Nate Beeler’s cartoon, published in May of 2012, satirizes the role of the United Nations in preventing humanitarian crimes incited by the Syrian regime, lead by Bashar al-Assad. In this cartoon, a figure symbolizing the United Nations(UN) stands behind Assad holding a “ceasefire,” as one might hold a gun, to Assad’s head. As the man symbolizing the UN holds out the ceasefire, he yells out “BANG!” Simultaneously, Assad stands behind a young Syrian child, except instead of holding a ceasefire to the young girl’s head, he holds a real gun. Assad stands with his back to the UN, facing the little girl, while the little girl faces forward with fearful eyes.
In 2011, political uprisings began to form across Syria in opposition to Bashar al Assad’s regime and his oppressive policies, especially those regarding freedom of expression. These uprisings eventually grew in power and entered Damascus, the center of Syrian government power, where they were met with violence. For several years following 2011, these uprisings grew more vocal, even though “opposition armed forces consisted of diverse groups with varying ideology and goals,” and no one group became the clear face of the rebel movement (“Syria” 2348). After a few years of ongoing conflict between the Syrian Government and its citizens, the Islamic State(IS), an insurgent terrorist group operating in several Middle Eastern countries, began to gain power in Syria, although IS operated in opposition to both rebel forces and those aligned with Assad (2348). This exacerbated the social and political unrest that already existed in the region, and as of September 2013, more than 2 million Syrian citizens have fled the country as refugees (2348).
In the face of this growing humanitarian crisis, the United States, the European Union, and the UN have all spoken out against the conflict in this region, and the means by which it has been addressed. In 2013, in the midst of international outrage in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians (rebel and non-rebel forces alike), the United States called on the UN to try Assad before and International Criminal Court for his many war crimes, including supporting “weapon of mass destruction proliferation,” and the “August 21, 2013, chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs” (159 Cong Rec S 6298). Since 2013, the UN has responded to Assad’s war crimes by issuing several sanctions and ceasefires, as depicted in Nate Beeler’s cartoon. While Assad has in the past publicly assured the UN and the world that he will no longer employ chemical weapons, this has been disproven by continued attacks against rebel forces and innocent civilians.
These false promises mirror the false diplomatic promises made by Italy to the League of Nations and the world after the conclusion of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. In 1936, Italy promised to use their Ethiopian conquest as a means to “strengthen the league” (Knott editorial), whereas in reality, Italy undermined the powers of the League, and instead helped incite its eventual deterioration. In a similar manner, Assad publicly acknowledged sanctions from the UN, yet continued to use weapons against his people. This complete disregard for the actions taken by the UN have diminished international faith in the UN’s ability to prevent conflict, especially considering the Syrian conflict exists on a more local scale than most international conflicts. In the same way the image of the League deteriorated following the Italy’s betrayal, so too has the image of the United Nations deteriorated as a result of the conflict in Syria. In Nate Beeler’s cartoon, Assad takes on the same villainous, far-too-powerful caricature as Mussolini in John Knott’s “Drunk with Power,” except instead of drinking in celebration of his power, he stands with a gun to a child’s head while the United Nations, the protector of international welfare, stands idly by, much in the same powerless manner as Britain and France in Knott’s cartoon.
Modern day issues of security that exist within Syria have significant ties to the decisions made in the aftermath of World War II. For example, when Assad came into power in 2000, he supported a strong stance against Israel (Moubayed). Internal conflict in the Middle East is a direct result of opposition to decisions made by the United Nations regarding Israel in the late 1940s. Additionally, after WWII, Syria became a state in which government limited freedom of speech and oppressed its people. While Assad brought in a new age of leadership, and may have allowed for increased freedom of speech when compared to his father’s regime, his employment of chemical weapons is reminiscent of post World War II oppression in Syria.
Since the establishment of the League of Nations in the aftermath of WWI, many countries have held international organizations like the League of Nations, and the modern day version, the United Nations, responsible for humanitarian conflict and crises, and in some cases, these organizations have been held accountable for not doing enough to end conflict and prevent war. We must keep the past in mind as we evaluate the future of the conflict in Syria.
Beeler, Nate. The Columbus Dispatch. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2016. <http://www.dispatch.com/content/cartoons/2012/05/beeler0531.html>.
“Syria.” Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2016. Ed. Karen Ellicott. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2016. 2342-2358. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
159 Cong Rec S 6298
Moubayed, Sami. “Syria’s New President Bashar Al-Assad: A Modern-Day Attaturk.” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs XIX.9 (2000): 31. ProQuest. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.