Sunday, 19 July 2015
Syria: Preempting the Worst, Should Assad Fall
"For Syrians who for years have been on the receiving end of regime criminality, it is no doubt infuriating to see the reality of an ongoing holocaust trumped in Western policy circles by fears of a possible abomination accompanying the fall of a heartlessly cynical and brutal regime. For 12 million Syrian victims of regime atrocities the argument that Assad provides some kind of stabilization service is bewildering. For Syria’s neighbors—awash in refugees—the open-ended continuation of refugee-producing murder and mayhem can hardly be attractive.
Imagine how articulated fears about Assad “leaving the wrong way” are processed by those who have begged the West for protection, only to be told that their plight does not rise to the “never again” standard; that the absence of United Nations Security Council consensus and the primacy of a nuclear deal with Iran render them unqualified for protection by parties having the ways and means to provide it. Imagine the credibility of the US “train-and-equip” recruiting pitch to nationalist Syrian rebels: pay no attention to those who drop barrel bombs on hospitals, schools, mosques, and bakeries—come help us fight ISIL while we entreat Moscow and Tehran to support political transition in Syria.
Through barrel bombs, starvation sieges, torture, rape, and pillage they have implanted in minority communities a fear of vengeance; fear designed to bind these minorities to the survival of a regime that steals from them while sacrificing their children.
The result is that large scale acts of vengeance victimizing innocent civilians cannot be ruled out if the fall of the regime—the family and its inner circle of enforcers—creates a security vacuum. It is not at all clear that the departure of a corruptly incompetent clan would have such an effect. Yet the response to this challenge simply cannot be one of Western action or inaction, tacitly supporting Iranian efforts to keep the mass murder machine in place and well oiled. As long as that machine functions, ISIL will have a recruiting case to make to desperate Syrians. As long as the machinery of industrial scale homicide keeps humming, the peril to those held hostage by the regime will increase.
The message from Secretary of State John Kerry to his counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif should be stark: stop the barrel bombing or we will. To avoid taking steps—diplomatic for sure, military if necessary—to protect Syrian civilians from Assad regime mass terror is to promote extremism and to imperil those Assad has taken hostage. Failure to protect Syrian civilians is the policy equivalent of endorsing Assad’s strategy: a strategy that kills the innocent, shames the West, and facilitates the work of ISIL. Only through inaction in the face of this real, ongoing outrage can fears of Assad “leaving the wrong way” receive the ultimate form of validation: the fulfillment of a bad dream."