Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Lions on Probation!

Yes, even if the ongoing inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese PM, Rafic Hariri, should end up exonerating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from duplicity in the ordering and planning thereof, the young lion and his regime should still be put on a certain probationary period before their relations with the rest of the world are normalized.

Why? Well, in a police state such as Syria, the involvement of high level security people in the assassination of an important political figure as well as a number of well-known public figures from a neighboring country for reasons related to corruption, graft, bribery, extortion, embezzlement, drug smuggling, arms smuggling and money laundering, among many other crimes and offenses, is not something that can be taken lightly by the international community. Nor is the situation simply a question of one country's internal affairs, seeing that Lebanon and Iraq are clearly involved as well.

The nature of the situation, therefore, calls for direct UN involvement, even after the conclusion of the UN inquiry. For putting the guilty parties on trial is not the endgame here. Far from it. This is only the beginning.

For, in order to deal more effectively with the problem at hand, which is the continued criminal dabbling of high level Syrian officials in the affairs of neighboring states, one needs to tackle the whole affair as a structural problem, one that cannot be resolved by arresting a few hapless individuals. Rather, a certain amoung of structural adjustments need to be implemented within the decision-making hierarchy in the Syrian regime.

It goes without saying, of course, that the Syrian authorities cannot be trusted to handle this matter on their own, as many of them seem to be implicated, both directly and indirectly, in the cycle of corruption. Indeed, the Syrian President has amply demonstrated that he lacks the political will to carry out the necessary reforms. Moreover, and even should he be exonerated from involvement in Hariri's assassination, the whole affair does, nonetheless, cast much doubts about his abilities as a leader.

For these reasons, there is a serious need for the establishment of a special UN commission to supervise the restructuring process of the Syrian security apparatuses. Due to the complexity of this task, which, in effect, goes to the very heart of the decision-making process in the country, the Commission needs to be granted broad powers allowing it to tackle issues of political reforms, economic reforms, constitutional reforms, the role of the military in the country, as well as the civil rights situation therein, not to mention some some measure of involvement in Lebanese affairs as well.

This might sound a bit far fetched, but, frankly, anything less than this will only come as a reward to the Assad regime and will serve to make them more impervious to international pressures in the future. It will also set a very negative precedent for other problematic figures in the region and elsewhere. As such, and if we are going to look for a way out of the current stalemate, one that does not involve regime change, let us at least give some necessary teeth to the process of behavior change, transforming it from a vague almost meaningless demand, lacking any implementation mechanisms or guidelines, into an actual institution with a specific agenda and timetable, set for a certain period of time, renewable by a UN Security Council decision.

This might smack of the old mandate system to many, and perhaps it does include elements of that. But I’d rather refer to it as a necessary probation period that this problematic regime has to go through in order to prove to us that it has been fully rehabilitated. We are dealing with criminals after all, so we might as well borrow some relevant terms and practices.

Saddling the Assad regime with a UN Commission that will have the power of oversight against every little thing they would want to do, and that will envision and guide the process of reform in the country in their place and in their face, but with them on board nonetheless, might indeed be the best way to go seeing that the necessary international political will for outright regime change seems to be lacking at this stage.

No, this arrangement may not, at first, satisfy the basic demands of the Assads’ growing internal and external opposition. But, if the regime change is not on the table at this stage, I, for one, will then endorse such an arrangement, because it does not give the Assads the free hand they used to have and do now have, neither internally nor regionally, and might indeed posit some hope for the future. True, the arrangement does not win any battles for us, but it does take the war to the Assads regime inside the country with international support and approval. As such, it does give us a fighting chance, especially if some of us end up being on board of that Commission. Now that would be something, wouldn’t it?