online 30.08.13

talking politics

Assad must go

by Yacov Ben Efrat

The smoking gun, about which so much has been said over the past year, has finally appeared. The corpses of babies, scattered on the ground, left nobody indifferent. There were no signs of blood; their death was silent and cruel. The images also left no doubt as to who is responsible for the slaughter, and the use of the deadly gas. Assad's regime has been massacring its own people for over two years using conventional weapons, planes and Scud missiles. The civil war in Syria has already taken a toll of over one hundred thousand fatalities, hundreds of thousands of refugees and people displaced within their country, and two million ruined homes. This regime, as we have seen, will do anything to prolong its reign, including the use of chemical weapons, banned from use by all international conventions.

In a well-publicized press conference, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem raised an innocent question: "Is it reasonable that a state would use chemical weapons against its citizens?". His Tehran patron meanwhile added a question of his own: "Is it reasonable that Assad would use chemical weapons, while UN inspectors are searching for a trace of such weapons in Syria?". The Russians, for their part, rushed to provide an answer to the game-show questions, concluding: "The Syrian opposition made use of the chemical weapons, in order to bring on international intervention." These queries are rather typical of the behavior of criminals – when caught, even if a smoking gun is in their hands, they deny their involvement vehemently, hoping the court will believe them. There is nothing reasonable about the Syrian regime's behavior, just as there is no truth to the words of Assad's direct accomplices, the Iranians and Russians, who bear, with him, responsibility for the horrendous crimes his regime commits.

What's Obama's rationale?

And what's the rationale for the behavior of the President of the United States, Barack Obama? Just as Assad brought the attack upon himself, one could also say that Obama brought this tricky situation upon himself, in his hesitance and unwillingness to act in time. Obama did all he could to trip up the Syrian opposition. He prevented it from deciding the conflict in its early stages, when the regime was surprised at the extent of the uprising, suffered massive defections, and avoided initiating total war against the opposition. Actually, the American hesitance is what spurred Assad towards escalating the conflict and using any and all means against his opponents.

Ever since the civil war began, the Americans have held seven conferences, no less, in which dozens of states have taken part, to express support for the Syrian opposition. But at the same time, they have made sure that the said support did not pass from words into deeds. The civilian aid, let alone the military aid, never reached opposition forces, while the Russians and Iranians maintained an unlimited flow of arms and money to prop up the regime. Already at a very early stage, the American administration created confusion between the official, sane opposition, and the extreme factions which grew within the vacuum created on the ground. For example, by declaring "Jabhat al-Nusra" a terrorist organization, they effected a delegitimization of the entire opposition. So also by the veto they imposed against arming the Free Syrian Army. Back in November 2012, the administration acted to crush and replace the opposition leadership, claiming it did not represent the entire populace, all while the country tumbles deeper and deeper into the abyss of the bloody civil war.

The use of chemical weapons was not sudden, but rather it built up gradually. As Obama's vacillation persisted, Assad's determination grew stronger. When Obama tried for a deal with the Russians, Assad smelled weakness, and starting a Scud missile attack on the city of Homs. Seeing that his actions drew no response from the West, he began using chemical weapons on various occasions. Obama, by burying his head in the sand, encouraged Assad to involve Hezbollah in the war in order to hasten its conclusion. The massacre in the town of al-Qusayr last summer changed nothing about America's behavior. The callous involvement of Iran and Russia only encouraged the White House to seek a diplomatic channel, increasing the pressure on the Syrian opposition to enter negotiations while the regime continued slaughtering it.

It's not Assad, it's Putin

What has caused Obama to change his position now? A key factor was Putin's agreeing to provide political asylum to Edward Snowden, wanted in the United States for his revelations regarding espionage conducted by American agencies on individuals and states, including friendly states such as Germany. This was perceived as a blatant provocation, and the White House's response was immediate. Obama cancelled a personal meeting with Putin, slated to be held after the gathering of the G20 states in Saint Petersburg next week. It seems that Putin took one step too far. Assad's last chemical attack is only the pretext, allowing the Americans to restore their lost honor and status, which had slowly been eroding in the past two years. Assad, it seems, is required to foot the bill in the great powers' games, and Putin has already announced he will not risk his skin to save him.

If this analysis is correct, we now stand before an American offensive on a criminal regime, resulting more from considerations of the global balance of power than from moral considerations. The problem is that this offensive comes at a great delay, after the civil war in Syria has created chaos and expanded the influence of extremist organizations, some affiliated to al-Qaeda and others to fundamentalist countries (Qatar and Saudi Arabia). The Syrian opposition has lost much of its prestige, and Syria itself has been turned to ruins. In light of this, it is unclear what the result of an American offensive will be, nor is it at all clear how the Syrian regime will respond. Assad has his back against the wall, and is telling anyone who will listen that he could spread the war to the entire region, Israel included.

Assad must go

The results of a possible attack on the Syrian regime are unclear, and yet, there is no doubt whatsoever that the way to solving the problem requires the Butcher of Damascus to leave his throne and take his cronies with him. The facts are clear: Assad used chemical weapons, and if not removed, he will make use of them again. So long as he is in power, the extremists and jihadists will only grow in influence. The Syrian people have paid a very high price in their struggle for freedom, democracy and social justice. The Syrian people are those who raised the rebel flag, rocked the regime to its foundations, and paid for it with many casualties. The attack on Assad needs to allow the Syrian people to finish the job, building a new Syria.

The experience of Iraq teaches us that a great power, strong as it may be, does not have the power to bring about a regime change. The task of building a new regime is placed upon the Syrian people and its leadership. What is required by the international community is to provide protection for the people, who are being butchered by a ruthless regime that receives the callous support of Russia and Iran. Obama is forced to act, not by a love for the Syrians but by a hatred for the Russians. American interests temporarily coincide with those of the Syrian people: to topple the tyrant and end the cruel torment. However, once that task is complete, it will be the Syrian people alone who will determine the future of Syria. The many victims, the sacrifices, the total destruction, the refugees, the unfathomable suffering of the civilians – these are the proof that this is a popular rebellion, giving the Syrian people the right to demand that its sovereignty be respected, with no foreign intervention.