Commentary Magazine


Topic: Homs

Assad Forces Brag About Mass “Cleansing”

The Obama administration has begun planning how they’re going to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons from falling into terrorist hands. If they succeed, it’ll be the first time, and meanwhile, the president’s continuing flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood is chilling the chances for any U.S./Russian cooperation on Syria:

A key problem, however, is that we have put our chips on Muslim Brotherhood groups and the brokerage of the Erdogan government in Turkey. That is a very bad policy move, one guaranteed to generate enemies (Russia, China, Iran) for our non-policy policy while giving nations like Saudi Arabia less reason to endorse our activities… If the U.S. policy were to fence in and discourage the Muslim Brotherhood, while bolstering liberalizing elements instead — elements that exist in every nation of the Middle East – we would make it more desirable for a nation like Russia to collaborate with us on the Syria problem.

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The Obama administration has begun planning how they’re going to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons from falling into terrorist hands. If they succeed, it’ll be the first time, and meanwhile, the president’s continuing flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood is chilling the chances for any U.S./Russian cooperation on Syria:

A key problem, however, is that we have put our chips on Muslim Brotherhood groups and the brokerage of the Erdogan government in Turkey. That is a very bad policy move, one guaranteed to generate enemies (Russia, China, Iran) for our non-policy policy while giving nations like Saudi Arabia less reason to endorse our activities… If the U.S. policy were to fence in and discourage the Muslim Brotherhood, while bolstering liberalizing elements instead — elements that exist in every nation of the Middle East – we would make it more desirable for a nation like Russia to collaborate with us on the Syria problem.

On the ground, Assad’s regime is digging in for a long-term Bosnia-style war and is bragging about mass “cleansing,” months after the Arab League already declared the conflict a “genocide”:

The Syrian regime showed a new determination Wednesday to crush its opponents, vowing to “cleanse” a rebel-held district in the besieged central city of Homs after nearly four weeks of shelling. Government troops massed outside the embattled neighborhood of Baba Amr, raising fears among activists of an imminent ground invasion that could endanger thousands of residents, as well as two trapped Western journalists, who have been under heavy bombardment.

It’s a small point in the greater disaster that is Syria, and it’s impossible to prove inasmuch as it is a counter-factual, but: had human rights organizations spent the last two decades focusing on Syria instead of obsessing over Israel, maybe – maybe – some of this could have been avoided. Giving those groups the benefit of the doubt, they merely were spectacularly wrong about where the greatest threat to human rights was centered.

A similar argument holds, by-the-by, for the not insignificant swaths of the Democratic Party who thought Assad was some kind of “reformer.” Their “smart power” foreign policy acumen seems to have gotten this one wrong.

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We Can’t Watch Syria From the Sidelines

The situation in Syria continues to get grimmer and grimmer as the bloody assault on Homs continues for a 20th straight day. A panel of three UN investigators has accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of crimes against humanity. News reports from Homs, including some by journalists who have died in the process of getting the news out, amply attest to the truth of these charges. Civilian neighborhoods are being shelled without mercy, and the victims have no way to get medical care.

It is difficult to see why the U.S., Britain, France and other nations–which acted last year when Muammar Qaddafi threatened to inflict a similar fate on Benghazi–sit on the sidelines today. The lack of a UN Security Council resolution, blocked by Bashar Assad’s friends in Moscow and Beijing, should hardly prevent the civilized nations of the world from acting as they did in Kosovo. No one suggests sending Western ground troops, but there is much that can still be done, ranging from air strikes to the establishment of safe zones policed by the Turkish army and the provision of arms to the Free Syrian Army, as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been arguing for.

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The situation in Syria continues to get grimmer and grimmer as the bloody assault on Homs continues for a 20th straight day. A panel of three UN investigators has accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of crimes against humanity. News reports from Homs, including some by journalists who have died in the process of getting the news out, amply attest to the truth of these charges. Civilian neighborhoods are being shelled without mercy, and the victims have no way to get medical care.

It is difficult to see why the U.S., Britain, France and other nations–which acted last year when Muammar Qaddafi threatened to inflict a similar fate on Benghazi–sit on the sidelines today. The lack of a UN Security Council resolution, blocked by Bashar Assad’s friends in Moscow and Beijing, should hardly prevent the civilized nations of the world from acting as they did in Kosovo. No one suggests sending Western ground troops, but there is much that can still be done, ranging from air strikes to the establishment of safe zones policed by the Turkish army and the provision of arms to the Free Syrian Army, as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been arguing for.

Even if there is no will for any robust intervention, there are small steps that can be made. For instance, in the New York Times today we read of the difficulty of getting the news out about Assad’s murderous assault on Homs, where reporters are banned, electricity is out and few if any Internet connections are available. The Times reports that a private group called the Activists News Association in Cairo and other non-governmental organizations are “helping Syria’s volunteer journalists get the word out, organizing their video postings, compiling videos of the dead and spreading that information by Twitter and Facebook.” This is important work, and if the U.S. government isn’t helping to provide information technology to Syria’s anti-government activists, it should be. That is a bare and inadequate minimum of what we should be doing.

 

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