Syria Veto and the Revenge of the BRICS

Russia and China jointly cast a veto Saturday in the United Nations Security Council against an Arab League-backed resolution that would have called for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to step down. The vote came in the wake of an alleged massacre in the Khalidiya neighborhood of Homs on Friday night, in which artillery shells allegedly blasted homes and left at least 50 dead (some reports say 4 times that, but cannot be verified). The assault is said by oppositionists to have been revenge by the regime on the area for the defection of Syrian army personnel.

Another 21 civilians are alleged to have been killed on Saturday by security forces, many in the hinterland of Damascus.

Syria’s high officer corps is disproportionately drawn from the Allawi sect, to which the president also belongs. Allawis, a form of Shiite Islam, make up about 10% of the Syrian population, but are more powerful in the ruling Baath Party than their numbers might suggest. There have been no high officer defections, but NCOs and troops from the Sunni branch of Islam (who make up over 70% of the population) have defected, and formed a militia that has ambushed and killed loyalist troops and officers. The regime appears to be holding the families of those defectors hostage or taking revenge on the defectors by targetting the neighborhoods where their clans live.

The BBC Arabic correspondent in Homs, who is embedded with opposition fighters, says that shelling by tanks and artillery continued through the night Friday and into Saturday morning. Bodies were being pulled out of the rubble of smashed houses on Saturday. In the chaos, an exact count of the dead is impossible, but the correspondent put the number at 50 in Homs. The Syrian army appeared to be heading toward the center of Homs, which has been opposition territory for some time.

Russia opposes any UN resolution setting the stage for foreign intervention or “regime change.” Syria was a client state of the old Soviet Union, and is still valued as a client by Russian PM Vladimir Putin, who hopes to return to the presidency next month. Putin wants to look strong by supporting an ally against the West. Moreover, Russia sells military equipment to Syria, and has a naval base on the Mediterranean in that country. It is Russia’s only Mediterannean base, and Putin doesn’t want to lose it. Further, Russia and China had their fingers burned by not opposing the resolution on Libya last year this time, which called for a no-fly zone but which was used by NATO and elements of the Arab League to justify regime change. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, dubbed the BRICS bloc, oppose the idea of American and Western intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries (lest that principle give the West an opening to intervene in the BRICS!).

Liberal internationalist Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, reacted undiplomatically to the Russian vote, calling it “disgusting.” President Obama condemned the alleged massacre at Homs and again called on Bashar al-Assad to step down. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will go to Damascus on Tuesday in order, he says, to see a resolution of the crisis.

Meanwhile, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouqi, a human rights activist elected after that country’s popular revolt against dictator Zain El Abidin Ben Ali, says Tunisia has initiated steps to expel the Syrian ambassador from Tunis and to withdraw its recognition from the al-Assad regime.

The head of the Arab League body representing Arab parliaments also called for Arab states to withdraw recognition from Syria.

Posted in Syria | 49 Responses | Print |

49 Responses

  1. While Brazil is not a member India and South Africa voted for the Resolution. Then how can it be REVENGE OF THE BRICS?

  2. India and South Africa actually voted for the resolution.

  3. Brutal dictators stick together. They’re really worried that Iran would be next.

    • And see Uzbekistan for an example of the kind of dictator we’re sticking with. “They may be bastards , but at least they’re our bastards.”

  4. Dear Professor Cole

    One should look out for the continued misuse of words in the Middle East.

    A defector is one who has defected i.e. To disown allegiance to one’s country and take up residence in another: a Soviet citizen who defected to Israel.

    A deserter is one who has deserted i.e. To abandon (a military post, for example) in violation of orders or an oath.
    To forsake one’s duty or post, especially to be absent without leave from the armed forces with no intention of returning.

    A settler is defined as: a person who settles in a new country or a colony

    A squatter is defined as: An individual who settles on the land of another person without any legal authority to do so, or without acquiring a legal title.

    In the past, the term squatter specifically applied to an individual who settled on public land. Currently it is used interchangeably with intruder and trespasser.

      • Treason: Violation of allegiance toward one’s country or sovereign, especially the betrayal of one’s country by waging war against it or by consciously and purposely acting to aid its enemies.

        Sedition: Conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state.

      • Hey, man, if you squint even just a little bit, they’re all the same, the dirty central-planning socialist Leftie Commie terrorists… No need for nice distinctions, just put all of ’em up and shoot em. Right?

        And Red, which used to be a Very Bad Color until what, 10 years ago, is now the proud banner hue of all Right-thinking, formerly “BetterDeadThanRedders.” Go figure…

  5. I can’t help feeling that there is also an element of blowback for the US in ths veto – all those resolutions critical of Israel that the US has vetoed.

    • Angry Arab said this “The US explained that the veto is only used to protect Israel against criticism of its war crimes”!!

  6. Someone should tell Susan Rice about all the disgusting vetos the US has voted in defense of Israeli crimes.

    • And that lightens the escalating danger to civilians in Syria how? You’ll have to do a lot better to convince me other than to throw out a glib moral equivalency bumper sticker. Army troops have already killed over 7,000 civilians, according to NGO and reporter accounts. As Juan suggets, the reason the Russians & Chinese are backing the killers in Damascus has to do with the uncomfortable possibility that one day their own populace might decide and rise up. (One can only hope)

  7. If a British journalist is embedded with the opposition fighters in Homs, doesn’t that imply that these fighters are funded and supported by NATO countries?

    In that is so, then the reported violence of the Syrian government against the opposition is of a different flavor than violence against a poorly armed domestic insurrection.

    Prof. Cole, do you have any response to Pepe Escobar’s commentary on this subject at Asia Times (link to

  8. Finally Juan Cole graces us with some news from Syria. He is inaccurate however when he talks about the revenge of the BRICS for India and South Africa voted in favor of the resolution.
    I would also ask him to post how the conference Islamic Awakening held in Teheran backfired on the organizers for excluding representatives from Syria.
    I would also add that he does not mention the brutality of the clique in power in Syria.

  9. Barack Obama’s agenda is to allow for the militant Islamists to “come in from the cold” and join the political process. Thus the present push for regime chance in Arab countries that are seen as “secular”.Qatar(Al-Jazeera)and Saudi Arabia (Al-Arabia)are heading the propaganda campaing from their countries and are spear heading the effort of regime chances,with both arms and money, aswell as polical shelter to allow for a politacl process that sees radical, militant Islamist putting down the very same arms and join a “democratic” process. Hence leaving them with something to lose , instead of “nothing to lose”. The Libya debacle, leaving Al-Qaida in defacto charge of the country and its torture centers, do not detere the US from pushing forward with this agenda. It’s not a bad idea, if it wasn’t for the part that Al-Qaida plays in it. Syria and Algeria aren’t Libya and the Russians have wised up to that Putin is being targeted by the very same countries that now act so piuosly, now when Bahrain is being all but forgotten. It will be quite a task, but it has started

    • So, is “Al-Quaida” the new boogeyman term to be “deployed” by persons of a certain mindset to activate the national limbic system and justify a “war” that is largely a huge, international, post-national commercial enterprise? How does this nation “wage a war,” Constitutionally or even realistically speaking, against a boogeyman, even one raised up by the very tactics and strategies that just HAVE to be followed under the Ruling Doctrine? Scanning the ‘net, it sure is hard to get a clear and honest view of the whole panoply of resistant or “insurgent” or self-defending humans reduced by Our Leaders to that convenient reification-personification-hypostatisation simplisticatified moniker, that Evil Incarnate Against Us “thing” that is the convenient if maybe totally dishonest excuse for so much “policy,” and so many “oopsie” and “Ooooooh, Kewl!” deaths, and trillions of dollars in wasted wealth transfer. In the Joystick War… link to

      How about a scholarly, dispassionate explication on whether there really is a supra-national, planetary, shadowy, evil Franchise Operation that can honestly be called “Al-Quaida,” or even “Al Fresco?”

      • No, Al-Qaida is not ‘the new boogie man’ at all, they are fighting on the same side as the USA. That’s the “new” thing. Whom would have thought?

        • Begs the question whether there in fact is some kind of supranational “franchise operation” (like KFC or McDonald’s, maybe?) that can honestly be labelled Al-Qaida. And where, again, are Al-Qaidans fighting on the same side as the USA? Would that not be a violation, a very fundamental(ist) violation, of their franchise agreement?

          And you do not have to descend very far into pundit.ugh or the comments to any mainstream news story regarding the Middle East to discover the intensity of the full conviction about the Evil Fast-Spreading Extent of Al-Qaidism and its implacable, monolithic intent to DESTROY THE FREEDOM’N’LIBERTY ™ WE HOLD SO DEAR.

          That’s why the West, or the Kleptocratic parts thereof, are so closely rationing the little bits of FREEDOM’N’LIBERTY ™ that are parceled out in piecemeal parsimony to us Ordinary Citizens. Keeping both locked up is the best way to ensure their security…

        • Radical Militant Muslims blowing up what they can, is Al-Qaida. As for “where” they are fighting on the same side as the US, the answer is Libya and now Syria. Abdul Hakim Belhadj, now the “big boss” in Libya (head of the Tripoli Military Council), ‘Emir’ he will soon call himself, and his *Sheik’ buddy Ali Salabi are old LIFG chiefs. Their reputation are being cleaned up (they are ‘ours’ now), but according to former spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar, Belhadj was the main suspect in the Madrid bombings.You will soon hear a lot about them. As for Syria, well it’s the same group of fighters that “Liberated” Libya, they have moved onto the fertile crescent.Armed by Qatar, who proudly admits it, and cheerd on by the West, whom is well aware that they have jumped into bed with Al-Qaida. Considering that once the despots are gone, they(Al-Qaida) will put down their arms and join the political process. If they don’t and instead take power, well then they are RIGHT THERE, an easy target. Obama is aiming for Peace in the Middle East and for that he needs Muslim countries to be run by Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood in all shapes and forms will run every former secular Arab country in the M.E.Then it’s time for the emmerging of a free and viable Palestine, 4 june 1967 borders and a secure Israel at Peace with it’s neighbours through a peace treaty with the Arab League. As I already stated, ‘it’s not a bad idea’,but it takes strange bedfellows to pull it off.

  10. What is happening in Syria is a horrible tragedy; I hope that this death-producing revolution is not primarily a USA-CIA project.

    As to BRIC, one wonders why BRIC do not put forward a regime-change (or at least an anti-occupation) resolution on Israel w.r.t. its occupation of Palestine so that the world can compare the USA’s support for often-deadly illegalities with Russia’s and China’s support for Syria’s deadly counter-revolution. Could even the NYT refuse to publish them side-by-side?

  11. Russia opposes any UN resolution setting the stage for foreign intervention or “regime change.”

    President Obama condemned the alleged massacre at Homs and again called on Bashar al-Assad to step down. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will go to Damascus on Tuesday in order, he says, to see a resolution of the crisis.

    Why would you put regime change in quotes when the US president Obama’s official position is that the head of government must leave power and the resolution would have fully supported the Arab League resolution which called for the head of government to relinquish power?

  12. By now we have been continually subjected to the notion that Assad is a Hitler-like evil figure, similar to or worse than Gaddafi. Once again in the murk is the difficulty of figuring out what’s actually going on.

    As previously, Pepe Escobar (reporter for Asia Times), who focuses on the report in the link below, interprets what’s going on in Syria as not strictly a government-driven repression, but influenced equally by gangs of “thugs,” with regime change primary in the chaos, not protest for civil rights. That millions have demonstrated in support of the Assad government seems to point in this direction also.

    Escobar’s argument has applied to Libya previously, and now Syria–that the illusion of protest presented as part of the Arab spring obscures who the opposition players are, and their motives, which are not necessarily for the purity of “democracy.” The Big Players have their motives–to avoid regime change or acquire it.

    I would like to ask you, Juan, your opinion of the report available at the foreign reference:
    link to

    • Actually, your evidence equally supports the idea that this is an unrepresentative dictatorship which favors a minority over all other citizens, and that minority will fight to the death to hold onto power. I bet the old apartheid regime could have put together a pretty good street march in Johannesburg in favor of white power, and it would have been sincere. Unfair distribution of wealth between population groups was also a cause of the Libyan revolution, and a source of conflict in many, many developing countries across the political spectrum.

      Question is, how do you disarm this bomb when it’s already going off?

  13. On NPR this morning, Susan Rice & Ms. Clinton seemed genuinely outraged about Syria. I’m puzzled (sort of) that no one pointed out their much more subdued reaction to the repression in Bahrain. As part of the power struggle vs Iran, I can imagine why the US’ reaction would differ; but, why all the emotion, and why aren’t they called on it?

    Also, why the calls for Mr. Assad to resign? ISTM (as you describe), he’s just the tip of the (Allawi) iceberg. That power structure is fighting for its life. In a system like that, how much power does he even have? Is his leaving going to help anything?

    I (sincerely) don’t understand what the USG is doing. Is it just a cynical, ‘isolate Iran, by destabilizing Syria’ scheme? If so, the emotion they showed is weird.


    • This article is more thorough than Escobar’s, with a similar analysis, and comment on the report he referenced: link to

      The point about Bahrain is good. Mercenaries from foreign countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) intervened there to subdue the protests, and now (according to the above sources mentioned, including report linked) are entering Syria to do the opposite–create havoc in the government and army and feed propaganda for regime change. Most Syrians support the government and do not want regime change.

      If all this is wrong I’d like to hear about it. Again we seem neck-deep in pretext for regime change as with Saddam, Iran, and while we’re pondering–Libya also? How brilliantly is that country moving ahead with “democracy”?

    • I (sincerely) don’t understand what the USG is doing. Is it just a cynical, ‘isolate Iran, by destabilizing Syria’ scheme?

      I think it is more of a – destroy coherent Syria which is a potential threat to Zionism the way Iraq was destroyed between 1990 and 2006 – scheme.

      I don’t believe Rice was really emotional, just acting a role whose implications she vaguely understands if at all.

      link to

    • Rice’s and Clinton’s outburst was an official US Temper Tantrum. Next we will hear indignant outbursts about how Russia’s upcoming election in March is rigged.

      NPR is the official government news organization. And weekend days are trial balloon days. What do you expect?

      • I agree it was a temper tantrum and embarrassing. The UN suffers nothing by not having a unanimous SC resolution. The Syrian opposition already refused foreign intervention and those who are arming them or whatever are doing it anyway. Clinton just wants the Russians to cave.

    • This article shows an interesting peek into US machinations when the UN Security Council does not “behave”. Or I suppose, in this case, China and Russia voting in their own countries’ interests.

  14. The USofA knew full well that China and Russia would veto any strongly worded missive, let alone any substantive action. Once again State players put interests above human suffering, though this time it’s not the USofA.

    • I don’t think the resolution would have reduced human suffering and I don’t think the resolution was intended to reduce human suffering.

      If this resolution was a step toward the US more openly supporting a side in a civil war, then civil wars cause much more suffering than we are seeing in Syria today.

      The US position that Assad must leave before any election is calculated exactly to prevent a negotiated solution. There is no other explanation given the position Assad holds in the country.

      A resolution aimed at reducing human suffering would aim to get the opposition to the table with Assad as soon as possible. For example in Moscow this week, which the US seems to have urged the opposition to reject.

      The idea that it is impossible for Assad to be part of a process that leads to a graceful transition to democracy is absurd – especially for such a position to be held by outsiders of Syria like Jeffrey Feltman and Barack Obama.

      On the other hand, Feltman and Obama still disagree with most of the people of Syria about what they consider the most important issue of the region: Is Israel a legitimate country.

      Because of that, Feltman and Obama really do not want democracy in Syria. Democracy would likely be just as bad from their perspective, from the US’ perspective as the strategic supporter of Israel, as Assad.

      Before that, strategically, they would rather see Syria destroyed, see huge amounts of suffering imposed on the people of Syria like the suffering previously imposed on the Iraqi people as their country was destroyed.

      In short, you have the good and bad guys mixed up. The United States, as usual, working to impose misery on the region on Israel’s behalf. Another cost of maintaining an enforced Jewish political majority state against the wishes of its region.

      If the United States wanted to promote democracy, which it does not, it could apply pressure on its colonies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others and probably with relatively little pressure achieve graceful transitions to democratic control in each.

      The problem is that those former colonies would be far less cooperative with the US in their region than the dictatorships are.

      Either way, a United States that was motivated by spreading democracy or by minimizing suffering would be taking actions a lot different from those we see from Jeffrey Feltman, Susan Rice and Barack Obama.

      • Egyptians needed Mubarak to leave before they could have a legitimate transition to democracy. Many want the Tantawi regime to leave as well before any presidential elections, and question the legitimacy of the parliamentary elections under that regime’s thumb. Why is asking Assad to step aside different from asking Mubarak, and Saleh for the matter, to do the same?

        You then spend three paragraphs on your rigid dogma that everything rotates around Israel’s legitimacy, and you use that to spin whole narratives about Feltman and Obama’s motives without concrete proof. We shouldn’t be forced to play by the rules of who’s the good guys or bad guys that your dogma has defined.

  15. Susan Rice pontificates about civilian casualties while the US intentionally uses drones to bomb funerals in Pakistan.
    link to

    If Obama and Susan Rice are liberals, I weep for the future of the US.

    • How often have liberals, anywhere or at any time in human history, deliberately embraced the dismantling of their country’s power when they thought they still had the resources to continue it? When have even leftists done that? Lenin gave up part of the Russian empire to the Kaiser fully expecting to get it back by revolution. Britain and France gave up their colonial empires not out of liberal enlightenment, but under pressure from the (leftist-despised) Truman and his newly superpowered America. Liberals, radicals, progressives, socialists and Marxists have all cynically backed the continued power of their homelands when it supported their goals. ESPECIALLY in democracies. They know voters hate them for being unpatriotic and weak.

      The dark question is, when will human beings start rewarding leaders for walking away without a concocted claim of victory? I’m not going to vote for a peace candidate if I believe his foreign or domestic policies will ruin my country.

  16. A little side note: It appears “Russian Paratroopers,” those tough guys sent out by Putin and predecessors in THEIR episodes of Imperial Idiotic Counterinsurgency in places like Chechnya and Notagainistan, are leading the musical part of the charge on Putin’s regime (a different kind of Regime Change, possibly?) by what appears to be the Russian version of Occupy. link to

    And on another, minor-key note, there’s the continuing if fading interest in how we treat our own “troops:” link to Interesting comments in most of the stories reporting this incident — lots of “patriots” opining that “they” should have killed Scott Olsen, and all the DFHs dirtying up the streets, outright. Bearing in mind that Mr. Olsen, and I and all the other GIs who signed up, take this little oath — some of us deadly seriously:

    I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

    Sure seems to be getting harder to figure out who the “enemies, foreign and domestic” really are… though if you follow the money, you can’t go far wrong…

  17. So now can we all agree that there is no clear parting of the nations into good guys and bad guys? I’ve been cheering for the BRIC states to take down the US a peg just like many of you, but I knew they had their own agendas. It would be better if a social democracy were surpassing America because then we’d have to learn a lesson. But even the anti-American countries have needed cheap labor and weak pollution laws to attract capital and thus attain the growth rates that strengthen themn against America and the Pentagon. We should hope their options improve with success, as they did for the current 1st world states, and that they don’t merely back every endangered dictator against his own people in the name of anti-intervention – which would make them ironic mirrors of anti-Communist America.

    We need a world of balance of power, and that requires that the USA remain a player, not that it remain a hegemon.

  18. “alleged massacre” ?

    I think we can dispense with that modifier by now. Just go up on YouTube and anyone can find gazillions of amateur videos taken from the field documenting syrian armored units firing point blank at civilians. I don’t propose the US go in – this is the Arab League’s backyard so let them (for once) try and live up to their ideals. But this much is clear: the people running the Damascus regime are monsters. Full stop. Monsters.

  19. “Faced with a neutered Security Council, we have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future,” she said” -Hilary Clinton as quoted by the BBC.
    Interesting that she embraces the sexist, macho notion that what is needed is testicular fortitude to set things right.
    That western media continues to refer to the Syrian opposition as “protesters”, despite many being armed and having killed upwards of 2000 security forces, seems a tad disingenuous.

    • Thanks for the link. Do you have opinions on this?

      I would expect scholarly commentators to link to primary reference materials where available.

  20. I see cases where people who opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq and ouster of Saddam Hussein are now pushing for Western intervention of some sort in Syria. What is the difference? Saddam was more brutal to his people that even Assad is.

    • I guess a bit of the difference was that in 02 to 03 saddam wasnt actually killing thousands of his people the way the syrian government is now.

      Not saying that this difference means that a war should occur, im just saying why the situation is a little different.

    • Gee, are they pushing for some phony “coalition” to go do anything like what the neocons promised, as in steal the Iraqi oil to pay for the invasion and “regime change” that was fer shur going to be met with Iraqis strewing rose petals in the conqueror’s path?

      What your champion, Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitzetal, did was hegemonic Imperial unilateralism. Seems to me people, ordinary people, maybe everywhere, are kind of waking up to how they are being led by their vulnerable limbic systems down a path that sure looks like it leads off a cliff…

      One of your “things” you are equivalentizing sure looks darn little like the “other.”

      I like Ike, too — He’s the one that reminded us, WARNED us even, against the now manifest triumphalism of the vertically and horizontally integrated, supra-national, eat-a-quarter-of-the-world’s-wealth Military-Industrialists. Where devices, and their coteries of enthusiasts and profit-takers, devices that are ever more lethal and complex and interoperable and Jesus H. Christ expensive, in an endless tail-chase of threat and counter-threat, drive not only tactics, but now strategy and doctrine and “policy.”

      And that brings “security” and “stability” exactly HOW, again? Other than to the career paths of the military industrial door-revolvers and the heavy-attack “think tankers” and the automatic appropriation emitters amongst the Congressional hacks and flacks, etc.?

      Oh, of course — neither “security” or “stability” are any part of the aim of the Game, at all, now are they?

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