Opportunity Knocks In Syria’s Unraveling (Jim Hoagland, October 27, 2005, Washington Post)

The unraveling of Syria’s Baathist dictatorship provides a lifeboat for the unlikely trio of Kofi Annan, George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac. They need to row together to finish the job of holding Damascus accountable and to surmount the difficult seas that each faces on other fronts.

The joint opportunity springs from the astonishingly detailed accusations by a U.N. investigator that Syria’s leadership carried out the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut — and now tries to cover it up by lying to the United Nations.

The unity shown on Syria by U.N. Secretary General Annan and the American and French presidents in recent days may owe something to lessons learned from their bitter divisions over Iraq in 2003. History does not disclose its alternatives, it is said. But it does seem to provide second chances. […]

Bashar seems to have learned or inherited little from his austere, shrewd father. Chirac was ready to take the son under his wing when Assad came to power in 2000. But that avuncular sentiment quickly turned to disappointment as the new government in Damascus floundered. Annan also was reportedly taken aback by the Syrian’s inexperience and opacity.

Larger principles are involved for Chirac — who is intent on upholding Lebanon’s sovereignty and historical ties to France — and for Annan, who has offered unprecedented support by a secretary general for the investigation and incrimination of the leaders of a U.N. member state. Annan’s appointee, investigator Detlev Mehlis, seems to have pulled no punches in his report to Annan.

There are heartening echoes in this of the principled stance Annan took six years ago by telling the General Assembly that nations could no longer hide behind sovereignty to torture, kill and otherwise abuse their citizens.

The principle being vindicated, and the new standard of sovereignty, is: liberal democratic legitimacy.

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