Thursday, April 12, 2012

Syria: Have Our 'Best and Brightest' Learned Nothing From History?

I recently wrote about Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria, and how I hoped it was not too late for the Syrian people living under President Bashar al-Assad's tyranny. Unfortunately, my worst fears have been realized on this matter: Assad continues his assaults on the 'rebels,' all the while thumbing his nose at the democratic West and the U.N.

We should have seen this coming. Certainly, our leaders, the latest "best and brightest" contingent who represent us, should have. But, as is so often the case, we chose to overlook the lessons of history, instead favoring optimism and faith in our fellow (hu)man.

Even a basic grasp of the recent past would have spared us the wasted time of frowning at Assad and threatening him with sanctions, which to a dictator like him are about as effective as trying to stop a grizzly charge with a pea shooter. And, more importantly, we could have DONE SOMETHING to help the poor people of Syria, many of whom simply want the right to vote, the rule of law, and the other freedoms we take for granted. Instead, as Assad spoke out of one side of his mouth to agree to the ceasefire, he spoke out of the other to order his generals to continue the killing.

Part of the problem is that it is human nature to assume we are on a level playing field with our adversaries and that they will respect supposedly universal standards of engagement - the Queensbury Rules of international politics. Yet, with dictators from Stalin to Hitler to Saddam Hussein, this is not the case.

They don't care about the rules because they consider themselves above them - the megalomania and arrogance that every tyrant I can recall possesses. They also have the assurance of protection by armaments, which just fuels their blind disregard for the Geneva Convention, the Charter of the United Nations and any other coda that democratic nations abide by. The dictator views ruling by committee as weakness, diplomatic exchange as folly, and assurances of cooperation as contemptible, only to be used to buy time to solidify the position of strength.

And so it goes with Assad.

He will not be deposed by ceasefire plans, by transition strategies or by diplomatic engagement. The only language he understands is force, or, as Harry Truman put it about the Soviet Union, the simple question of "how many divisions do you have?" This is not to say that a full-scale ground invasion is needed, or, indeed, that it would do anything other than ignite the tinderbox of the Middle East. Yet we have seen recently (in the case of Libya) and not so long ago (in Bosnia), that there are other, smarter ways to topple a man like Assad. Regardless of what Britain and America do - for with certain nations continually exercising their vetoes in irresponsible fashion in the UN, it may be time for independent action - the window for talking has been slammed down on our fingers.

More Syrian men, women and children are dying by the day. How long will we allow this continue?

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