Houla Massacre: Tipping point, but in what direction?
U.N. observers visit a morgue in Houla on Saturday before the burial of massacre victims.
June 2nd, 2012
10:32 AM ET

Houla Massacre: Tipping point, but in what direction?

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN Radio

The horrific footage of executed children lined up in a neat row in Houla prompted an immediate outcry from diplomats around the world. The U.N.’s representative to Syria led the call.

“We are at a tipping point. The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and division,” special envoy Kofi Annan said earlier this week. Soon, others adopted the tipping point theme as they expelled senior Syrian diplomats from their countries.

Listen to CNN Radio's Steve Kastenbaum report on the massacre

The gut wrenching images seemed to be moving the international community toward intervening in the nearly 15-month conflict. But was it really a tipping point or just one well publicized atrocity no different than many others that have taken place this past year in Syria?

“I’m not sure at all that it is a turning point,” said Elliot Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration. Today, Abrams is an expert on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations. While the images of dead children in Houla strike an emotional chord with anyone who sees them, he says this sort of thing has probably happened before. “There are, after all, 12,000 dead. So there’s a likelihood that there are previous cases like this. But they haven’t been so well publicized.”

Nonetheless, powerful images do possess the ability to push the international community into action, even if the pictures don’t represent a significant worsening in a violent conflict. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour recalls how the broadcasting of disturbing scenes in Bosnia prompted world leaders to take decisive steps that ended the violence.

Photos paint horrific scene in Houla

“In 1995, when a terrible massacre took place in Srebrenica, when thousands of Muslim men and boys were executed based purely on their ethnicity, and this was a genocide, this was the worst crime of such magnitude in Europe since World War II,” she said.

“After that, the United States got serious and the next trigger, which was a massacre in a market place in Sarajevo, launched NATO airstrikes against Serbian military positions.”

Two weeks later the fighting was more or less over and peace negotiations began.

After seeing images of the massacre in Houla, Amanpour said it would be unusual not to call for some sort of intervention.

“We’ve been there before. We’ve been there in Bosnia. We’ve been there in Rwanda. We’ve been there for the last several decades. And this kind of depravity, frankly - gross violation of international humanitarian law - demands under the law a response,” she said.

So far, that response has been largely diplomatic. Philip Gourevitch has written about the conflict for New Yorker magazine. While everyone seems to be calling the recent massacre a tipping point, he doesn’t believe it will lead to a military intervention.

“I don’t see any scenario whereby that’s desirable, credible or likely to happen at this moment,” she said.

Gourevitch believes there’s a danger in allowing emotions to be a driving force behind policy toward Syria. “These images, these appeals to conscience, these tremendous shocks to our system and to our idea of what we would like the world to be like, they’re pictures of symptoms,” he said.

After massacre, what's next?

Gourevitch thinks those symptoms can’t be addressed without some sort of idea of what the political solution would be. So far, no viable one seems to be taking hold. “Even the most strenuous voices advocating some kind of armed, forceful intervention to stop the killing, none of them can propose what they’d like to see on the other side of Assad,” he said.

While diplomats continue to talk about this being a tipping point in the crisis in Syria, there’s the possibility that it will continue on without any intervention for some time. A prolonged conflict increases the possibility of more Houla-like massacres in the future.


Filed under: Syria
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Bill

    Yeah, hopefully they're at a so-called tipping point where the other peace-loving brother Muslim countries there will step up and intervene! No intervention from the west will solve this since it's the ages old Alawites / Sunni / Shia struggle for power and control. This is a religiously based civil war and they have no problem with bloody violence since litle concern for human rights as a rule anyway! Sad to observe such a debacle, but any intervention must come from other Islamic countries. Where are the peace loving "clerics" now??

    June 2, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • chewinmule

      Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and all Sunnis have intervened. The U.S. intervened via Benghazi and Turkey.

      September 3, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. True

    "any intervention must come from other Islamic countries. Where are the peace loving "clerics" now??"
    Yet, the world leaders will want a complying leader (favored to western influence) installed in syria to keep their agenda rolling along.

    June 2, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. uhadit

    What about the massacre of Palestinians at the hands of Zionist Isra-Hell & massacre of Shias in Bahrain why does not American Christians terrorist bark about them just because the American Christians are slaves of the Zionist Jews their master & lord

    June 2, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  4. devans

    Please, don't send any more Americans to be the universal nursing breasts. We are in too, deep as it is unless they want to volunteer for this inhumanitty. There are other nations on our planet.

    June 2, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. HIDE BEHIND

    while this incident seemms to of been commited by a paramilitary group loyal to seated regime, we call them militias, this butchery does indeed point out the double standard of eurocentrics when it comes to pursuing "those accused of crimes against humanity."
    The recent conduct of many nations in aiding US invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan that made what had neen illegal, legal, under "new standards.
    This massacre pales by what we in US adopted and perfected inLatin American nations,"The El Salvador Solution".
    Syria is under siege, same as Iran, and what we are seeing is no bloodier than our own civil war once was, where opportunist settled old grudges and booty, outside the range of regional differences over political brliefs.
    Syria is but another pawn, once where we sent our "renditioned to be tortured, an old ally against Iraq and even against the Soviet Union, now the bad guy in an economic war that once again will hide behind the banner of democracy.

    June 2, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ahmet Kharoush

    What good is Islam when Allah does nothing no matter how long or how often you pray?

    Islam is a lie. Violence is evil. Now your children die because Islam is worthless and always was worthless.

    June 2, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. magneticink

    Tipping point? How about the tips of some cruise missiles?

    June 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    Bill's first comment (10:40 AM) makes a lot of sense to me.
    I am opposed to USA military intervention.
    I doubt that opposition from USA citizens will be powerful enough to prevent our entering this conflict. The purpose of this ongoing publicity is to promote support for our entering this civil conflict.

    June 2, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I agree with both of you.
      It us the same kind of non-stop propoganda that we say prior to the war in Iraq...not-stop bombardment of images and words designed to tug on our heartstrings.
      And it DOES tug on mine...the atrocities against children is horrific.
      That being said, we cannot be pulled into this; I have no idea how to stop it, though...but it should NOT be the US leading the cavalry, if you know what I mean.

      June 2, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    Please pardon the typos is my post.

    June 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    banasy at 6:07 is also correct.
    I did not intend to convey that the killing of these children is not upsetting to me. The photograph of small bodies is horrible.
    The propaganda prior to our attack of Iraq was less transparent than this. We had no way of knowing whether there were weapons of mass destruction or not. Today, we can see clearly that the internal strife in Syria is not directed at the USA.
    I think that the pre-Iraq propaganda was better planned.
    Some wars are necessary. USA involvement is this one is not: we have our own children to keep safe.

    June 2, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bobcat (in a hat)©

    I'm just going to repeat what I have said from the beggining. This is a situation for the Arab League countries to handle. They have armies, air forces, special forces. They know the people better than we could ever hope to. It is their culture. If we go in again, it will do nothing more than inflame more anti-american passion the there already is. Let their militaries enforce what they want done. Once it's stabilized, we can start the process of humanitarian aid. Nothing more.

    June 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I agree completely with you, bc(iah).
      We have both been saying it is an Arab League problem from the beginning.
      Militarily, we need to stay OUT of it.
      NO US boots should touch the soil...

      June 2, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      @ banasy©

      Amen to that. It seems again that it is mostly the right side of government that is pushing so hard for our intervention. What is up with these people ?

      June 2, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      @bc(iah)©:
      I couldn't even venture a guess, unless (of course) there's more $ to be had by getting us involved.
      Oh, those poor kids though.
      Breaks my heart.

      June 2, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      @ banasy©

      I know the children are always the saddest part of these conflicts. When I was a medic in my war, we used to go into villages and render aid to the citizens. When they would bring the children to us, it's all I could do to keep from crying. I feel so whole heartedly for their dilema (sp), but what are the answers ?

      June 2, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. HIDE BEHIND

    If anyone believes that this was not primarily aUS caused incident then you are outp of touch with reality.
    the only uprisibg that caught US by surprise was one in Egypt.
    Not that US and its paid stooges of cultural exchange and NGOS didn't brew it up, but it got way out of their hands as Brootherhood group was most liked
    Israel vrry alarmed and allthose armored vrhivles surrounding demos came fredh off our ships and had hand painted digns shoeing US designation
    Dennis Kucinich told before Congress truth Of US planned and directed uprising in Libya ; and after private meeting with Obama son lost his job.
    Get real folks, US Asymetrical warfare is the Shock Doctrine that began full bore under Regan.
    Not left/right!,It isUS diplomacy at its best and it protects yiyr butts and financial well being.

    June 2, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      So you're saying the US caused the Assad regime to lose credibility amongst the majority Sunni population of Syria?
      I think you overestimate what the US can do. This matter has been boiling for over a decade and now it's finally exploded.

      June 4, 2012 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  13. jimmy lim

    US, EU n Arab league should expell all russian n chinese diplomats n then take audacious steps to get rid of assad

    June 3, 2012 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
  14. jimmy lim

    Shouting allahakbar did not help the syrians. women n children still got massacred by assad. allah did not save them so how can god is great?

    June 3, 2012 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. k

    Crazy insane creeps weirdos that are out of touch with reality that are mentally ill as well as backwards and fanatical and crazy its horrible just stomach turning and disgusting crazy.

    June 3, 2012 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |
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