Houla: West acts but what can be done against Assad?
Britain, France and the US expel Syrian diplomats after weekend atrocity as calls for military intervention grow
GOVERNMENTS around the world including those of Britain, France, the US and others in the EU, yesterday expelled Syrian diplomatic staff including ambassadors in response to the massacre at Houla last week which claimed the lives of more than 100 civilians, many of whom were children.
"We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives," said US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, reported The Guardian. "This massacre is the most unambiguous indictment to date of the Syrian government's flagrant violations of its UN security council obligations."
However, in many Western capitals the reaction to the killings - and disgust at the moral ambivalence and political manoeuvring of Assad's sometime allies in Moscow and Beijing - has led some to demand that military action be undertaken against Syria. Among them is The Times newspaper.
In a column headlined Responsibility to Protect, the paper asks "what can Britain and some of the other friends of Syria actually accomplish?" It proposes firstly that the West actively "discomfort" the Assad regime, taking "stringent action" to cause the country's president and his family economic pain, "including the seizure of assets".
But the paper goes further in calling for the establishment of safe havens, with military backing, on Syria's borders for refugees, drones should be employed to monitor Syrian forces and, if "necessary", anti-Assad rebels should be armed. While noting its "wariness" at Britain becoming embroiled in military action, it asks "what kind of people would young Syrians take us for if we allowed the slaughter to continue?"
The New York Times is more measured in its editorial, observing that "we can see no easy solutions in Syria". It suggests that pushes for "more assertive measures", as proposed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are "facile". Instead, it supports the sanctions that the US, EU and others have imposed on Syria, saying that they are "having an effect".
The Guardian says that Russia is the key to any solution in Syria. It is in "no one's interest, least of all that of Russia" for the country to disintegrate into a "Lebanese-style civil war" which would threaten Vladimir Putin's strategic ally in the Middle East. The paper says Russian support for Kofi Annan's peace plan could be key.
For Con Coughlin in The Daily Telegraph, Annan's peace plan has "failed". He argues: "There is now a general recognition amongst the world powers that the current situation cannot be allowed to prevail", but he warns that "reprimands and international condemnations" will count for nothing "unless there is a big stick to back them up".
The expulsion of diplomats, while looking like a "weedy" response to the Houla massacre, does "ratchet up Syria's pariah status", writes Patrick Cockburn in The Independent. It will send the message to the Syrian people that President Assad "is not going to last beyond the short term" and will make it easier for Saudi Arabia to arm the rebels.