Friday, August 5, 2011

Things Fall Apart

We've covered the protests and crackdown in Syria before, of course.  But things are quickly escalating well past where they were last week.  Things have gotten worse in a hurry, it seems.  So it's recap time.

Long story short, the protests have not abated.  In Hama, according to the BBC, state forces have been using tanks against civilians.  In response, it seems as though anti-Assad sentiment has intensified, especially in and around Damascus.  There are reports of state forces demolishing buildings, and burning crops.  Quickly, this is becoming more than just a crackdown, but a series of reprisals.

President Assad has promised reforms, of course.  At this point though it seems too little, too late.  As long violence is still being used against peaceful protestors, the Syrian government undermines its reform credentials with opponents of the regime.  And indeed, with the level of violence that we have seen so far, it's unlikely that we are going to see a peaceful resolution.  Either Assad is going to "win" and break the back of the protests, or he is going to have to leave.

In its usual way, the international community has indicated its preference and seems to be putting pressure on Assad to "do the right thing".  Close allies such as Turkey have already started to move away from Syria.  Even Russia, now - of course a bastion of goodwill for the democratic wishes of any people, naturally - has made its wishes fairly clear:
Russia, traditionally an ally of Syria, also joined the criticism, with President Dmitry Medvedev saying Mr Assad would "face a sad fate" unless he urgently carried out reforms and reconciled with the opposition.
Man, if Medvedev says you're in this kind of trouble, then it's pretty much game over, isn't it?

Given the current state of things in the world, it's unlikely that any sort of intervention is on the table here, what with Libya still fresh.  And the level of violence so far seems to indicate that Assad does not intend to go down easily, or ever.  He has gone all-in now.  If he loses, if he allows the protests to "win", he has no future in Syria...or anywhere.  I'm sure he knows this.  So, he is committed to going down fighting, unless given a way out.

So, if we can't go and just get rid of him, then the United States - and the rest of the global community - need to be creative.  Someone needs to give him that way out, some nice exile somewhere or something.  Some way of allowing him to save a little face, make a "graceful" exit, and make it look like he is trying to save the nation from civil war.  It may not be possible, but it's worth trying.

Otherwise, we're going to be seeing some nasty stuff out of Syria for a long time.  Because short of going in directly, there's not much else we can do but sit on our hands.  Sanctions, asset freezes, oil embargoes...these things will make continued defiance painful on Assad's part, but also on the Syrian people.  And it won't help force Assad to leave; he's far too committed to this course now without being presented with a "clean" way to leave.

Syria cannot move forward while he stays.  If we can't remove him by force, and he won't remove himself, we need to offer him a way to be removed at less cost to himself.  But this is for sure: one way or another, Bashar al-Assad has to go.

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