The Middle East Channel

Snipers fire on U.N. investigators as international leaders debate options on Syria

Unidentified snipers have hit the convoy of a team of 20 U.N. inspectors as they set out to investigate the sites of Wednesday’s alleged chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus, which killed hundreds of people. The Syrian government and opposition fighters had agreed to a cease-fire to allow for the investigation. The team ...

STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Unidentified snipers have hit the convoy of a team of 20 U.N. inspectors as they set out to investigate the sites of Wednesday's alleged chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus, which killed hundreds of people. The Syrian government and opposition fighters had agreed to a cease-fire to allow for the investigation. The team of experts has returned to a checkpoint and said they will continue the inquiry, which is set to determine whether chemical weapons were used, but not who used them. The United States and Western countries have said there is little doubt that the Assad regime used chemical weapons and a U.S. official said the inspection of the sites is likely "too late to be credible." Western and Middle Eastern military leaders are meeting in Jordan to discuss the two and a half year Syrian conflict. The United States is debating options on Syria, including possible military action, a year after President Barack Obama declared the use of chemical weapons a "red line." Speaking with the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that accusations that government forces conducted a chemical attack were "nonsense" and warned the United States that military involvement would bring "failure just like in all previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days." Russia cautioned against prejudging the results of the U.N. investigations and undertaking "armed actions against Syria." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said there can be "no impunity" if the investigators find evidence of the use of chemical weapons. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that an international response could come without a U.N. Security Council consensus.

Headlines

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak faced a retrial Sunday after being released last week from prison to house arrest, while the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders also began in Cairo. A wave of attacks across Iraq targeting mainly Sunni areas killed at least 42 people Sunday in a recent surge in violence. Israeli security forces killed three Palestinians in clashes Monday after a raid in the West Bank Qalandia refugee camp. A bombing killed three people and wounded another 23 on a bus carrying high-ranking Yemeni air force officers in Sanaa Sunday. 

Unidentified snipers have hit the convoy of a team of 20 U.N. inspectors as they set out to investigate the sites of Wednesday’s alleged chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus, which killed hundreds of people. The Syrian government and opposition fighters had agreed to a cease-fire to allow for the investigation. The team of experts has returned to a checkpoint and said they will continue the inquiry, which is set to determine whether chemical weapons were used, but not who used them. The United States and Western countries have said there is little doubt that the Assad regime used chemical weapons and a U.S. official said the inspection of the sites is likely "too late to be credible." Western and Middle Eastern military leaders are meeting in Jordan to discuss the two and a half year Syrian conflict. The United States is debating options on Syria, including possible military action, a year after President Barack Obama declared the use of chemical weapons a "red line." Speaking with the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that accusations that government forces conducted a chemical attack were "nonsense" and warned the United States that military involvement would bring "failure just like in all previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days." Russia cautioned against prejudging the results of the U.N. investigations and undertaking "armed actions against Syria." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said there can be "no impunity" if the investigators find evidence of the use of chemical weapons. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that an international response could come without a U.N. Security Council consensus.

Headlines

  • Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak faced a retrial Sunday after being released last week from prison to house arrest, while the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders also began in Cairo.
  • A wave of attacks across Iraq targeting mainly Sunni areas killed at least 42 people Sunday in a recent surge in violence.
  • Israeli security forces killed three Palestinians in clashes Monday after a raid in the West Bank Qalandia refugee camp.
  • A bombing killed three people and wounded another 23 on a bus carrying high-ranking Yemeni air force officers in Sanaa Sunday. 

Arguments and Analysis

Foreign Policy by Whisper and Nudge‘ (Thomas Friedman, The New York Times)

"To help another country change internally requires a mix of refereeing, policing, coaching, incentivizing, arm-twisting and modeling — but even all of that cannot accomplish the task and make a country’s transformation self-sustaining, unless the people themselves want to take charge of the process.

In Iraq, George W. Bush removed Saddam Hussein, who had been governing that country vertically, from the top-down, with an iron fist. Bush tried to create the conditions through which Iraqis could govern themselves horizontally, by having the different communities write their own social contract on how to live together. It worked, albeit imperfectly, as long as U.S. troops were there to referee. But once we left, no coterie of Iraqi leaders emerged to assume ownership of that process in an inclusive manner and thereby make it self-sustaining.

Ditto Libya, where President Obama removed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s top-down, iron-fisted regime, but he declined to put U.S. troops on the ground to midwife a new social contract. The result: Libya today is no more stable, or self-sustainingly democratic, than Iraq. It just cost us less to fail there. In both cases, we created an opening for change, but the local peoples have not made it sustainable.

Hence the three reactions I cited above. People of the region often blame us, because they either will not or cannot accept their own responsibility for putting things right. Or, if they do, they don’t see a way to forge the necessary societal compromises, because their rival factions take the view either that ‘I am weak, how can I compromise?’ or ‘I am strong, why should I compromise?’ "

Who Is Ali Khamenei?‘ (Akbar Ganji, Foreign Affairs)

"As a young man, Khamenei saw a tension between the West and the Third World, and these views hardened during his dealings with the United States after the Iranian Revolution. He concluded that Washington was determined to overthrow the Islamic Republic and that all other issues raised by U.S. officials were nothing more than smoke screens. Even today, he believes that the U.S. government is bent on regime change in Iran, whether through internal collapse, democratic revolution, economic pressure, or military invasion.

Khamenei has always been critical of liberal democracy and thinks that capitalism and the West are in inevitable long-term decline. Moreover, he sees Washington as inherently Islamophobic. Nevertheless, he is not reflexively anti-Western or anti-American. He does not believe that the United States and the West are responsible for all of the Islamic world’s problems, that they must be destroyed, or that the Koran and sharia are by themselves sufficient to address the needs of the modern world. He considers science and progress to be ‘Western civilization’s truth,’ and he wants the Iranian people to learn this truth. He is not a crazy, irrational, or reckless zealot searching for opportunities for aggression. But his deep-rooted views and intransigence are bound to make any negotiations with the West difficult and protracted, and any serious improvement in the relationship between Iran and the United States will have to be part of a major comprehensive deal involving significant concessions on both sides."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber 

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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