Tom McLachlan warns that international inaction will turn Syria into another hotspot for genocide

A Demonstration in Baniyas

There exists a sectarian regime being sustained by the decimation of Syria’s civilian population, following a tradition of political repression that stretches back decades. The consequence of success would be the cementing of hegemony for an Alawite Shia minority, similar to the pro-Sunni antics of a fellow Ba’athist government in pre-2003 Iraq. The 16 months of Slobodan Milosevic’s aggression in Kosovo saw approximately 10,000-13,000 civilian fatalities, in an attempt to consolidate Serbian ethnic hegemony in the remaining segments of the Former Yugoslavia. In the seven months of Bashar al-Assad’s campaign against his own people – punishment for little more than public protest, which has now metamorphosed into a full-scale uprising – it is estimated that approximately 2,700 Syrians have been murdered. The United Nations has stated that civilians in Syria are in need of protection. The Kosovo humanitarian precedent for intervention is clearly applicable, and is at risk of dying if little is done about this full-frontal assault on all human decency.

Non-intervention is a conscious foreign policy decision, which is predisposed to favour the party with the strongest force and resolve. This should be well-known in light of historical failures of non-interventionist policy. Continued appeasement into the 1970s saw international complicity for genocides in Bangladesh and East Timor. Into the 1980s, Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds saw little by way of an international response. The 1990s saw the Iraqi regime sustained after ‘Operation Desert Storm’ (Norman Schwarzkopf memorably gave Saddam permission to keep helicopters, which were then used to suppress mass uprisings against the regime). Serbian genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Rwandan genocidaires were addressed with tame international responses. Into the 2000s we were greeted with the familiar sight of virtual inaction in the face of African racist genocide: hundreds of thousands in Darfur were put to the sword by Sudanese janjaweed militias. And, in 2006, we were greeted, after long periods of “negotiation” and appeasement, with the North Korean acquisition of a nuclear weapon – the human catastrophe in that country being too great to even imagine. Positively, the removal of the Taliban in 2001 put stop to an impending genocide against Afghanistan’s Hazara population – something that is too often forgotten.

Specifically though, what have been the effects of the Assad regime on Syria’s neighbours? Most notable during the current uprising has been the great flow of refugees into southern Turkey after the assault on Jisr ash-Shugur and its surroundings, reminiscent of Assad I’s massacre of hundreds of people in this town in 1980. Going back, Syria’s 29 year occupation of Lebanon was maintained between 2000 and 2005 with Assad II’s continued stationing Syrian troops on Lebanese soil. They were finally evicted by the ‘Cedar Revolution’, a Lebanese popular response to the assassination of Rafic Hariri. Hezbollah did participate in the revolution, but on the behalf of the Syrian occupiers.

In 2007, Israel launched ‘Operation Orchard’, which destroyed what is now known to have been a nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria, reminiscent of ‘Operation Opera’: Israel’s bombing of Saddam’s Osirak reactor in 1981. The secrecy of the plant, and the apparent intentions of the Syrian regime, may give some credence to General Georges Sada’s claims that Iraqi Ba’athist stockpiles of WMD were transported to Syria on civilian aircraft before UNMOVIC inspectors entered Iraq in late 2002, claims which haven’t been ruled out. The operation also illuminates the potential dangers of the Assad regime acquiring such weapons. His Iraqi rivals dedicated a significant amount of time, resources, personnel and capital into trying to acquire the Bomb. Separately, only good fortune, and trepidation following the removal of Saddam, meant that Muammar Gaddafi relinquished his arsenal of WMD in 2003 – one can only gasp with relief that this occurred prior to the commencement of the Libyan civil war this year.

Since 2003, Syria has been an entry-gate into Iraq for hundreds, if not thousands, of suicide bombers and terrorists: who have been responsible for at least 40,000 of all civilian deaths in post-invasion Iraq as well as the deaths of Coalition troops – it could even be said that a potential intervention in Syria would be an extension of operations in Iraq. The Syrian regime also harbours Khalid Meshaal and the leadership of Hamas, a Palestinian theocratic movement considered to be a terrorist organization by many countries. The Syrian regime has also acted as a weapons conduit between Iran, an aspiring nuclear power and contributor to the current crackdown, and Hezbollah for many years. It should not be far down the list of security concerns regarding the potential fusion of WMD and terrorism.

Recent months have seen a shift away from the decade-long notion that President Assad is bent on reforming Syria’s political system. Bashar attained the presidency through de facto hereditary right, from his father, Hafez, who was responsible for the deaths of 20,000+ civilians in the city of Hama in 1982. This is a city which has had to bear the brunt of Ba’athist aggression again in 2011. This self-evident untruth has, however, given way to apathy and inaction: an all too familiar response from the world’s major power blocs, international organizations, and Syria’s Arab neighbours. It is about time that policy towards Syria’s Ba’athists changes course – it mustn’t be forgotten that the West used Hafez al-Assad and Syrian forces when evicting Saddam from Kuwait in 1991. Relations have been too cosy for decades, and it should not take a mass uprising by the Syrian people to make Western policymakers realise that they have a moral responsibility to end them. The names of Srebrenica, Guernica, or Sarajevo are enough; let not Homs, Hama, Daraa or anywhere else be added to the list. Full diplomatic isolation and intensification of sanctions, including an oil embargo, should certainly be the next step. Despite any anti-Assad rhetoric, only these material actions would demonstrate a true and thorough reversal of international appeasement towards this regime. One thing is certain: the more time that is delayed, the more Syria bleeds.


Tom McLachlan

Image Credit- Syria-Frames-Of-Freedom