A sight not to be missed: Watch the funeral service for assassinated Syrian defense minister Dawoud Rajiha, the first-ever Christian defense minister of Syria, at the (Greek Orthodox) Holy Cross Church in Damascus on Friday. Quite a sendoff (1:26min).
It’s twelve years to the day since Bashar Assad took his presidential oath and gave his inaugural speech (pictured). Six days earlier, he’d been elected by his people: 8.69 million of them checked ‘yes’ and 22,439 checked ‘no.’ Sure, he promised reforms. On his tenth anniversary, Human Rights Watch issued a report on Syria entitled “A Wasted Decade” (http://goo.gl/igvEf). How long now until Bashar is wasted?
After the cold-blooded murder of 12,000 Syrians and the maiming of tens of thousands more, it’s time to invoke the Canadian/United Nations principle of R2P, responsibility to protect civilians from being massacred by their own rulers. Assad needs to be given a short deadline that he must leave with his family to a pre-arranged exile or face the bombing of his palaces and that of his cronies, as well as his air defences, and the barracks of his army and militias.
The French are likely to march in the streets and write letters to the editor about Butcher Assad’s Syrian horrors, and reflect at length on the vast moral distance between their own keen enlightenment and strong political values and the sorry state of the Arab world, but otherwise do very little. Given that Germany is strongly opposed to military intervention in Syria and that Britain shows no desire to lead the charge, Europe is unlikely to provide clear policy leadership on Syria. The Obama administration can’t lead from behind this time; at present it appears unable to lead at all.
Since the White House’s handling of Syria has given evidence only of impotence, the Israelis, as well as the -Iranians, cannot help but conclude that Obama will play the same hand with Iran that he has with Syria. He isn’t even bluffing. He has simply folded.
I only wish bad things for Assad and his regime. The heart is outraged and the blood boils when one sees the images and hears the reports from Syria. Yet I do not think that the West should militarily intervene in what goes on there.
This week is a test for the former Secretary-General. He may be remembered for this sorry turn in Syria–or for demanding that governments face the truth and help the people of Syria put an end to the murderous Assad regime.
Bashar al-Assad will get away with it. He got away with Deraa. He got away with Homs. And he'll get away with Houla. So will the armed opposition to the regime, along with al-Qa'ida and any other outfits joining in Syria's tragedy.
• The West is horrified by children's slaughter now [in Syria]. Soon we'll forget by Robert Fisk http://t.co/AU9BMhPz
If the killing goes on at these levels of brutality Obama may be forced to act, but that will not eliminate the stain on his record that these 14 months will leave. An “Atrocities Prevention Board” is a nice thing to have; I’m for it. But I’d trade it in an instant for a president determined to prevent atrocities.
Who exactly are these guys, how much will it cost to see them win, and when it is over, will our new friends rule any more humanely and competently than the monsters that we removed? And if intervening in Syria is to be a humanitarian venture, why would saving lives there be any more important than saving far more lives from far more dictators in Africa?
We shouldn’t delude ourselves. The creation of safe zones will lead to our full military involvement in the Syrian crisis. If we’re prepared to go in this direction, fine. But we can’t let our moral outrage push us into embracing a plan, thinking we can get rid of Assad on the cheap. We can’t.
Yesterday we went on a tour of Bashar Assad’s palace (if you missed it, go here: http://bit.ly/P8kqOV). The palace is also called the People’s Palace (who says the regime has no humor?), and there’s an amusing series of anti-Assad cartoons called just that: Qasr ash-Shaab, “The People’s Palace.” Here’s a short one; it’s in Arabic, but it’s easy to figure out.
As battles rage in Damascus and a suicide bomber kills Syria’s defense minister and Bashar’s brother-in-law, Fawaz Gerges stands by his man. The idea that the regime’s days are numbered “should be viewed skeptically… regime collapse in Damascus is not a smart bet for now.” But then he hedges: “Though Assad's days are not as few as Clinton suggests, there are signs that the regime is not durable.” Therefore… therefore, what? Gerges has said nothing (http://goo.gl/Cshty).
I spent the last week in Damascus and the atmosphere reminds me of Beirut in 1975 at the start of the 15-year civil war. Again and again in conversations, people realistically laid out for me the nasty things that are all too likely to happen, but few were able to produce plausible ideas on how disaster might be averted.
There is good reason to believe that intervention in Syria would not be as easy as last year’s European-led effort to oust Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. But that is no excuse for standing by while hundreds, if not thousands are slaughtered in Syria by Assad, while Western leaders like Obama preen ineffectually about their support for human rights.
By encouraging—however belatedly—a revolt in Syria and then stepping aside, the Obama administration is following the elder Bush’s playbook to the letter. While many in the Iraqi opposition fell under Iran’s sway, the longer the Obama administration waits in Syria, the more entrenched al-Qaeda ideologues become. And, if history repeats itself, then by allowing such a huge gap to develop between his administration’s rhetoric and the reality of its policy, President Obama is encouraging the most cynical anti-American conspiracy theories to become public perception, and risking Syria becoming a source of instability for years to come.
The White House is betting on Russia. The premise is that Moscow is close enough to the Assad regime that it could pull off a soft coup that would get rid of the Syrian strongman. What should make it attractive to the Russians, the administration contends, is that such a coup would preserve an Alawite minority regime and ensure Russia’s interests in the eastern Mediterranean. The problem here is that Vladimir Putin doesn’t want to get rid of Assad, and even if he did, it’s not at all clear he has the ability to do it.
The Obama policy shows three characteristics that have wider implications for the president’s strategies. It favors Islamist enemies; it “leads from behind” by giving the initiative to those who wish America no good; and it shows no interest in helping genuinely pro-American moderates who are fighting for their lives. And that, friends, is why I spend so much time bashing Obama’s Middle East policy, because it is so very bad and dangerous.
• How Can Obama’s Middle East Policy Possibly Get Worse? Answer: Look at Syria by Barry Rubin http://t.co/8ctuoKfD
Despite the regime’s attempt to distort the revolution and its routine recourse to criminal behavior, most Arab intellectuals failed to support the Syrian revolution, though never failed in the past to talk about freedoms and human rights, which are concepts the Syrian uprising is all about.
Even if jihadists may be recruiting individuals at a higher rate, their vision for Syria's future remains far outside the mainstream. As such, they will continue to be a nuisance not only for the Syrian regime, but also to the Free Syrian Army, which is attempting to bolster its international legitimacy in order to gain supplies and weapons from supporters of its cause. Amid the chaos in Syria, it represents a spoiler in a conflict with no foreseeable end.
The administration’s unprecedented verbal and written sorties against the Assad regime have included some of the most powerful adjectives, adjectival intensifiers and adverbs ever aimed at an American foe. This campaign has helped Syrians understand, among other things, that the English language contains many synonyms for “repulsive.”