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The Monitor's View

'Friends of Syria': Which good cause will bring unity for action?

At both the UN and at a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunisia, a consensus is steadily forming over which universal value can justify strong action on Syria.

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Does the ongoing killing in Syrian cities call for enforcing human rights by preventing the ongoing atrocities? A UN panel took a step in that direction Thursday by concluding that individuals “at the highest levels of government bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations.”

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Or should outside powers fulfill the protesters’ original cry for democracy in Syria? On Feb. 16, the United Nations General Assembly voted 137 to 12 for Mr. Assad to step down.

Any one of these goals – democracy, human rights, humanitarianism – can, in theory, be a unifying force. As French thinker Victor Hugo said, “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”

Achieving greater unity behind any one value would further isolate countries that now seek to keep Assad in power. Iran, Russia, China, and Venezuela might retreat in the face of so many countries acting in unison.

Inside Syria, too, more members of the Syrian Army might defect if they see the opposition and foreign countries coalesce around an irresistible and inspiring goal.

In many past conflicts, such as Bosnia or East Timor, the US, France, or Britain were the main players who defined the values at stake for humanity. But the grass-roots nature of the Arab Spring, and the surprising and welcome leadership of regional players such as Qatar, Turkey, and Tunisia, allow for a broader front toward taking action.

Events in coming days and weeks surrounding Syria will depend on how much any one of these ideals sinks into the thinking of more Syrians as well as into the converging constellation of foreign powers. The time is coming.

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