Syria just needed a push, and they panicked like a future Prison punk. Muslim males are very weak unless they have lots of help...as in half of America backing them or a hoard of hooded whimps standing over a handcuffed human.

The Middle East holds some oil, our oil, and a mere bitch-slap can lower the price of gas to 30-cents with a serious slap. Oh well...

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 8:38 PM

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