The Americans have finally ramped up sanctions and told Bashar al-Assad to resign as Syria's leader, but the thug's response is that he's there to stay and those who oppose him will be punished. He's can't work out the difference between blood and reform.
Finally the international community has ramped up the pressure on Syria’s dictator to step aside. “Time to get out of the way” Hilary Clinton scolded.
The entry of Barack Obama into the chorus sees him alongside Germany, Britain, France, the UN and Canada, and it is fair enough to ask what took him so long.
Perhaps he’s a little distracted with his own patch, or holding his breath that reports Qaddafi is about to flee will in face materialise. While he bailed not long after starting the air offensive in Libya, Obama could well do with a small victory from that wider region.
Now he has explicitly called for Bashar al-Assad to step aside, it does add gravitas to the international condemnation – albeit tardy – of Assad’s slaughter of his own people. But it is clear this homicidal autocrat is not listening...and his round-table interview Sunday was clear evidence that his answer to international condemnation is “worry me”.
To date Assad has shown that as far as his ilk in the Middle East and North Africa (and elsewhere for that matter) the apple does not fall far from the tree. He clearly learnt the art of the merciless crackdown from his murderous father, and the Qaddafi, Mubarak and Hussein sons have also been busy learning at the knees of their own nasty patres familias.
Assad is clearly, like Qaddafi and a few others in the neighbourhood, cognizant of the fate of his fellow butchers, and has decided to hang on till the bitter end rather than be dug out of a rabbit hole and hanged, publicly ridiculed in a court house cage, or imprisoned for the rest of his miserable life. (Tears not required).
There is no doubt the criticisms, diplomatic snubs and tightened sanctions, especially those targeting the country’s oil exports, will further isolate and hurt Syria economically. The idea is to starve the military of the cash it needs to keep killing its own people. However sanctions have to be tempered with China’s refusal to condemn and instead explore the opportunity to buy more oil for its insatiable industrial growth, Russia’s continued weapons supply, and Turkey’s holding back to give Assad a little more time to implement his promised reforms.
Apart from say he was going to reform Syria, has Assad done anything? Well he did change the military uniforms of school children (not personally you understand), and some heralded that as a significant cultural shift. Sorry, not good enough.
Although if you are seeking to find a redeeming feature – no matter how small - in Assad Jr., it could be his initial tinkering with the all pervasive military ideology of Syria that has given rise to the independent thinking that has driven ordinary citizens on to the streets to die for a better life for their compatriots. Smells more like karma than reform.
One of the major issues with the future of Syria – and Assad will go eventually – is who or what takes over from him and his regime.
The ‘opposition’ as much as it exists is meeting in Turkey to try and work out a national council to operate as a government in waiting, but as is oft said in the transition from dictatorship to democracy, once the power of the ruling elite is surrendered (or taken), it has to go to an organised ‘elite’ who can take the baton. That’s a big call for a group of political opponents who have been denied the tools of political organisation for decades.
Perhaps the US experts could be helping there....but not too much mind, because no incoming Syrian administration will last long with a “Made in America” tattooed on its collective forehead.
In the meantime Assad has decided to dig in, which is another way of saying Syrians are in for more bloodshed – a condition he seems to confuse with reform.
His interview talking points promised a process of “national dialogue”, his “total commitment” to wide-ranging reforms, freedom of the media and even a new constitution.
What planet does he think most of us are on?
Is it of no surprise to him that when he talks about returning Syria to its “normal way of life”, that is to promise a return to an existence thousands have now decided it is better to die to avoid? If you were a Syrian refugee in the sprawling emergency tent camps the Turks have set up to save your life, would you go back across the border into the waiting crosshairs... sorry arms...oops, sorry let’s try ‘bosom’ of the Syrian military whom Assad has promised is there for your protection? Not a chance.
And of course Assad, like all his panicking criminal mates touched on those strange little demons he was so blissfully unaware of during his tenure (and that of his father) – corruption, economic inequality, time for a free election... blah blah blah.
Assad has been promising the international community that all his military actions against the “terrorists” and “militants” have stopped, yet the body count and the eye witness tales of systematic killings mount.
And while no country has given a nano-second of thought to invasion of Syria, Assad has raised that spectre as a straw man so he can look like the strong, tough leader defending his people when he warns that the consequences of any such action would be horrific for the invader.
Yes he is right that Syria is a pivotal country in the troubled Middle East but that does not translate into Syria’s leaders being tolerated to do anything to stay in power. Not in the changed climate of the Arab Spring/Summer.
So, now Assad has said he will not go, and he has vowed to “get tough” on the ‘militants’. And surprise, surprise anyone found “guilty” of involvement in actions against his regime will be “punished”.
Is the punishment that now accounts for more than 2 thousand bodies not tough enough?
It is to be hoped that Qaddafi falls in the next day or so, and that inspires the Syrian people further in their quest for freedom. More crucially, it needs to sway those who are propping up Assad to realise that time is running out and they have backed the wrong guy. Best, like many close to Qaddafi, to cut their losses now and deliver the tyrant to his angry people – in a controlled court of course, not the way he has delivered them to their fate.