Occasionally this blog calls it wrong, and the situation in Syria, where Bashar al-Assad is still clinging on, is one of those times: I was sure back in February that he would be gone soon, and that not even the Russians would sit back and tolerate the continued brutality directed at his own people. It didn’t happen, and there are two reasons for this.
United Nations Headquarters, New York City
First is that the Russians are indeed content to sit back and let al-Assad keep on butchering his own population, and with no regard for age, sex, infirmity, religious affiliation or, perhaps most importantly, location. Few places are safe. And the second reason is that timescales have been lengthened by the ceasefire negotiated with great patience by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Sadly, despite the apparent approval of the Russians, the ceasefire seems only to be observed when the Syrian armed forces can be bothered. And most of the time, they can’t be. So the ceasefire is gradually unravelling, and the mass killings are occurring more often. This week brought a massacre of over a hundred in the town of Houla, almost fifty of them children.
Then only yesterday came news of another mass killing, this time of factory workers, showing not only the indiscriminate nature of the attacks, but the sheer stupidity behind them. And while many hesitated, in Paris newly elected President Hollande took decisive action and expelled the Syrian ambassador. Those who had characterised him as a softy leftist were briefly silenced.
Then Kofi Annan, while urging proper adoption of his peace plan, said what was becoming obvious: Syria had arrived at the “tipping point”. Without any change of course from Assad, and in the face of continued intransigence from Russia (and perhaps China), from this point on there will be a steady and irreversible descent into full scale civil war.
Assad has the better equipped armed forces, and thus far the West has not had the stomach for intervention, especially as Russia and China are opposed and the situation is so much more complex than it was in Libya. But the rebels are getting weapons, desertions from the Syrian army continue, and the possibility of other countries being sucked in grows all the time.
And the way out for Assad is as before: he has to go before there can be any solution. Even then, the Syria of old may not endure. But the current conflict will carry on at least until he does go, and the longer it goes on, the greater the likelihood that Assad will end up facing summary execution in the manner of Muammar Gaddafi or Nicolae Ceausescu.
How many more deaths until he goes? That’s the saddest part.