Affirm, escalate pressure on Syria

Affirm, escalate pressure on Syria

December 6th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Syria's assurance Monday that it would allow Arab League observers into the country as part of a plan to end the near-civil war between pro-democracy protesters and government forces is meaningless. It comes with several conditions attached, all of which are unacceptable on their face. Arab foreign ministers are correct to reject the Syrian ploy. They should continue to insist that Syrian President Bashar Assad accept the observer mission without qualification -- or face additional and increasingly tougher economic sanctions against his regime.

There's no reason for the Arab League to continue to dicker with Syria about conditions. Every day that outside observers are not on the ground in Syria to serve as a buffer between Syrians who are demanding a more democratic government and Assad's forces is a day on which more deaths, injuries and unreasonable arrest take place.

Indeed, reports from Syria and human rights advocates outside the nation agree that about 25 people were killed and many more injured in confrontations between security forces and protesters during the past weekend. The United Nations now says that more than 4,000 people have been killed during the nine-month uprising against Assad's government. Confirmation of that number is difficult since Syria heavily restricts journalists' movement.

Syria's response to the Arab League demand to honor an earlier pledge to allow observers is simply an effort to forestall new economic and other sanctions. The restrictions have proved especially effective in putting pressure on the Assad government. That's because the Arab League is not acting alone. The United States, the European Union, nearby Turkey and other nations publicly support such action.

The current restrictions have done their job. They have helped cripple the Syrian economy and thereby weaken Assad's grip on power. Expanded sanctions obviously would undercut the government's efficacy and control even more. No wonder Assad desperately wants to delay them.

His latest requirements -- including an immediate end to sanctions -- before accepting observers are simply self-serving. Arab League officials and others, including the United States, should not delay the escalation of sanctions. And they should not bow to Syria's thinly veiled threats of military action outside Syria -- Israel or Turkey would be likely targets -- either.

Maintaining and expanding diplomatic and economic pressure against Syria remains the best and perhaps the only way short of unacceptable military intervention to promote representative government within Syria. Assad's effort to delay such action should be rebuffed.