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As Syrian conflict intensifies, UN prepares to extend its mission

Today's assassination of two top government officials in Damascus raises the stakes of Syria's conflict yet again. Will the UN vote to continue its observer mission, or give it more teeth?

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“What we are saying here is that if there is no possibility of counting on what is the legitimate mandate of the United Nations Security Council, then we have other options,” says Bassma Kodmani, head of foreign relations for the Syrian National Council (SNC) executive office. “If the door is closed in the face of the Syrian people, then we need to explore other scenarios.”

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The SNC supports a Security Council resolution under Chapter Seven, and called this week’s vote a “very last chance to breathe life into the [Special Envoy Kofi] Annan peace plan.” More than 4,000 people have died in the four months since Mr. Annan’s plan, which calls for a cease-fire and political transition in Syria, was launched.

Many in the international community are frustrated with what they see as a lack of action in Syria and worried about this inaction putting further stress on an already fragile region. A Wall Street Journal editorial argues that the Obama administration has long contended that military intervention would push Syria into a civil war and kill thousands, but “the US hasn’t intervened and all this has happened.”  The violence has claimed at least 17,000 lives since it began in March 2011.

The Obama Administration touts its "smart diplomacy," but there must a Russian colloquialism for sucker. The US has turned a kleptocracy with oil and aging nukes into a diplomatic power broker in the Middle East with a veto over American action. The US should at least call the Russian bluff and pull the UN mission out. Its mandate was to monitor a cease-fire, but there isn't one to monitor.

The cost of US inaction carries a fast-rising price. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of our closer Arab partners, are arming the rebels and eager to see Assad go. They'd rather defer to American leadership but may be forced to act more robustly on their own. The same goes for Turkey, which must deal with a refugee flood. Israel worries about the loose WMD and may act to secure it. The longer we fail to step in, the harder it becomes to shape the outcome in Syria. 

In an Op-Ed published in the China Daily titled “International Diplomacy’s 11th hour,” Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, adds that “the logic of war, in Syria, is becoming evidently more powerful than the logic of peace. The Syrian opposition talks about a revolution to topple the regime, while President Assad is maneuvering to stay in power, whatever the cost.”

As the civil war burgeons, reconciliation is becoming more and more difficult to imagine. Mr. Trenin warns that if the five world powers voting on the Security Council resolution this week are unable to find common ground, not only are there stark implications for Syria, “but the prospects for future conflict management in the world, from Iran to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, will become much bleaker.”

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