Commentary Magazine


Slaughter Spikes in Syria

What a surprise–not. Just days after former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan unveiled a supposed deal whereby the Syrian government would pull its forces back from cities it had been assaulting, the opposition reports that attacks are going on as heavy as before in four major cities: Hama, Homs, Idlib and Dara. The odds that a ceasefire will actually be observed on April 10 appear slim.

This is likely to be the latest of countless promises that Bashar al-Assad has broken. It is not hard to see the reason for his duplicity: nothing less than regime survival–and his personal survival–are at stake. Assad knows that if he calls off his troops, his people will continue to rise against him. Therefore, he has no choice if he is to remain in power but to continue the bloody work of repression. To think anything else is the height of naiveté.

For outside powers watching the slaughter in horror, this means they have no choice but to push for Assad’s downfall; there will be no end to the violence and repression as long as he stays in power–or as long as the Syrian people have the will to resist his oppression. And they have shown plenty of will so far. The willingness of Gulf Arab states to pay salaries to Syrian rebel fighters and the willingness of the U.S. to provide them communications equipment are, as I have previously noted, positive steps forward. But they are not enough. More will be needed–from providing arms to the rebels to establishing safe zones where civilians can find refuge from Assad’s killers.

As it happens, the Turkish government is widely reported to be considering just such a step which would require some degree of Turkish military intervention on Syrian soil. This is something that Ankara is naturally reluctant to do, but all signs are that it could be pushed into action provided the U.S. takes a firm stance. That has, so far, been lacking. For all of the calls from Washington for Assad’s removal, President Obama has not been willing to do much to back up his words. The time for more robust action is well past given the continuing and predictable failure of diplomacy.