Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The U.N. and Syria: A "Mere Frothing of Words?"

In the past week, U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan proposed a six-point plan for ending the violence and oppression in Syria. As of today, the Arab League was discussing his proposal, and was expected to endorse it.

Syria itself has accepted Mr. Annan's call for a ceasefire and his other five points, though it has a long history of violating such agreements whenever President Bashar al-Assad feels like it. Shelling his citizens, including women and children. Torturing dissidents. Imprisoning journalists. These are the hallmarks of Assad's dictatorship.

I applaud Annan's active diplomacy, his courage and his leadership. The former U.N. Secretary General has built his reputation on such pillars, in stark contrast with the Syrian despot he is attempting to peaceably remove.

However, I question why it took the United Nations so long to create such a plan. Same goes for the Arab League, which expelled Syria last year and yet has done little to effectively curb Assad's abuses.

During his March 1946 speech in Fulton, Mo., (actually called "The Sinews of Peace" but soon re-christened "The Iron Curtain speech"), Winston Churchill's most famous soundbytes were his definition of the Iron Curtain and the "special relationship" between the English-speaking peoples, led by Britain and America. Yet there are other significant messages therein that are often overlooked.

One such message is Churchill's urging that the U.N. become a "temple of peace" instead of a "Tower of Babel." Churchill also cautioned against the fledgling association succumbing to a "mere frothing of words" rather than active diplomacy backed by strength. He had witnessed first hand the failure of The League of Nations to achieve its primary aim, namely that World War I should be "the war to end all wars." With Nazism gone but the specter of Communism darkening Eastern Europe and menacing the Middle and Far East, Churchill realized that the new version of the League would have its work cut out. And so it proved.

While the U.N. eventually took decisive measures in Bosnia (thanks in no small part to President Bill Clinton's leadership) and has other successes it can be proud of, its record is blighted with inaction in Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda, to name just three. This is not to say that the U.N. should be a hawkish organization that authorizes pre-emptive strikes or full-scale ground invasions every week. But neither should it, neither can it, sit idly by while ethnic cleansing, Assad-style brutality, and genocide occur under its very nose.

Churchill's advice?

"We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace in which the shields of many nations can some day be hung up, and not merely a cockpit in a Tower of Babel. Before we cast away the solid assurances of national armaments for self-preservation we must be certain that our temple is built, not upon shifting sands or quagmires, but upon the rock."
Or, roughly translated, the U.N. must be a body built on "the rock" of close associations within the Anglosphere, a body of nations committed to defending those who cannot defend themselves in word and in deed.

Congratulations to Mr. Annan on putting Churchill's timeless guidance into action. I hope it is not too late for the Syrian people.

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