The UN and the international community of peace-loving nations appear to not have learned the lessons of yesteryear. That is, foreign military presence can never be conducive to the democratic trappings of nation-building; such as the drawing up of constitutions. This much ought to have been evidenced from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya.
Yet the case of Syria is slightly different. In as much as the western powers’ initial objective of regime change has thus far remained unfulfilled. Indeed, President Assad has influential regional players such as Russia, Iran and Turkey to thank for this. And it is the latter who met in Geneva this week, under the auspices of the world body, to try and inch towards finalising an all-inclusive committee to draft a new Syrian constitution.
This has been touted as part of the Herculean task of implementing UNSC resolution 2254; which calls for a ceasefire as well as a political settlement to the conflict. Unanimously passed back in December 2015, it had envisaged the holding of free and fair elections some 18 months later.
Sadly, this may be a case of running before being able to walk. Not least because the world body itself has come out and said that both government troops and affiliated forces as well as rebel fighters committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the five-year long siege of Ghouta. On the Assad regime’s side, charges include what the UN has termed the deliberate starving of 265,000 people. The rebels, for their part, engaged in indiscriminate shelling of civilians in Damascus and regularly arrested and tortured religious minorities.
Thus the priority for many Syria watchers is the establishing of either a war crimes tribunal or else a truth and reconciliation commission. For unless and until either of these is addressed — the road towards a new social contract will prove a treacherous one. Already, the opposition has raised not unreasonable concerns regarding the scope and form of the constitutional committee; including questions about who has the final say-so on who is allowed to participate and who has the authority to legitimise the constitution in its final form. This is to say nothing of the eventual fate of Assad; if this is truly to be a Syrian-led process.
Yet none of this can happen in the absence of a UN-mandated truce to hostilities among all parties to the conflict that extends to US and NATO forces. This must be followed by a timetable for complete withdrawal. It is the very least that is needed to move towards sustainable peace. For if America’s longest war has taught the world anything, it must be this. *
Published in Daily Times, June 21st 2018.