Earlier today Syria’s listing Assad Regime made an unprecedented public acknowledgement of its chemical weapons stockpiles, assuring its already-brutalized public that it would never use them against its own people but warning foreign powers that it was prepared to use them against any foreign aggressor.
That is a nice assurance for the son and nephew of those responsible for 1982’s Hama Massacre to make. Surely it is an especially comforting guarantee, coming as it does after Syrian President-for-Life Bashar al-Assad missed an opportunity by responding to the peaceful protests of early 2011 with naked violence matched only by the avowedly-monstrous Colonel Moammar Gaddafi of Libya. In 17 months 18,000 Syrians–including a growing proportion of the Assad Regime’s contracting force of loyal troops–have died in a civil war that only had to happen because Assad refused to allow any peaceful protests. He seemed to have drawn the lesson from the collapse of the seemingly-safe Ben Ali Regime in Tunisia in just 4 weeks and the seemingly-safe Mubarak Regime in Egypt in about 3 weeks that a zero-tolerance policy toward protest, including peaceful protest, was the only way to cow the Assad Family’s opponents. Actually, a reasonably-informed outside observer could see that in both of those contexts it was the combination of unabashed corruption of the regime in the face of high unemployment and inflation, coupled with violent repression of initial protests followed by the abrupt prospect of concessions, and finally capped off by the unwillingness of both country’s militaries to crush the protesters, that brought both of those previously-quiet single-party states down so quickly.
Assad’s obtuse grasp of politics is a fitting complement to his brutality. His “zero tolerance” approach to dissent was intended to demonstrate his resolve, but instead it has simultaneously militarized his opposition and greatly increased the plausibility of their appeal, leading to its rapid expansion. At first the Assad Family Regime seemed to think it would have a simple time of it, simply besieging the southern town of Daraa where the protests began and fighting the protesters into acquiescence. But in keeping with a classic blind spot of dictators, the full extent of economic discontent, the speed with which news of the Assad Family Regime’s cruelty spread and even the light in which it was seen all seems to have eluded Assad. He has started a civil war he cannot finish. And in the middle of last week, 3 (later, as it turned out, 4) members of Bashar’s inner circle were killed in an astonishing bombing in Damascus.
In response a friend found a level-headed entry on a blog specializing in political violence, calling on onlookers not to uncork the champaigne just yet. Well, if the point is that the rebels will have trouble consolidating their gains in the face of the Regime counterattack, and that Bashar will now feel he has to double-down to save himself, yes, that all seems logical and borne-out. But the Liberal Ironist is leaning heavily on the “For Now.” About 1/2 of Assad’s inner circle was killed in 1 bombing. This could only happen because the capabilities, resolve, and connections of the rebels to disaffected members of the Regime have grown. They may have made bids for territory they cannot hold, but early last year the protesters in Syria were peaceful and were not armed; the Assad Regime is clearly on a long-term trajectory towards failure. Between its isolation, defections, rebel expansion, Turkey’s hostility and growing Russian embarrassment, I really don’t think the Assad Regime has the resources it would need to successfully gamble for resurrection. Just because it isn’t dead doesn’t mean it isn’t dying. Barring far more assistance from Russia than just diplomatic cover–which Russia’s current prevarications suggest is unlikely–I don’t think the Regime can survive this. There’s really no good explanation for how it can considering the rebellion has reached this extent already.
But now, the Assad Family Regime has the Obama Administration to deal with. “We’re looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime,” said a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in response to Administration officials’ weekend announcement that the United States will now accelerate its efforts to provide aid to Syria’s rebel groups–though it will not directly arm them or advise Israeli tactical action at this time. Since, as the New York Times article linked above indicates, Turkey, Qat
In the face of such a prospect, all the Liberal Ironist can say is that it is reason-enough to intervene on the side of the rebels in the 1st place, and that part of the assistance the United States should offer the rebels is clear: They need whatever training and equiptment we could hope to provide them to minimize the losses that would attend such indiscriminate killing by this dying Leviathan.