former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent. He spent 10 days in Syria this summer. His book on Syria, Tribes With Flags, is being reissued this year. His most recent piece for the New York Review of Books is called "Syria: The Citadel & the War."
- “Syria can be preserved by the subtle route of compromise.” By Charles Glass (The Guardian, July 29, 2012)
- "Syria: The Citadel and the War.” By Charles Glass (New York Review of Books, June 7, 2012)
- “Tribes With Flags: A Dangerous Passage Through the Chaos of the Middle East.” By Charles Glass. (Atlantic Monthly Press, New Ed
- “Veteran Mideast Journalist Charles Glass on Syria’s Violence & the Prospect of Military Intervention.” (Democracy Now!, May 201
- Watch all Syria coverage in the Democracy Now! news archive
The U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, has announced his resignation after failing to bring an end to more than a year of violence. Both sides of the conflict have faced new accusations of committing atrocities this week amidst escalating clashes. We discuss the situation in Syria and the likely impact of Annan’s resignation with Charles Glass, former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent and author of the soon to be reissued book on Syria, "Tribes With Flags." Glass spent 10 days in Syria this summer. "Kofi Annan’s resignation is a serious setback for anyone who had hoped that there could be a diplomatic resolution of this conflict," Glass says. "This is clearly an indication that diplomacy is failing, and ... warfare seems to be the only way out." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Baltimore, Maryland. Well, we begin the show with Syria. The United Nations General Assembly is due to vote today on a resolution that condemns the Security Council for failing to stop the 17-month conflict. The Saudi-sponsored resolution is not legally binding but is intended to pressure the Security Council to take action. The vote comes in the wake of the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, announcing his resignation from the post. Following his decision to leave on Thursday, Annan criticized members of the Security Council for hampering diplomatic efforts at a resolution.
KOFI ANNAN: Without serious, purposeful and united international pressure, including from the powers of the region, it is impossible for me or anyone to compel the Syrian government, in the first place, and also the opposition to take the steps necessary to begin a political process. I have therefore informed the secretary-general of the U.N. and the secretary-general of the Arab League today that I do not intend to continue my mission when my mandate expires at the end of August.
AMY GOODMAN: Annan will continue in his position ’til the end of August, when his mandate expires. In a separate announcement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the search for a successor had commenced.
Annan’s six-point peace plan for Syria, intended to bring an end to the fighting, lies in tatters. The plan was never fully adhered to by either side, and the violence has continued to escalate. According to activists, more than 20,000 people, mostly unarmed civilians, have died in the last 17 months of fighting. Several members of the international community expressed regret at Annan’s planned departure. This is Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin.
VITALY CHURKIN: We just heard a statement by the secretary-general about Kofi Annan’s decision to step down as of August 31. We understand that is his decision. We regret that he chose to do so. We have supported very strongly Kofi Annan’s efforts. He has another month to go, and I hope that this month is going to be used as effectively as possible under these very difficult circumstances in order to keep pursuing the goal of a political settlement in Syria and stopping the bloodshed in that country.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said the intransigence of the Assad regime is partially to blame for Annan’s decision to resign. He said, quote, "President Assad, despite his promise to abide by Kofi Annan’s plan, continues to brutally murder his own people, to use heavy weapons in assaults on civilian population centers, to call on his military leaders to kill the Syrian people in his name. It is disgusting and only highlights the absolute requirement that, for the future of the Syrian people, Assad must step aside," was the statement. Syrian refugees in Turkey expressed anger at Annan’s resignation, accusing the former U.N. secretary-general of bias.
SYRIAN REFUGEE 1: [translated] Kofi Annan decided to resign and not to interfere in Syria. We believe that Annan is an accomplice, and we believe that his heart is with Assad.
SYRIAN REFUGEE 2: [translated] Kofi Annan has supported Bashar al-Assad, and he is an accomplice to the massacres in Syria. He is also responsible for what has been going on in Syria.
AMY GOODMAN: Syrian refugees staged a mass protest against international peace envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, ahead of his visit to the tented camps in Hatay in April.
Both sides of the conflict are facing new accusations of committing atrocities. Opposition activists reported further deaths across the country Thursday including in Syria’s biggest city, Aleppo, where government forces have been trying to reclaim areas seized by the Free Syrian Army. On Tuesday, activists said government forces killed at least 50 people in an attack on a suburb of Damascus. Rebel forces, meanwhile, released video footage of the execution of four alleged pro-regime fighters seized in the ongoing battle for Aleppo. The video shows the bloodied fighters being led into a courtyard before they are mowed down in a hail of gunfire. The violence in Aleppo is intensifying with government forces using fighter jets to carry out bombings and rebel groups deploying tanks.
To talk more about the situation in Syria, the likely impact of Annan’s resignation, we go to London to speak with Charles Glass, former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent. He spent 10 days in Syria this summer. His book on Syria, Tribes With Flags, is being reissued this year. His most recent piece for the New York Review of Books is called "Syria: The Citadel & the War."
Charles Glass, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of Kofi Annan resigning, but most importantly, what’s happening right now in Syria?
CHARLES GLASS: Well, Kofi Annan’s resignation is a serious setback for anyone who had hoped that there could be a diplomatic resolution of this conflict. He was the go-between amongst the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the opposition and the regime, and he was the only person, because he’d been put there by the United Nations and the Arab League, who could carry messages amongst all the parties. This is clearly an indication that diplomacy is failing, and the outcome we’re seeing in the streets of Aleppo and other parts of Syria today, that the attempts at a negotiated settlement now seem to be abandoned, and warfare seems to be the only way out.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who the opposition is right now? Your piece says the decision isn’t between, you know, Assad and the opposition, but two oppositions.
CHARLES GLASS: Well, what I wrote in The Guardian was that there are two oppositions. There is a nonviolent, peaceful opposition, led by people like Michel Kilo, Riad Darar and others, who represent a vast spectrum of opinion in Syria, who never wanted the conflict to become violent because they felt that the violence itself would be too destructive for the country, no matter who won. On the other side of the opposition, you have the Free Syrian Army, you have al-Qaeda-supported militias, you have militias, 70 or more, that people don’t know where they came from and who they are. And they are, in many cases, beating the regime, in other cases, being beaten by the regime. We saw recently that just outside Aleppo they did shoot unarmed prisoners, just as the regime has shot unarmed prisoners. And the descent into the brother-versus-brother, citizen-versus-citizen chaos of a civil war is proving to be catastrophic for the country, which is why, if people wanted to support an opposition in Syria, it probably should have been to support those nonviolent people who were willing to demonstrate in the streets and to take the bullets and to—but to go on with a nonviolent struggle of the kind of the anti-apartheid struggle and others that ultimately succeeded.
AMY GOODMAN: At the United Nations, the French ambassador to the U.N., Gérard Araud, he said that a political process may never have been in place for a resolution to the conflict in Syria. France holds the presidency of the Security Council for the month of August.
GÉRARD ARAUD: [translated] Mr. Annan, we’ve confirmed that his job was impossible. We must recognize it. And for him to decide to resign is not surprising. What is very serious, though, as well, is the feeling that we may never have had a political process. We didn’t have one. There is no negotiating process in place, so we have the impression, either way you look at it, it’s military logic that is winning the day, and with all that that entails for the entire population and with all the political risks for the region.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s France’s ambassador to the United Nations. Charles Glass, your response?
CHARLES GLASS: The French, like the British and the United States and Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have never supported a negotiated settlement. They demanded a regime change through violence from the very beginning. So if Annan has been undermined, he’s been undermined by those parties themselves. So it’s not surprising that they accept his resignation with such equanimity, and the logical conclusion being that this will have—the Syrian conflict will be resolved by force of arms. And they, along with other Western and Arab powers and the Turks, are supplying those arms to one side, while Russia supplies arms to the other side. In the long run, only—all of Syria will suffer as a result.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to Russia. Addressing a press conference yesterday, the Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, said certain countries had contributed to the militarization of the conflict in Syria, adding to the difficulty of Kofi Annan’s mission. This is what he said.
VITALY CHURKIN: One of the reasons that Mr. Annan’s efforts have encountered so many difficulties is that his appeal for no further militarization of the conflict, which he started out with as he came in first here to New York, was not really heeded by a number of influential members of the international community. So, we have a rather strange situation when some countries who are like talking, expressing their regret about violence in Syria, are at the same time those countries who are providing weapons almost openly to the armed opposition groups.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin. Charles Glass?
CHARLES GLASS: Well, Churkin should remember that Russia is one of the parties to this conflict, as well. It is supplying the regime. On the other side, the United States—Reuters reported that President Obama has signed a finding allowing for more CIA control of the—of certain opposition groups out of Turkey, near Incirlik Air Base. The British have announced that they are going to increase their support, logistical support, for the opposition. Basically, outside powers pushing the inside powers to resolve it through warfare rather than through discussion.
AMY GOODMAN: British Prime Minister David Cameron said Annan’s resignation demonstrates the failure of the political process. He called for more severe steps to be taken against the Assad regime in Syria, and I wanted to get your response, Charles Glass, to this comment.
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: Well, I think what it suggests is the current political process isn’t working, hasn’t worked. And we need to be tougher. And I think we need to start at the U.N. with a Chapter 7 resolution, so it’s got the full legal backing of the U.N.—tougher sanctions, tougher travel bans, bringing the world together to say this violence has to stop. And we want to see transition at the top of Syria, because there’s a revolution from below, which I can understand how people feel so frustrated, but it’s going to foment terrorism and all sorts of problems unless such we see that transition at the top take place, take place quickly.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s British Prime Minister David Cameron. Charles Glass, you’re in London. Your response?
CHARLES GLASS: Well, Prime Minister Cameron, like the Russians and like the United States, has been pushing for a violent solution all along. He’s not—he had not done anything to encourage Kofi Annan’s mission, nor had he done anything to promote dialogue between the opponents of the regime, which Britain and others are supporting, and the regime itself. The whole impetus of this conflict since it began in March of last year, from the outside and from many inside, has been to militarize it and to leave no possibility of a diplomatic solution. So it’s not surprising that he’s saying it’s failed, but he’s one of those who helped it to fail.
AMY GOODMAN: We reported yesterday that the Reuters news agency is reporting that President Obama has issued a secret finding to support the armed opposition in Syria, the CIA, and other agencies of the U.S. government. The significance of this, Charles Glass?
CHARLES GLASS: Well, I think Obama has done this—something that they had already been doing, but he’s legalizing his position by signing the finding. This has already—the program has already been going on. People who have been in that part of Turkey and in the Syrian border areas near Turkey have reported on the activities of various Western agents and Turkish agents. It’s nothing new. It’s simply been formalized and, for his own legal sake, been put down in writing.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been writing in your pieces, Charles, about how the various opposition groups view the United States. Can you lay that out?
CHARLES GLASS: Well, I think that the opposition groups in the Free Syrian Army and the others who are fighting the war are pleased to have American support, want more American support, and would ultimately like American intervention. Whether in the form of a no-fly zone or an invasion, there are disagreements amongst them.
But for the other opposition, the people who actually started this, people who had done time in prison over the years, who were prisoners of the Assad regime, who wanted popular demonstrations, who wanted civil disobedience, who wanted negotiations with the regime, to have a transition, a peaceful transition, in which there would ultimately be free elections which the regime could win or lose, those people’s voices are being drowned out in the cacophony of artillery and rifle fire all around Syria at this time. These people, I think they’re—they are disenchanted with the United States and see that the United States or believe that the United States has a different agenda from theirs. Their agenda is to bring democracy to Syria, and they feel the United States’ agenda is to eliminate a regime which has been too friendly to Iran, particularly at a time when Israel and the United States are contemplating a possible attack on Iran. It would be better for them to either weaken Syria or eliminate the regime that’s been allied to Iran before any attack took place. And those people in the peaceful opposition do not want to become pawns in a super power game.
AMY GOODMAN: As video footage circulates of the execution of four alleged pro-regime fighters seized in the ongoing battle for Aleppo, a defected Syrian brigadier general said the Free Syrian Army is not responsible for that massacre.
ABDUL RAZAK ASLAN: [translated] I call on all sides. I don’t believe the Free Army is committing these violations of law. Probably it’s the regime’s army, Assad’s army and his militia, who are carrying out these massacres against the Syrian people in all provinces. But the Free Syrian Army is abiding by international conventions, the Geneva Conventions. If there is a group that has done something wrong, I can’t lay responsibility on one faction of the Free Army for wrongdoing. But if there are gray areas, it’s because of those militias that have committed massacres against their own people.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the defected Syrian brigadier general. Charles Glass?
CHARLES GLASS: I think both sides have blamed—each side has blamed the other side for almost every massacre that’s taken place since this war began. It’s clear to those who have been inside with the rebellious forces and with the regime that massacres are being committed on both sides, which is inevitable in a civil war. That’s why it is urgent to end the civil war and have negotiations. And it’s tragic that Kofi Annan has withdrawn and that the impetus for any kind of negotiated settlement is gone, because if this war continues, there will be more and more massacres by both sides, and there will be much more—there will be many more revenge killings by both sides, and it could escalate the way Lebanon escalated, because there was no attempt, serious attempt, at a negotiated solution in Lebanon when war began there in 1975. And ultimately, the war lasted 15 years and killed 150,000 people.
AMY GOODMAN: Amnesty International USA implicitly blamed China and Russia for the impasse on Syria at the U.N. This is Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.
SUZANNE NOSSEL: While there are steps that can be taken in the council condemning these actions, calling on all governments to impose an arms embargo and stop sending through the weapons that are continuing to fuel this crisis, those are steps that can and should be taken, referring the Assad government and those responsible for this to the International Criminal Court. But the reason that hasn’t happened is these double vetoes and the political resistance of certain governments, their refusal to come to grips with the crisis, to face the facts and acknowledge that there’s wrongdoing happening, that human rights abuses are being perpetrated and that the international community has an obligation to respond.
AMY GOODMAN: Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International, speaking to Reuters Thursday. She also expressed regret that rebel forces were deploying more violence but said the Assad regime was responsible for the majority of the abuses.
SUZANNE NOSSEL: It’s very disturbing to us that this crisis has now escalated, that we are seeing what may be evidence of war crimes being perpetrated by those fighting against Assad’s forces. I think, at the same time, though, you have to keep it in perspective. The vast majority of the killings and the abuses are being perpetrated by the government. But all parties need to be held accountable. And, you know, this represents, clearly, an escalation, intensification of the crisis in its 16th month. So that’s disturbing. We call on all parties to investigate, and we understand there is a statement that the Free Syrian Army will investigate. I think it’s very important that they do so in a credible and serious way, and quickly.
AMY GOODMAN: Charles Glass, that’s Suzanne Nossel, the new head of Amnesty International USA, formerly worked under Hillary Clinton at the State Department.
CHARLES GLASS: Well, I think—I’m not surprised she worked under Hillary Clinton, because she seems to be closer to Hillary Clinton’s point of view than the normal Amnesty view, which is to condemn violations of human rights by whoever commits them. In this case, she is right that most of the violence has been from the regime. That doesn’t absolve either side from its participation in massacres, and it doesn’t absolve either side and it doesn’t absolve the backers of either side the responsibility to stop this—to stop this war and to stop the weapons reaching both sides. I mean, the Russians should not be giving weapons to Assad, and no one else should be giving weapons to the opposition.
Both the Russians and the West should be leaning on the two parties of this conflict to sit down and negotiate and find a way out that’s acceptable to the bulk of the Syrian population, before there are more and more massacres by whichever side, before Syrians become so afraid of the violent and of a potential Sunni fundamentalist takeover that they flee the country forever, before the Kurds declare a separate entity along the border with Iraq, before Alawites have to flee to villages back in the Alawite Mountain in northwest Syria, before the country is ghettoized the way that the American invasion of Iraq ghettoized Iraq. All of these things should be done. I mean, there should be a diplomatic solution as a matter of urgency to prevent all of these obvious things from happening.
AMY GOODMAN: Charles Glass, I want to thank you very much for being with us, former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent. His book on Syria, Tribes With Flags, has been reissued this year. His most recent piece for the New York Review of Books is called "Syria: The Citadel & the War."
When we come back, we’ll be talking about WikiLeaks. We’ll be talking about WikiLeaks Latin America with National Security Archive’s Peter Kornbluh. Stay with us.