Indiscriminately shelling your own population might be A Very Bad Thing, but in many parts of the world it does not in itself get the “International Community” to sit up and take notice. But when your armed forces target and kill journalists and photographers from the USA and France, one of whom represented a British newspaper, notice is indeed taken.
So it has been with the killing by the Syrian army of journalist Marie Colvin, US citizen and reporter for the Sunday Times, and French snapper Remi Ochlik. Ms Colvin was a veteran war reporter, who had lost the sight of an eye during her time in Sri Lanka covering the recent civil war, and it seems she and Ochlik were deliberately targeted by forces increasingly out of control, and losing their discipline.
Reaction has been swift: Nicolas Sarkozy correctly identified the act as “assassination” and made the forthright statement that “this regime must go”. William ‘Ague was similarly unimpressed: the Syrian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office for a diplomatically worded but forthright bollocking. Words like “horrified” and “unacceptable” are used sparingly in such circles.
What makes the situation in cities like Homs even less predictable is that Bashar al-Assad and his Government may not be in total control of the military: already there have been defections, and opposition troops appear to be in control of more and more of the countryside. If Assad is behind the continued bombardment, he is in line to be charged with crimes against humanity.
But one thing has to be borne in mind when calls come to arm the rebels, or arm them with rather more than a few Kalashnikovs, and that is the interest of Russia in the country. Nobody wants to see the conflict suck in any more armies than those already on the ground – if at all possible – and keeping the Russians (and Chinese) on side must be A Good Thing for the future.
So now that the “International Community” has sat up and taken notice, what can it do, short of some kind of intervention? The ideal solution would be to work in consort with the Russians, to whom Assad will listen, whether he likes it or not, to get a ceasefire. If that can’t be achieved, then perhaps the Russians will see that something like a no-fly zone (as in Libya) is in their interests as well as ours.
Either way, Assad should, as I’ve said previously, get ready to leave and figure out somewhere that will allow him to take asylum. After directing so much brutality against his own people, he can’t expect them to treat him with any more deference than that shown to Muammar Gaddafi. He must go, and it would be better for all concerned if he went right now.
Because, out in the wider world, patience with Bashar al-Assad is wearing thin.