Nick Cohen reports in the Guardian:
The Syrian revolution is a motherless child. The “international community”, so vigorous in its declarations of support for human rights, does nothing to protect it. Assad’s state terrorists have unrestrained freedom to murder, rape and nail-bomb protesters and abuse and castrate children.
To grasp the scale of the barbarism, listen to Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy activist, who is one of the most reliable sources on the crimes the regime’s news blackout hides. “The repression is so severe that detainees are stacked alive and kicking in shipping containers and disposed off in the middle of the sea,” he told me. “It is so bad that they’ve invented a new way of torture in Aleppo where they heat a metal plate and force a detainee to stand on it until he confesses; imagine all the melting flesh reaching the bone before the detainee falls on the plate. It is so bad that all demonstrators have opted for armed resistance. They know it is about survival now, not about freedom any more. This needs to be highlighted: Syrians are fighting for their lives now, not for freedom.”
As it has with so many other situations, the Obama administration has been slow and timid. After months of insisting Assad was still capable of reform, the president finally called for his ouster. But as a devotee of multilateral action, he has been stymied by international sloth. Few sanctions have been enacted. The slaughter continues.
The investigative visit by the Arab League is a farce. The New York Times reports:
[T]he killings have continued, and the mission has been mired in controversy, much of it focused on its leader: a Sudanese general who, rights activists say, presided over the same kind of deadly and heavy-handed tactics in Sudan that the Arab League mission is seeking to curb in Syria.
Lt. Gen. Muhammad Ahmed al-Dabi, who once ran Sudan’s notorious military intelligence agency, has only compounded the criticism with his recent statements.
Last week, he spoke dismissively about the damage in Homs, a rebellious city that was shelled by government tanks and where dozens of people were killed. “Some places looked a bit of a mess, but there was nothing frightening,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Even if the mission were not staffed by human rights abusers, it would nevertheless be a waste of time, given that “the mission has been powerless to stop the bloodshed. Although the tanks had been withdrawn, he said, snipers persisted. Syrian activists say more than 150 people have been killed since the monitors arrived last week. On Sunday, an Arab League advisory body, the 88-member Arab Parliament, called for the group to leave because the government was continuing to kill its opponents.”
Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative, like many of the administration’s critics, is dismayed by the tepid response. He tells me, “We should be reviewing all options, especially potential safe zones around areas under attack by regime forces. We should be engaging the Free Syrian Army [FSA] rather than continuing to call on the Syrian people to passively stand by while their family members and neighbors are murdered on a daily basis. Most importantly, we should be leading the international response, not outsourcing our policy to Ankara and the Arab League.”
A senior adviser on Capitol Hill concedes that our options are limited. However, he e-mailed me this: “How to deal with the FSA is not an easy call, like the TNC [Transitional National Council] in Libya. In brief, I think we should be providing some forms of help to the FSA but do it through the SNC [Syrian National Council] since it’s in our interest that, as the conflict inevitably militarizes, a responsible political actor has some degree of control over the guys with guns. The most effective assistance isn’t weapons. It’s other forms of support that will allow them to be a more effective, cohesive force.” He also contends that additional sanctions would be “extremely worthwhile.” He argues, “We need to keep choking the regime and tightening the screws.”
Critics of the administration concede that arming the opposition forces has its downside and may add to political strife and violence after Assad is gone. While acknowledging this concern, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tells me, “That all said, the west should not sit idly by. Western states should be helping the opposition coordinate and communicate better, at the very least. And they should be leading a much stronger international campaign to call attention to the slaughter there. But as the mass killings continue, the West will find it harder and harder to rationalize its inaction.” He adds, “In my opinion, we’re already at the humanitarian tipping point that prompted Obama to begin working with NATO to bomb Qaddaffi’s Libya. I’m curious to hear how that met criteria, but the current situation does not.”
It is unlikely the administration will act boldly or swiftly. The president and his advisers are convinced that its sloth was a “success” in Libya, despite the thousand killed while the administration ruminated on the slaughter.
For now, the bloodbath continues. Cohen points out: “Intervention to stop a regional war carries vast risks. But we should be honest about the consequences of acquiescing to Assad. A failed state and nest for terrorism will sit on the edge of the Mediterranean. Foreign mercenaries and Alawite paramilitaries will continue to massacre a largely defenseless population and the conflict may spread into Iraq, Israel, Turkey and Jordan. As the news that escapes the control of the Syrian censors reminds us every day, those who say we should do nothing also have blood on their hands.” And meanwhile, America’s influence and moral standing in the region erodes day by day.