The first peaceful protest in Syria in January 2011 was directed not at the regime of Bashar al-Assad but against that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Protestors gathered in front of the Egyptian embassy, heavily armed with candles (provided by the Central Intelligence Agency, no doubt) and placards that said “yes for freedom” (in the background) and “no for killing the Egyptian youth” (in the foreground).
This innocuous solidarity demonstration was squashed by the Assad regime.
Evidently the thirst for political freedom is highly contagious, and the Syrian people had to be protected from it at all costs, including their lives.
Stamping out peaceful protests by force — the tried and true method of the Assad regime ever since Hama in 1982 — succeeded at first but failed in the long run. In March of 2011, children who wrote anti-government slogans on walls in Dara’a were detained, beaten, and tortured. This barbaric act, the first of many to come, sparked what is rightly considered the beginning of the Syrian uprising.
Not long after, in April 2011, the regime handed the broken body of 13-year-old Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb to his parents sans genitals, dignity, and life. His crime?
Attending a peaceful protest in Jiza.
A year and a half later after that first protest in Damascus over 21,000 have been killed. Unknown numbers have been tortured, raped, killed, and mutilated by the regime. Over 250,000 Syrian refugees now live in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
What began as Gandian-style peaceful protests (modeled on those that shook Tahrir Square) became militarized and bloody only after the regime unleashed wave after wave of executions and sadistic reprisals the likes of which would have made Hitler’s stomach churn. After months of murderous repression, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) formed in summer of 2011 when soldiers ordered to shoot innocent and defenseless protestors decided to turn their guns around.
People who bemoan the FSA’s human rights violations from the safety of their couches while remaining mum about the regime’s criminal acts that drove them to arms in the first place cannot comprehend what Malcolm X meant when he said: “sometimes you have to pick the gun up to put the gun down.”
While Syrian children like Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb were being tortured, killed, and mutilated by the Syrian government, what was U.S. President Barack Obama doing? Playing footsie with that very same government, trying to salvage dirty deals two years in the making aimed at throttling the Palestinians and Hezbollah in Lebanon once and for all in a grand bargain for Middle East “peace.”
Of course Obama is not prescient nor is he a psychic. He could not have known about Al-Khateeb’s suffering as it was actually happening. But as the pile of bodies grew too high to hide and the atrocities too gruesome, heinous, and well-documented to ignore, on May 19, 2011 Obama called on Assad, who he said had “chosen the path of murder,” to “lead” Syria’s transition to democracy .
So while the Syrian people paid in blood for saying the regime must go, Washington said that the regime must stay. Three months later, Obama reluctantly concede that his negotiation partner Assad must step down, but his administration steadfastly insisted that the security, police, and military killing machine that is slaughtering civilians stay in place without the old boss Bashar. Obama’s Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta put it this way: “The best way to preserve … stability is to maintain as much of the military and police as you can, along with security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government.”
Hope! The administration whose governing philosophy might best described as “the audacity of nope” hopes that the rapists, murderers, and torturers of the Syrian people will some day lead their victims out of the bloody, hellish nightmare they created to the land of democracy, human rights, and rule of law. Of course the Obama administration is neither stupid nor naïve enough to seriously think that the Syrian state machine will develop a conscience, but Assad-ism without Assad is without a doubt their preferred outcome at this point.
Obama Says No to Intervention
The Obama administration is trying to mend, not end, the murderous Assad regime. Once you understand that, you can see why:
- The U.S. responded so differently to similarly murderous rampages by dictators in Libya and Syria.
- The U.S. provides minimal non-lethal aid to the FSA ($25 million).
- The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is blocking the FSA from getting heavy weapons that would destroy Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and artillery.
- NATO declined to invoke the “self-defense” clause of its charter after Syria shot down two Turkish planes a few months ago.
These actions have produced a one-sided slaughter in Syria, not a civil war where both sides are equally aided by rival powers. Obama does not want the FSA to win and destroy Assad’s precious state machine, so he gave a green light to Assad’s murderous campaign against his own people:
I have, at this point not ordered military engagement in the situation, but, the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. It is an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria, it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us, we cannot have a situation where chemical and biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people… a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus, that would change my equation.
Here, Obama raised the bar for U.S. intervention so high to make it impossible for Assad to cross the “red line” and change U.S. imperialism’s calculus. Assad now has Obama’s go-ahead to use chemical weapons on Syrians, just not “a whole bunch” of them. Zyklon-B is a-ok by Washington, just not “a whole bunch of” it.
So Western progressives who have been warning of U.S. military action against Syria ever since the Assad regime first blamed Syria’s protests on “foreign plots” and been dead wrong for 18 months straight can heave a sigh of relief. The U.S. will not be attacking Assad’s military any time soon. The slaughter of the Syrian people will continue unabated without meaningful outside interference. Once again, the Allies have refused to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz — but this time, with the support of Western progressives.
My other writings on the Arab Spring:
- “The Revolution Betrayed: Obama and the Syrian Uprising,” The North Star, September 16, 2012
- “Aiding the Syrian Revolution: a Guide to Action,” The North Star, August 26, 2012
- “Act Now, Save Syria,” Independent Voter Network, August 20, 2012
- “Assad’s Bloodhounds: the Party for Socialism and Liquidation,” Polizeros, August 20, 2012
- “’Hands Off Syria’ and Other Slogans of Assad’s Fans,” The Indypendent, August 16, 2012
- “Our Responsibility to the Arab Spring,” Kasama Project, August 4, 2012
- “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools,” Comment Middle East, July 21, 2012
- “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong,” Comment Middle East, July 5, 2012