A sadist named Bashar al-Assad rules Syria today with a bloody iron hand. The estimate is that he and his cohorts have killed more than 11,000 of their compatriots in the past 14 months. The actual toll may be closer to 14,000.
Syrians in their millions keep demanding that he step down. He just keeps on killing them. Just over a week ago, Assad’s thugs massacred 108 civilians, mostly women and children, in the town of Houla. Days later they carried out a similar massacre in Hama. This sort of carnage has been going on in Homs for months.
Outraged, the world condemned Assad in the strongest terms. Even Hezbollah, the militant Shiite organization in Lebanon that is closely allied to Assad, condemned the massacres. Assad’s patron, Iran, made little noises that sounded like it was distancing itself from the mass murderer. But until now there are only words where decisive action should be. Several Western countries have expelled Syrian diplomats, but that’s a gesture and one that is too little, too late.
In effect Assad merely shrugs and says: Sticks and stones may break my bones but condemnations will never remove me from power. It well may be that the only thing that will impress Assad is a missile to the solar plexus. That will surely leave an impression on his mortal body. But there is no sign of that forthcoming.
Several months ago, I was cited as one of several Asian writers who were against military intervention in Syria. That needs revisiting. I expressed skepticism that the West would make Libya II out of Syria, considering that Syria had no oil, there were minorities supporting the Assad tyranny, the rebels were not united and the Syrian terrain was not so vulnerable to airstrikes.
I also found it sad and ironic that in order to stop the killings, you would have to kill the killers. Moreover, there was at that time the beginning of a diplomatic effort to stop the violence. So I said: Give a chance for diplomacy to succeed. But I never said: never intervene.
Since then, diplomacy — specifically the Kofi Annan plan — has utterly failed. Assad has shown absolutely no respect for the United Nations.
On the part of Indonesia, with the violence in Syria escalating, Indonesia does what it has to do: attend to the safety of some 12,000 of its nationals living there, and bring them home as soon as possible. If the situation further deteriorates Indonesia may have to decide at what point should it bring home its 16 police and military personnel assigned to the UN Observer Mission in Syria.
There’s no Syrian ambassador to kick out of the country and Indonesia is not in the business of kicking out Syrian envoys.
But it strongly condemns the Houla massacre and forcefully demands an end to the killings. Indonesia, however, is geographically too distant for its voice to be heard.
For now, the forces that can check Assad’s rampage are petrified. The Security Council is paralyzed by the certainty of a Russian veto. To Russia and Iran, Assad is a hoodlum but he is their hoodlum. They are immobilized by fear of losing a client. Some Arab countries are arming the rebels on the sly while the United States is providing non-lethal equipment. But that’s all. Without military backup from the United States neither NATO nor the Arab countries will provide air cover for the rebels.
The United States itself is in the torpor of a presidential election campaign. Or is it? An American diplomat has just hinted that a coalition may be forced to take action outside of the Kofi Annan plan and the authority of the Security Council. Well, some countries better do something fast.
The killing will stop only when the shirking stops.