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wheel of fortune spins China's
way By Peter Lee
be safe, the Yemeni transitional government went
the extra mile of granting irrevocable immunity
(binding on future, perhaps less friendly
governments) to Saleh and his aides.
Ironically (or predictably) the Yemen
solution has short-changed the law-and-democracy
friendly opposition we supposedly cared so much
about, in favor of placing a new, tractable regime
(best described as the old regime sans Saleh) in
This does not sit well with
Tawakkul Karman, a co-winner of the Nobel Peace
Prize in 2011for her brave pro-democracy and
women's-rights activism in Yemen. She has been
fruitlessly calling on the UNSC to direct the ICC
to open a prosecution of
Saleh. After a visit to
The Hague, she met with a reporter from AFP:
Because Yemen has not signed the
court's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, the
only way the prosecutor could launch an
investigation is if the United Nations Security
Council tells him to.
"This is unfair,"
Karman said on the steps of the court's
headquarters. "They have to find a new way to
bring everyone who is killing his people to
here, to this building." 
in the matter of ICC jurisdiction, Syria
recapitulates Libya and C๔te d'Ivoire, not Yemen.
Libya had signed but not ratified the
treaty; so it took a UN Security Council
resolution to place Muammar Gaddafi and his family
and associates within the jurisdiction of the ICC
while they were still in power.
in the same boat - a signer but not a ratifier.
With the current regime in place, it would indeed
take a UN Security Council resolution to get Assad
and his associates on the hook for war crimes
under an ICC prosecution, and that simply isn't
going to happen.
However, if Assad were to
leave power, a successor regime in Syria can issue
a declaration submitting itself to ICC
jurisdiction retroactively, in order to cover
crimes against humanity committed by prior leaders
back to the date of the court's establishment in
That, indeed, is what happened in
C๔te d'Ivoire, when the current government has
turned over the former president, Laurent Gbagbo,
to the ICC for prosecution for crimes against
humanity allegedly committed while he tried to
cling to power following a lost election in 2010.
Given the intense rancor surrounding
the bloody crackdown in Syria and the crimes
against humanity that were undoubtedly committed,
it would appear extremely difficult for the
international coalition to offer a convincing
assurance that a victorious opposition (which, in
addition to rebels bought and paid for by Qatar
and Saudi Arabia, also includes a large number of
principled and righteously and rightfully incensed
Syrians) would not, as its first order of
business, call on the ICC to prosecute quite a few
leaders of the previous regime for crimes against
This was a point made by Navi
Pillay, head of the UN Human Rights Commission.
Reportage at the time characterized Pillay as
gratuitously adding complications that would make
it harder to cut a deal with Assad, but she was
simply making a statement of fact.
offer to allow Assad to go into exile with a
promise of immunity is unlikely to sway him, his
backers in Russia and China, or the military and
security officers nervously regarding the red
harvest of judicial and extra-judicial revenge
that would follow any regime overthrow.
With the Syrian regime proving resistant
to a quick collapse, and anti-Assad sentiment
within the regime stifled by fear of victor's
justice, what's Plan B?
It seems to be
Send in the Clowns.
In other words, find
an ex-regime figurehead who is at least
superficially palatable to the Syrian populace and
sufficiently obedient to the foreign coalition,
and can also persuade the Assad regime that his
first act will be to push a bill through the
(presumably unrepresentative, hand-picked, and
tractable) transitional legislature granting a
graceful exit to Assad and amnesty to his
associates (aside from some carefully-chosen
scapegoats) from prosecution for their past crimes
in the name of reconciliation.
be noted in passing that the ICC is not supposed
to recognize this kind of legislated impunity and
the victims of Assad and the Ba'ath regime would
still have the right to apply to the ICC
prosecutor to open a case, but presumably this can
be finessed.) 
The initial candidate
for the exalted role of transition leader is
Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, who fled Syria amid
widespread huzzahs a few weeks ago.
has been literally grooming himself for his role
as popular leader for months, growing out his
military haircut into a heroic Byronic mane prior
to his defection.
His photographic prop is
a big cigar, presumably to reinforce the image of
manly leadership, and he issued a post-defection
statement describing how his patriotic qualms
concerning the Assad regime's brutal
counter-insurgency operations had led to his
sidelining from the military chain of command (and
fortuitously exonerating him from implication in
the worst excesses of regime forces).
is also, apparently, France's great hope for clout
in Syria, as this priceless excerpt from the
Christian Science Monitor reveals:
Now, Mustafa [his father] and
Tlass's sister, Nahed Ojjeh, are living in
Paris, where Ms. Ojjeh is a prominent socialite
who once dated a former French foreign minister.
"France has a longstanding relationship
with the Tlass family, going back to the 1980s.
Manaf's sister … throws lavish dinner parties
and infiltrated the French political and media
elites," says Mr. Bitar. "When she became the
mistress of a foreign minister, there was a
national security risk for France, but the
president then chose to turn a blind eye because
he felt there was need for backchannel diplomacy
between France and the Assad regime.
"Given these old ties, France today
might be thinking of grooming Manaf Tlass and
counting on him to play an important role in the
post-Assad transition phase."
Manaf Tlass is the foppish scion
of a family of mysteriously wealthy and allegedly
fornicating emigres and, by Syrian army standards,
also a lightweight, owing his rank to his father,
who once served as Assad's Minister of Defense.
Despite that, he is emerging as Saudi Arabia's
favored candidate as figurehead for the new Syria.
Perhaps this is because Tlass, with his embrace of
non-Islamist financial and moral values, would
present a reassuring secularist face to the West
while at the same time serving as a compliant
accessory to Gulf interests.
Qatar appears comfortable with another high-level
defector, one who also happens to be Sunni (as is
Tlass), but was an important cog in the Assad
machine and has hands-on experience with the nitty
gritty of restoring order in a violent and
dangerous set of circumstances.
The man is
Nawaff al-Faris, formerly Syria's ambassador to
Iraq. According to an interlocutor communicating
with the As'ad AbuKhalil's Angry Arab blog,
Ambassador Nawaff is quite a piece of work, having
earned his bones with the Ba'ath regime as
battalion commander during the legendary Hama
massacre of 1982, the action that routed the
Muslim Brotherhood from Syria at the cost of
around 20,000 lives in that one city:
"I know about this man, nawaf
al-faris, the defecting ambassador of syria to
iraq, from the ... the hama area. Hama people
remember him well. He was commanding one of the
battallions that committed atrocities there in
1982, and i heard it from hama and halab older
people (now dead) that he personally threw 16
young boys youngest was 6, from the the rooftop
of a building before their parents' eyes.
…he was very close to the regime, as
much as the tlass clan, except that he commands
a larger following among bedouins in the
euphrates area…his flight through qatar, rather
than turkey, means that the qataris have big
plans for him in post-assad syria. you will hear
his name again. a very very dirty and cruel
Nawaff might be a good
choice in the eyes of Qatar, but installing one of
the butchers of Hama would presumably not be the
kind of Arab Spring triumph that the West is
looking for in Syria. So perhaps the search will
continue for a more suitable candidate, while
hoping that the remorseless grind of violence,
sanctions, and anger will finally crack the power
of the Assad regime.
However, when we talk
about "events spinning out of control in Syria" we
can also take it as a reference to the
international game plan for Syria. Indirectly
enabling regime collapse through a disorderly
collection of guerillas is no substitute for
sending in a big, shiny army to occupy the capital
and dictate events.
The longer regime
collapse is delayed, the greater the risk that
important elements of the insurrection might slip
the leash, start fighting with each other as well
as against Assad, and contribute to the creation
of a failed state where Syria used to be.
Therefore, even as international support
for the insurgency escalates, the anti-Assad
coalition finds it particularly frustrating that
China and Russia have refused to vote for
escalated UN Security Council sanctions that,
under the pretext of supporting the moribund Annan
peace initiative, might expedite the collapse of
the Syrian regime.
For all the principled
talk by Russia and China concerning
non-interference and the right of the people of
Syria to control their destiny, it is difficult to
escape the inference that they are not
particularly unhappy with the current turn of
After the West rounded on China
and Russia for vetoing another round of sanctions
against Syria, Beijing shrugged off the criticism.
People's Daily approvingly reproduced a
Global Times editorial that stated:
China also opposes the UN Security
Council openly picking sides in Syria's internal
conflict. It insists that the Syrians should
seek a political solution through their own
This is a bottom line that
must be upheld so as to prevent the West from
overthrowing any regime at will. 
Bashar al-Assad is doing a pretty
good job of staying in power and crushing the
insurrection. The longer he is able to cling to
power, the more shattered and divided Syria
becomes - and the less useful it is to the West
and the Gulf states as a proxy warrior in the
battle with Shi'ite Iraq and Iran.