By Arab News
By Linda Heard
Bashar Assad has crossed too many red lines to be part of any transition to democracy. The once reformist eye doctor, who early in his presidency pledged to open up and modernize his country, has become a monstrous example of how power can corrupt and distort a seemingly ordinary individual’s world view. There was a time when I admired his Arab nationalist stances, particularly on Iraq, and the way he fearlessly stood against the hegemonic ambitions of Western powers. But those days are over.
Today, he stands as a symbol of shame for the Syrian people and the greater Arab world. Moreover, his behavior has undercut just Arab criticisms of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. There is only one road open to him and that’s out, hopefully the road to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to be judged for his long list of crimes against humanity. In an attempt to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict the Arab League has asked that he step down, promising him safe passage. He doesn’t deserve it.
He’s worse than Saddam who was known to be a megalomaniac with grandiose ideas and a passion to expand Iraqi territory. He’s worse than Qaddafi who clearly wasn’t entirely sane. Assad is an intelligent, educated man who knows right from wrong. His rhetoric is moderate and convincing; his family life beyond reproach. Yet, despite the carefully contrived picture shown to the world, he has willfully sold his soul to the devil under the pretext that the uprising is the work of foreign hands or terrorist organizations. It’s a mystery to me that his forces remain on side apart from a relatively few defections. They could easily save their nation by turning their guns on those who would sacrifice it for the sake of their own skins.
Some 19,000 Syrians have been murdered by his military, security forces and his loyal Shabbiha militia. How many more men, women and infants must die to keep Assad and his cronies in the life to which they’ve become accustomed? How many more children must suffer dismemberment or the physical and psychological pain of torture before the international community prioritizes the preservation of life over geopolitical interests?
I’m conflicted over whether there is any such thing as a righteous war. Military intervention by foreign powers in the internal affairs of another state is anathema to me. Many would agree that the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq produced little except chaos, bloodshed and an invitation to terrorist groups to set up camp. However, if there is one time when military intervention is required, that time is now.
As each day passes, doing so will become more problematical. The likelihood that Israel will send its bombers where others fear to tread is growing. Subsequent to a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and senior Cabinet members, including the Minister of Defense, Benjamin Netanyahu said rather ominously “We are monitoring the events in Syria closely and are prepared for any development to come.” However, according to US administration sources who spoke to the New York Times, Washington doesn’t support Israel’s involvement due to the repercussions of such an attack which would proffer “Assad an opportunity to rally support against Israeli interference.” That’s true.
Israel should stay out of the equation. Israeli bombs would be a present to the Assad regime. They would use any death and destruction wrought by Israel to whitewash their actions and vindicate the arguments they’ve used all along. And when up against the military might of Syria’s longstanding enemy that still occupies the Golan Heights, Syrians of all political persuasions would be forced to coalesce behind their leadership, as would Hezbollah and Iran. That would also elicit serious divisions among Arab states with those still hovering jumping to Assad’s side of the fence.
It may be that the Assad regime is asking for Israel to step in with its admission that it has a stockpile of chemical weapons, an admission it knows full well will be like a red rag to a bull to the Israeli government’s ears. The spokesman announced that chemical weapons would only be used in the face of “external aggression” and never against Syria’s civilian population. Whether the regime is seeking to deter foreign intervention with this news or whether it is trying to pull Israel into the fray is a topic of debate. What it has surely done is declare Syria a dangerous rogue state, a state armed with weapons of mass destruction and the intention of using them. One thing is certain, with that bit of muscle-flexing the Assad regime has sealed its own political demise.
Israel and its Western allies will never accept a ruthless leader without a shred of respect for human life, capable of launching chemical attacks across Israel’s border.
Right now Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is adamant that there will be no Libyan-style intervention by the US or NATO and, together with China, Russia recently used its United Nations Security Council veto to block a new round of anti-Syria UN sanctions. Russia’s self-interested position has emboldened Assad who, no doubt, feels like a cub being protected by a mother bear. But if there’s a turning-point when millions of Syrians go out onto the streets or if the Free Syrian Army can succeed in gaining entry into Assad’s hilltop palace or state television, Putin is likely to quickly switch his positions so as to retain good relations with Assad’s successor.
If Bashar Assad has any sense at all, he will look to the fate of Saddam, Qaddafi and Mubarak, sentenced to life imprisonment, and get out with his family while he still can be in the way the Arab League is suggesting. In that way, he would be doing the Syrian people a favor by averting the awful specter of foreign armies stomping across the land as well as giving a gift, albeit undeserved, to himself.