August 15, 2011(Examiner)
The Syrian government has killed more than 2,400 protesters over the past five months and will likely continue its violent crackdown unabated whilst facing nothing more than token resistance from the international community, according to a number of experts.
Although Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has now slaughtered more people than Gaddafi’s forces had killed in Libya when the UN authorized NATO to begin bombing Tripoli, the UN has yet to even ask Assad to step down.
This reluctance is driven by the likelihood the chaos of post-Assad Syria would make the current turmoil seem tame, as the prospect of full blown internecine warfare looms.
Not to mention, a power vacuum could easily be filled by Sunni Islamic extremists – a scenario Western nations such as the U.S. fear more than anything. Add this to long-term commercial interests many countries have at state, and it’s no wonder there hasn’t been a unified clarion call for Assad’s ouster.
Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times went so far as to suggest the majority of Syrian natives actually fear a post-Assad world because of the retributive bloodshed that would likely ensue, and claims Assad has “done the math” and doesn’t fear the opposition or Western intervention. As Escobar writes:
The Assad regime has done the math and realized it won’t fall as long as the protests don’t reach the capital Damascus and the major city of Aleppo – that is, convulse the urban middle class. The security/military apparatus is fully behind Assad. All Syrian religious minorities make up at least 25% of the population; they are extremely fearful of Sunni fundamentalists. Secular Sunnis for their part fear a regime change that would lead to either an Islamist takeover or chaos. So it’s fair to argue the majority of Syrians are indeed behind their government – as inept and heavy-handed as it may be.
Michael Bell, a former Canadian ambassador to the Middle East, believes the Assad regime will survive, despite sanctions, diplomatic isolation and economic dislocation because Assad and his father, who suppressed a 1982 Muslim Brotherhood uprising by slaughtering up to 20,000 people, have effectively kept the opposition weak and fragmented for decades.
If the current heterogeneous opposition took power, its lack of cohesive leadership and the fact sectarian and tribal identity might trump the quest for democracy, a division of the country into sovereign ethnic enclaves is a real possibility.
Although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been trying to mobilize oil and gas sanctions against Syria, her efforts are being hindered by Syrian allies like China and Russia, who both hold veto power on the UN Security Council.
India, South Africa and Brazil are also opposed to levying sanctions against Syria, let alone authorizing military force.
Russia has been hesitant to back any types of sanctions for obvious reasons, considering it stands to lose as much as $3.8 billion in revenue from Syrian arms contracts, according to the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
White House officials hoped Assad would feel the noose tightening when Saudi Arabia and the Arab league came forward to publicly denounce Syria last week.
However, the House of Saud’s sudden support for the people has been perceived as duplicitous considering Saudi Arabia has been a safe haven for dictators such as Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
The religiously-devout Saudi Sunnis wouldn’t mind seeing the demise of the secularly-minded Assad, who belongs to the syncretic Alawite sect of Shia Islam. Plus, Assad’s overthrow would be a crippling blow to the Shiites in Iran.
Outside of Iran, Turkey might wield the most influence with the Syrian regime and, truth be told, the Turks have a vested interest in Assad holding onto power because the last thing they want to see is an Iraqi-style sectarian civil war breaking out next door.
Last week Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Assad he could face the same fate as Gaddafi if he didn’t alter course. However, Turkish officials have indicated they trust Assad will impose reforms over the coming weeks.
Others believe this approach will simply provide Syria with more time to kill more demonstrators, because Assad has continually promised to implement reforms that have yet to materialize.
Then there are countries like Iraq who visibly support the Assad regime. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki urged protesters to stop “sabotaging” the Syrian government. According to the New York Times:
In a television interview this week, Mr. Maliki told the protesters to use the democratic process, not riots, to voice their displeasure, though Syria does not allow competitive, free elections.
Mr. Maliki last month hosted Syrian officials to discuss closer economic ties, including the construction of a gas pipeline that would run from Iran through Iraq to Syria.
The net effect of public condemnations and threats of sanctions have been close to nil in deterring Damascus, evidenced by the fact Syrian forces have killed more than 400 people within the past two weeks alone.
Even if the U.S. did officially demand Assad cede power, the Syrian regime sees the U.S. as powerless and irrelevant. In light of the blowback from the Libyan intervention, a costly war in Afghanistan and a financial crisis at home, Syria doubts the U.S. would act beyond moral lecturing. Escobar, again:
So the idea of the Barack Obama administration in the United States telling Assad to pack up and go is dead on arrival as a game-changer.
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