“How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

Words fail for this horror of a full scale military attack on a city and its mostly unarmed men, women, and children, a deliberate wanton slaughter that recalls the rape of Nanking. And Nanking involved a foreign enemy. The attack on Homs and other Syrian cities is conducted by what purports to be their own national government.

The aim of Assad’s regime is not merely to hang on. It is to teach its people a lesson they won’t forget, to show them that opposition is hopeless and its price is unbearable.

We focus on Assad, but this isn’t just about him. He functions within a system. He actually started life as a mousy ophthalmologist, but was swallowed up by the political machine his father built, and is now probably more a captive of it than its boss. All these hard and venal men must see the alternative as not just disempowerment but death.

Can they win? Unfortunately yes. Unlike Qaddafi, who was afraid of a big army, Assad has one of the world’s biggest. And he still actually has significant support. A key reason is that the regime has made a sizeable population segment complicit in its crimes, and thus terrified of comeuppance lest the regime fall. Assad’s support is concentrated in the Alawite ethnic minority, who fear being singled out for retribution — as well they should.

Yet if they prevail in the short term, what have they really won? Rule over a destroyed country, over a traumatized population most of which hates them with a black passion. They are plunging the country into an abyss which must ultimately swallow them as well.

And while I am sickened by the depth of evil here, yet my heart soars to see the courage that, in spite of all the horror, still stands up to oppose it.

I refer, of course, to the Syrian people. Not us. Why are we doing nothing of substance to stop this? Because Russia and China shamed themselves by vetoing a UN resolution? Why has the International Criminal Court not even yet indicted Assad and company for crimes against humanity?

True, we don’t have the capability to do Assad down as we did Qaddafi. At least not without immense effort and cost. Again, Assad’s military assets are far more formidable. But that shouldn’t mean we just shrug our shoulders. What we did in Libya was a very good thing; it changed the way the world works. Assad’s gang took the wrong lesson from it: that they have to be far more bloody even than Qaddafi. If they’re allowed to do this with impunity, that will vitiate much of the salutary Libyan precedent, and encourage others among the world’s bad guys to follow the Syrian playbook.

That’s the reason we should take action in Syria even if we can’t militarily stop Assad. UN or no UN, we should send some bombers over, and obliterate some military bases and assets; and, yes, soldiers. And why not bomb the presidential palace (as we targeted Qaddafi’s compound)? This would serve to show the likes of Assad, and those who would support them, that today’s world really is different; that there’s a serious price to pay for crimes like theirs.

You want to quibble about “legality”? Rule of law means more than rulebooks. What it means most fundamentally is justice. And please don’t burble “national sovereignty” at me. No concept of national sovereignty should shield a gang of murderers ruling a country through terror.

Furthermore, acting as I urge would show the Syrian people – and people throughout the world suffering under such tyranny – that we really and truly are on their side. And on the right side of history (which the Russians and Chinese are not). And, who knows, it might encourage the Syrian opposition just enough to tip the balance of the situation against Assad. His fall would would pay us priceless geopolitical dividends (as I explained in a previous post.)

I repeat: what’s stopping us?

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2 Responses to ““How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?””

  1. Lee Says:

    That a large segment of Syrian society fears retribution if Assad’s regime falls is indeed a large part of the reason that the conflict continues. A general amnesty for those below the rank of general would be more likely to solve the conflict than surgical strike bombings. Sure that would put restorative justice as a higher priority than punitive justice, but if it would save 100,000 lives, maybe even hawks would go for it.

    We are on the side of the Syrian people, and one of the key roles we can play is to continue to highlight the atrocities, so that those who are currently supporting Assad are encouraged to abandon him. Thank you for your ongoing efforts in this regard!

    [FSR comment: An amnesty is not within our power, it would be up to the Syrian people, who would have primary responsibility for justice regarding the grave crimes committed by their countrymen. I might agree that they’d be better served by forgiveness and reconciliation than blood vengeance; but I wouldn’t get on a high horse and preach that at them, given the extreme evil they’ve suffered from Assad’s minions.]

  2. Syria: Moral Obscenity | The Rational Optimist Says:

    […] over the then-tottering Syrian regime, with at least some hope of a reasonable replacement (as I argued in March 2012). This was a classic situation where reluctance to act only makes the eventual and inevitable […]

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