For months we have been hearing prominent Americans from media pundits to President Obama promising that Bashar Assad’s Syrian tyranny was on its way out. Most of this optimism was based on a faulty understanding of the grip that the Assad clan and its Alawite allies have on the Syrian military and security services as well as a misapprehension about what constitutes the tipping point in toppling despotic regimes.
But as Assad’s forces expand their bloodthirsty crackdowns to other cities in the country after squelching the opposition in the north, it is also fair to point out that he is only getting away with this because neither President Obama and the European Union nor the Arab League which professes to be horrified by these atrocities is willing to lift a finger to stop him. Thousands have already been slaughtered and thousands more thrust into Syrian dungeons where they are being tortured by the regime. But all these people have gotten from the West are empty words such as those uttered by the president on the subject.
It needs to be re-emphasized that the difference between what is going on in Syria and what happened in Tunisia and Egypt last year is that unlike the heads of those regimes, the ruler of Damascus hasn’t lost his willingness to kill in order to hold onto power. It is an iron rule of history that such governments only fall when, as in the French Revolution, the collapse of the Shah’s regime in Iran or the end of the Soviet Union, the elites in power are no longer able to summon the will to violently suppress dissent. So long as Assad hasn’t lost his taste for blood — and he obviously hasn’t — he won’t be heading for the exits.
That means if the West really cares about the wholesale slaughter going on in Syria, it is going to have to do something whether it means arming and/or training the rebels or authorizing some sort of international intervention.
Getting into a conflict, even a limited one, in Syria is something that any administration, let alone one facing re-election would be reluctant to do. But given the scale of the suffering in Syria, President Obama needs to understand that if he wants his rhetoric about human rights to have any credibility, he’s going to have show some real leadership. But given the Obama administration’s predilection for “leading from behind” as well as its obvious lack of interest in doing anything more than talk about Syria and its Iranian ally, Assad’s victims shouldn’t expect help from America anytime in the foreseeable future.