- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2012


The violent repression of Syrian activists is accelerating, and there is no international consensus on halting the killings. The Arab Spring has reached its limits in the besieged and bloody city of Homs.

The 10-month long struggle against the regime of Bashar Assad is reaching new levels of violence. Dissident forces have swelled with new defections from the military, and they have skirmished with regime units on the outskirts of Damascus. Understanding that he is in a fight for his life, Mr. Assad has responded with particular brutality.

The humanitarian argument for intervention in Syria now is stronger than it was last year in Libya. Civilian deaths in Syria are five times what they were in Libya when President Obama declared action a moral imperative. Battered by the Syrian army, the city of Homs has become a charnel house. Men, women and children are being indiscriminately cut down by artillery fire and deliberately by snipers. Corpses and body parts are strewn in the streets, but it is impossible to flee the carnage because all escape routes are sealed.

Some members of the international community are blocking efforts to stem the violence. Last week, Russia and China used their veto power in the United Nations Security Council to kill a resolution regarding Syria that was far less potent than Security Council Resolution 1970, which authorized the use of “all necessary measures” to protect Libya’s civilian population. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later said that he favored limiting the ability of both sides in Syria from using weapons, but added the international community must “not interfere under any circumstances,” which makes imposing limits on force problematic. What this amounts to is a green light for the regime to continue killing.

On Tuesday Mr. Assad promised an end to bloodshed in his country, after previously denying that any such killings are taking place. Internal regime emails obtained by the hacker group Anonymous and released this week reveal that this is part of a media strategy aimed at reducing international pressure. A message from Sheherazad Jaafari, press attache at Syria’s U.N. mission, noted that in a planned December interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News, “It is hugely important and worth mentioning that ‘mistakes’ have been done in the beginning of the crises because we did not have a well-organized ‘police force.’ American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are ‘mistakes’ done and now we are ‘fixing it.’ “

The critical issue may be less the malleable American psyche than election-year dynamics and the surfeit of caution within the Obama administration. One lesson of the intervention in Libya was that “smart power” takes longer to be effective than other more direct methods. At the onset of the intervention in Libya, Mr. Obama gave the impression that the operation would last days, and not weeks. Nonetheless, it ground on for months. The White House may not want to start something it won’t be able to wrap up by Election Day. It would be hard to campaign on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if it just launched one in Syria.

The Washington Times

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