Editorial: Have Syrians had enough of being afraid?

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The fighting in and around Damascus intensifies as the Syrian people attempt to do what the rest of the world won't in the face of evil: eradicate it from their midst.

The battle for the Syrian capital has apparently begun, with the government under President Bashar al-Assad intensifying its shelling of civilian neighborhoods in the wake of the opposition assassinations of three top level cabinet officers this week - a former deputy chief of staff of the military (also Assad's brother-in-law), the minister of defense and a major general. The bombing that took their lives came perilously close to Assad's own residence, prompting rumors that he, too, was injured - apparently not the case - and the departure from the city of Assad's mother, wife and children. That a disorganized and reportedly poorly armed opposition could get that close in an iron-fisted police state suggests an unprecedented vulnerability, at least in this modern era.

No doubt an opposition movement that now perceives those cracks is hoping to exploit them. There has been talk of defections from Assad's inner circle of protectors following this latest show of weakness, though it's difficult to tell how much of that is wishful thinking. Some have suggested that this bombing so close to Assad's home could only have been an inside job.

Meantime, if past is prologue, there will be an escalation in the violence. Assad knows no other way, though his tactics thus far seem not to have intimidated the rebels. At some point you just get fed up with being afraid all of the time, which the residents of Syria have had good reason to be for more than four decades. Assad's father ruled Syria viciously for almost 30 years before the son came to power in the year 2000. The apple did not fall far from the tree.

Indeed, for the last 16 months Assad has ordered the systematic murder of his own people - including innocent women and children who became collateral damage - in order to maintain his hold on power. Remember, this all started with a few teenagers spraying anti-government graffiti on a few buildings, to which that government responded by torturing them. Street protests then erupted, with Assad - proportionate in his reaction, as always - ordering his military to fire missiles on civilian populations from tanks and helicopters.

Of course, the United Nations has tried to intervene in its usual limp-wristed way, to no avail. The reality is that the U.N. is hamstrung by China and Russia - perhaps fearful of revolts against their own repressive regimes - which exercised their vetoes as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council this week to any tightening of sanctions against Syria, which the United States and the European Union have already implemented. That kind of enabling of crimes against humanity is what has allowed Assad to thumb his nose at the Arab League and the rest of the world.

About the only thing the West can do at this point - besides helping to arm the rebels, as Russia has Assad - is to shame those two nations, to the degree they are capable of that emotion. Perhaps Assad and his family can move to one of them if he loses power but survives. The U.S. should be available to that new Syrian government if and when that happens, while shouting to the rooftops for Assad's surrender to the World Court at the Hague for prosecution of his crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, there are legitimate worries about Assad turning his chemical weapons on his own people, or losing control of that stockpile to a black market, which won't allow the West to sleep easy.

Obviously, the world is better off without some people in it, or at least exercising any influence in it - Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Moammar Gadhafi (Libya), Slobodon Milosevic (Serbia, the former Yugoslavia), Charles Taylor (Liberia), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan), any of the Kims (North Korea), etc. Assad certainly belongs on that Olympic team of tyrants.

Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.