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Strange Australian commentary on the UN's controversial "peace plan" for Syria

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The Syrian Government's decision to accept UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan has been met with a lot of scepticism to say the least. A number of experts have been predicting that the initiative would only paper-over the Assad regime's continued violence and that there would be negative consequences felt in Syria as a result.

Another by-product of the issue has been some rather strange commentary emerging from Australia. Anthony Billingsley, a lecturer at the University of New South Wales, has written his thoughts about the Annan plan on Australian academic blog site The Conversation. His reasoning is a little difficult to follow -- in more than one instance, his assessment of the geopolitics seems either misinformed or contradictory, particularly in regards to the American and Israeli role in the Syrian uprisings (emphasis added):

Internationally, efforts to address the problem have been undermined by Israeli and US ambivalence. Both governments are fretting about the implications for regional stability should Bashar Al-Assad be removed.

... Part of the problem facing mediation is that the various combatants in Syria have problems with those seeking a role. The Arab League, under undue Saudi influence, is not trusted by the Syrian government. The UN Security Council is also seen by the Assad regime as inherently hostile, especially when the US and its British and French allies began calling for regime change.

Billingsley seems to be suggesting that the "indifference" of the US is undermining international efforts to address the problem, but vocal determination from the US that the problem cannot be solved without regime change is preventing a resolution because this leads the Assad regime to lose trust in the UN -- i.e. the US is at the same time damningly indifferent to the issue and overly gung-ho about involving itself in the issue. This raises what Billingsley's academic colleagues would refer to as an "epistemic paradox".

Meanwhile, Billingsley does not seem to have been paying much attention to Israel's stance on the issue (perhaps he has been reading Robert Fisk) -- far from "indifference", the Israel Government has repeatedly and very explicitly stated that it wants Assad gone and very few commentators in Israel have argued that leaving the Assas regime in power for the sake of stabilty is in Israel's interests. Moreover, the idea that Israel's stance is affecting efforts to "address" the problem is bizarre - Israel has no role in the fighting in Syria on the ground or at the UN. The only concrete thing Israel has even considered doing with respect to the Syrian civil war is to offer humanitarian aid to Syria last month:

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has directed Eviatar Manor, head of the ministry's international organizations branch, to offer the International Red Cross humanitarian aid to Syria, his spokesman said on Sunday. The organization replied it is still evaluating the humanitarian situation in Syria and what supplies are needed, and will respond in detail.

Lieberman said that "the Jewish state cannot sit idly by while horrific acts are taking place in a neighboring country and people are losing all that is dear to them." He added that even if Israel cannot intervene in the internal affairs of a country with which it has no diplomatic ties, it is its "moral duty to at least offer humanitarian aid and call on the world to put a stop to the massacre."

Even more perverse than Billingsley's post was a piece in ABC's The Drum Unleashed by noted Assad apologist Joseph Wakim. Wakim viciously attacks Assad's opposition for using "militant language" about Assad:

In Monty Pythonesque manner, a founding member of SNC, Osama al-Munjid, told ABC radio that the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change 'does not represent anyone but themselves'.

His 'legitimate' organisation ostensibly works towards a 'peaceful transition to free, democratic rule' but undermines its pacifist goals with its violent slogans that the current Syrian government is an 'illegitimate occupying militia' and a 'murderous regime' led by 'butcher Bashar'. He has conjured up all the comparisons with Saddam Hussein and Moamar Gaddafi, both of whom were ousted by foreign military force and militia groups that cannot be disarmed. The SNC now appears hell bent on wanting a repeat of the NATO-Libyan Rebels model.

This was reinforced this month when SNC president Dr Burhan Ghalioun announced the formation of a Military Bureau to coordinate the 'brave factions of the armed resistance' including the Free Syrian Army 'under one central command'. The SNC unashamedly declares that 'all forms of intervention are on the table... to bring down the Assad regime'.

As Human Rights Watch has reported, there are legitimate humanitarian concerns with the SNC. That said, the rhetoric Wakim quotes does not seem particularly militant given the situation in Syria – more than 8000 dead at government hands, and more killings occuring every day. In fact, it would not seem out of place in a UN report or a US State department press release.

Even more concerning is Wakim's later intimations that the SNC is some kind of pawn of the West because they are accepting backing from Turkey and the US while not agreeing that the Assad regime's phony "reforms" should be the end of the matter: 

... Unsurprisingly, the SNC refuses to acknowledge any of the reforms implemented by the  Syrian government, even though many mirror the SNC's own stated goals such as abolishing emergency laws, abolishing laws restricting rights to establish political parties, licensing of media outlets, and specific terms governing the election of the president.

Herein lies one of the tragedies of stubbornness where the most vocal opposition group insists on revolution from outsiders, rather than evolution from within Syria.

Foreign intervention by the kings on this chessboard come with a price tag and reduce the SNC to future pawns indebted to new masters - not a government that will only answer to the Syrian people. The SNP should come clean about its sponsors, who are most likely the Gulf States and their US-Israeli allies.

Already the US and turkey [sic] have pledged 'non lethal' assistance such as communications equipment.

Wakim is correct in that it is "unsurprising" that the SNC would refuse to acknowledge the Syrian government's reforms. As mentioned above, any scepticism of the Syrian government's reforms -- and the adoption of Annan's plan -- puts the SNC in good company. The vast majority of experts and analysts have expressed similar concerns.

More surprising is that a man who claims to be a spokesman for Australia's Arab community would be so overtly pro-Assad. This would put him at odds with the vast majority of Arabs, not only in Australia, but worldwide.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

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