Meanwhile, during the same dog days of August that have seen the Libyan rebels enter Tripoli with victory so tantalizingly close, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have killed dozens more people on top of the 2,000 or so already massacred, with the support of Iran and its terrorist arm, Hezbollah. While agreeing to allow a UN humanitarian team to enter Syria, Assad’s forces shot dead three people in Homs during a visit by a UN humanitarian team on August 22nd.
President Obama interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to issue a statement on Monday saying that Qaddafi’s reign over Libya is “coming to an end,” but failed to use the opportunity to comment on what was simultaneously happening in Syria. Apparently, he believed that his belated call a few days ago for Assad to step down was sufficient. And returning to Washington during the dual crises of Libya and Syria, not to mention the economic crisis here at home, does not appear to be an option. After all, President Obama’s own advisors had said that Obama chose to “lead from behind” and wait for the “international community” to act.
At least, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can walk and chew gum at the same time. While praising “the courage and determination of the Libyan people to seek a free and democratic future” at a press briefing on Monday at UN headquarters, Ban condemned Syrian dictator Assad for not keeping his promise to Ban to stop the violence that the regime has been employing to quell internal protests. “It is troubling that he has not kept his word. Many world leaders have been speaking to him to halt immediately military operations that are killing his own people,” Ban said, “and he assured me [he would] do that and military operations have already stopped.”
To be clear, international military intervention in Syria is not the answer. With Iran’s full financial, military and technical support, Assad knows that he is in a far stronger position to repel any attempt at international military intervention than the Qaddafi regime, which, as previously mentioned, is not going quietly. We could also expect to see Hezbollah and Palestinian refugees living in Syria and Lebanon unleashed on Israel, as a diversionary tactic.
Assad warned the international community over the weekend not to consider military intervention: “As for the threat of a military action … any action against Syria will have greater consequences (on those who carry it out), greater than they can tolerate.”
Assad does not have to worry. He knows that Russia and China are watching his back at the UN Security Council, which would have to pass a resolution authorizing international military action to give the Obama administration and its NATO allies “legitimacy” to attack Assad’s regime.
Moreover, even if there were international military intervention that would ultimately lead to Assad’s overthrow, what then? A fundamentalist Sunni Islamist regime could emerge that retains Syria’s alliance with Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, as well as with Sunni Hamas, for strategic and tactical reasons in opposition to the West, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps Syria’s increasing isolation amongst its fellow Arab countries, and Turkey’s reversal of its warming relations with Syria (and, by extension, Syria’s patrons in Iran) will be the best we can hope for, unless the powerful Syrian business class gets fed up enough with Assad to press for change in a more secular direction and is backed up by significant portions of the Syrian military. But that change will have to come from within, helped along by as much economic pressure as the West, the Arab Gulf nations and Turkey can muster.
Will President Obama lead from the front this time? Unlikely.
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