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The man-eating 'lion' of Damascus

Syria Conflict


Nothing makes a father more proud than being outshone by his son. If Hafez Assad were alive today, he would probably be the proudest father in Syria for grotesque reasons.

Toeing his father’s line, Bashar Assad has been diligently carrying out Baathist policies of crushing dissent and bombing civilians into submission. The current carnage of Syrians can only be compared to the Hama massacre of February 1982 when the Syrian Army, under the orders of the elder Assad, launched a scorched earth operation against the town in order to quell a revolt against his totalitarian rule. The number of casualties — mostly civilians — was estimated to be between 20,000 and 40,000. Large parts of the old city were destroyed. The vile attack has been described as one of “the single deadliest acts by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East.”
Angry over the futile lip service of the Arab League and baffled over two yardsticks used by the talking shop, people are rightly questioning the role of the organisation which wasted no time in requesting NATO forces to impose a no-fly zone to save Libyans from Muammar Qaddafi’s mercenaries, but has lost several opportunities to allow foreign intervention to protect Syrians from Assad’s killing machine.

Emboldened by unwavering diplomatic and material support from Moscow and Beijing, Bashar’s thugs have been punishing Homs civilians with an average daily death toll exceeding 100. As the civilian toll nears 6,000, Arab foreign ministers have only “thought” about expelling Syrian diplomats from their capitals and have just “called for” a joint Arab-UN peace-making mission.

Hats off to Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal who attempted to shake off the world conscience on Sunday (Feb. 12) when he said in Cairo: “How long will we stay as onlookers to what is happening to the brotherly Syrian people, and how much longer will we grant the Syrian regime one period after another so it can commit more massacres against its people?”

His call for decisive measures “after the failure of the half-solutions” should serve as the final warning to hitherto unperturbed Arab leaders. And given the non-availability of any other option to fix Assad, his call for the Arab League to open all channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and give all forms of support to it seems the most suitable way to end the crisis.

A look at the readers’ online reaction shows how disturbed people are over Arab League’s repeated unreasonable refusal to call in NATO forces to end Bashar’s killing spree. One doesn’t understand what, in Arab League’s eyes, makes Bashar a different case from Qaddafi. The Syrian situation is more serious than the Libyan crisis in more ways than one. The Baathist regime has kept the population under its thumb for over 40 years. As more and more people are enjoying freedoms in Europe, Asia, parts of Africa and the US, Syrians’ demand for change following the Arab Spring-backed removal of four dictators makes complete sense.

The country is on the verge of a civil war as 60 per cent of Syrians are Sunnis while the rest are Allawites, Shiites, Druz and Christians. The regime that has been tormenting the population for over four decades is dominated by Allawites. Hence all top posts in the army, government and police are occupied by the Bashar clique. If the Arab League still chooses not to give the green light to some sort of armed intervention, Assad’s trigger-happy soldiers would keep taking out men, women and children calling them members of antinational “armed gangs.”

The role of the West in the Syria episode has been pathetic. If an annual international award for double standard is instituted, America will win it hands down every year. Main features of its foreign policy are hypocrisy, greed, opportunism and selfishness. When Washington’s interests (or the interests of its allies) are involved, rules of the game change overnight.

Given America’s outrageously lopsided and interest-driven rules for foreign intervention, it doesn’t take a journalist to understand why, after an initial chorus of condemnation, US leaders are now less enthusiastic over the issue: A: Syria doesn’t have as much oil as Libya or Iraq, and investing in a regime change game in Damascus would not yield lucrative oil deals for US companies as was the case in Baghdad or Tripoli. B: Barack Obama’s advisers don’t want to see the rise of Islamic elements in a fourth Arab country after Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Remember Assad’s 1982 Hama pogrom was to crush the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to a Guardian report, former US President Bill Clinton’s administration knew Rwanda was being engulfed by genocide in April 1994 but buried the information to justify its inaction. According to classified documents, senior officials privately used the word genocide within 16 days of the start of the killings, but chose not to do so publicly because the president had already decided not to intervene.
Intelligence reports obtained using the US Freedom of Information Act showed the Cabinet and almost certainly the president had been told of a planned “final solution to eliminate all Tutsis” before the slaughter reached its peak.

It took Hutu death squads three months to murder an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus and at each stage accurate, detailed reports were reaching Washington’s top policymakers. The commander in chief of the US armed forces does not use American resources to stop a genocide for charity. The victim country must have oil wealth if it wants US help!

During Israel’s 2008-2009 maniacal blitz on defenceless Gaza, the US blocked the Dec. 30 2008 cease-fire proposal at the Security Council effectively allowing the Zionist state to continue butchering Palestinians. The US was the only UNSC member that refused to support the Jan. 8, 2009 cease-fire resolution. The next day, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended Israel on the issue of civilian deaths and blamed Hamas’ use of “human shields.” Later, the US House of Representatives condemned a UN report accusing Israeli forces of committing war crimes in Gaza as irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy. Were Gazans expendable to safeguard the interests of an illegitimate ally?

When Israel invaded Lebanon, Rice refused to condemn the July 31, 2006 Qana massacre in which 60 Lebanese civilians were killed in an air raid, half of them children. She said: “Civilians do die during wars.” She also refused to call for a cease-fire until conditions were right meaning, Israel’s conditions were met. But the US stance on Syria at the UN is totally different. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lambasted the veto of anti-Syria resolution as “travesty.” If America is so serious about stopping the bloodshed in Syria, under what logic did it allow the massacre of Lebanese civilians?

Moscow and Beijing, the chief villains in the current world theatre, consider Syria a sustainable market for their weapons, but the two hypocrites would never help Damascus on its anti-Israel stance. Did anyone even hear a whimper from Russia and China against Tel Aviv when Israeli warplanes levelled Syria’s atomic reactor in the Deir Ez-Zor region on Sept. 6, 2007? Another reason for Russia to veto anti-Syria resolution is elections in which Vladimir Putin wants to project an image of a tough guy capable of taking on the US.

Assad has failed to keep his promises of reforms. He has shown no respect for people’s will. His soldiers have abducted, tortured and killed men at will. Homs is facing a severe humanitarian disaster. Amid atrocious bombardment, appeals for blood are being made on mosque loudspeakers inside the besieged city. Assad has probably not yet realized that he can only prolong his antics for some more time but cannot survive this revolution. His rule has to end. And his own people would do that.

Notwithstanding the Srebrenica massacre, the Muslim world felt indebted to the NATO after the Western alliance fixed Slobodan Milosevic in 1999 and Bosnians and Kosovans heaved a sigh of relief. NATO members, notably the US, France and the UK, can again restore the Arab and Muslim confidence by working to create safe havens for Syrians and by extending unconditional military and diplomatic support to the Opposition. It is about time the International Court of Justice issued warrants against Bashar and his partners in crime.

Assad means lion. But when a lion becomes a man-eater, people are left with no option but to put it down. Qaddafi’s violent end is still fresh in memory.

[The writer, based in Jeddah, can be reached at]

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