The mafia in charge of public order

The West must recognize its mistakes in misplaced sycophancy towards tyrannical regimes.

Syrian FM meets head of  Arab monitors 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Sana Sana)
Syrian FM meets head of Arab monitors 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Sana Sana)
Following the Iran, Syria and Libya “questions,” the West, ostensibly the acting representative of the international community, has dissolved into the old blocs of the Cold War. And now that it is paralyzed, demoralized, impotent and useless, the West—in an attempt to justify its own incapacity to do anything about the ongoing massacre in Syria—has "delegated" the Arab League to act on its behalf.
From the outset, Syria and Libya were subjected to the same level of criticism by the West, which in both cases argued that their respective tyrants must be removed from power. But this is an inexcusable error. Despite the stockpiles of weapons that were accumulated in Libya, the country still has no army to speak of - only a private militia of mercenaries who remain loyal to late leader Muammar Gaddafi and his clan. Syria, on the other hand, with an army commanded by an Alawi minority, has ensured its grip on the entire security apparatus during the 42 years of the Assad dynasty. Like the French colonialists in their time, the Syrian army has built its forces based on Alawi cadres that are personally loyal to the regime.
The nexus between loyalty and advancement in the ranks is indeed a prerequisite to the survival of the regime; it being understood that if the 10 percent of the Alawi minority should release the Sunni tiger from its short leash, they would be swallowed by it instantaneously. But unlike Gaddafi’s militia, the Syrians built a formidable army - more powerful in its battle order than any European power - as well as an air force which served as the launching pad for Hafiz al-Assad, the dynastic founder and slaughterer of the Muslim Brothers in Hama in1982.
Had Europe decided to interfere in Syria as it did in Libya, it would have had to contend with a brutal fight which could have ended up uniting the Syrians and reinforcing Assad's position. But, being ill-prepared to engage in battle (especially in getting forces on the ground), no European country would have been willing to contend with the casualties that Syria would have inflicted. In other words, while it is relatively easy for Western forces to interfere in weak countries such as Libya—or indeed, as auxiliaries to the US in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan—the same cannot be said for coming up against significant powers like Syria.
Under former president George Bush, the US scared the Syrians enough to force them to withdraw from Lebanon and further enforced a political and diplomatic siege against them in an attempt to thwart the informal aid they lend to Iraqi terror against the US army. But the Obama Administration’s policy of "engagement" has since reversed that trend by reestablishing relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This signaled to the latter that he had become legitimate, and was now free to act at will - even if it meant massacring his own people. It was also a sign for Assad that the rules of rebellion, by which Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was deposed, did not apply to him or to Syria. The Russians also understood that US President Barack Obama's lenient non-policy would afford them the ability to rebuild their bases in Syria, particularly the naval base in Tartus, thus restoring Russia to the old days of Cold War and simultaneously offering Syria an additional shield.
Therefore, the vacuum left by the waning international community, which in turn has become a pretext for not taking any daring measures, had to be filled by someone. This is where the Arab League stepped in – albeit reluctantly. The absurdity lies in the fact that the Arab League itself is made up of tyrants with various degrees of tyranny. So who’s left to impose decency, moderation, law and order and liberalization? Monarchies like Saudi Arabia, who detest the “Arab Spring" because it threatens their very regimes? Or those that have traversed it, like Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, who have yet to emerge with even a minimal degree of stability?
The Arab monitors, those who were dispatched to supervise and implement order or to save lives, all hail from countries like Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, countries that are themselves in desperate want of law, order and stability. Headed by Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, al-Dabi is a notorious champion of international war crime fugitive Omar al-Bashir, who was himself involved in the rampages of the Janjaweed in Darfur.
How is it possible that someone who was directly involved in massacres and tyrannical rule assist fellow Arabs to extricate themselves out of those same syndromes of chaos and inhumanity? Were it not so tragic, this would be a global joke of hilarious proportions. No wonder then, that in the beginning of their failed task, the same monitors sought to justify Assad.  They sympathized with traits within his regime that are familiar to them in their own countries.
If the world cannot interfere and assist those unfortunate victims, let it at least offer shelter to refugees fleeing for their lives - something that only a handful, including Turkey and Lebanon, are actually doing. But for those in Europe or the US or who wish to help, they must first recognize the fatal error that played out when they re-engaged with Assad and therewith accepted the horrors of his regime. For decades, these were the same people that maintained a blanket acceptance of leaders such as Mubarak, Gaddafi, Saleh, and Ben Ali. Only the power of popular rebellion forced them to acknowledge their gross error in pretending that all was right with those leaders.
It’s time for the West and the international community to heed the values inherent within the very word “community.” The West must learn from the sobering lessons it received as a result of its misplaced sycophancy, such as its persistent kowtowing to Saudi tyrants or its ongoing “business deals” with Iranian tyrants. Because sooner or later, the time will come for those tyrants too.
The writer is a professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem  and a member of the steering committee of the Ariel Center for Policy Research.