...after more than 1,300 deaths, in his third address to the nation since the crisis erupted in mid-March, he said on Monday that Syrians “have showed great love and amity toward me I have never felt before”.
Whether or not Mr Assad is personally inclined to resolve the crisis by violence, he is beginning to appear like Macbeth – albeit without the imputed nobility of Shakespeare’s cadences – when he muses wearily (Act III, Scene IV) that: “I am in blood stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
Gardner goes on to outline how Assad and his cronies may continue to wade in gore.
The Assads’ power base is far from unassailable. There are fissures within their minority Alawite community, a heterodox tributary of Shia Islam, through which they control the army and its elite units and the security services. Maher al-Assad’s 4th division is now so overstretched that the regime is having to use less reliable units it has kept starved of everything, from munitions to petrol, as a matter of policy. That implies risks in an army made up, if not commanded by, the majority Sunni population. The security forces’ casualties earlier this month at Jisr al-Shughour near the Turkish border followed a mutiny by about 50 soldiers and mid-ranking officers, Damascus-based diplomats say.
The chutzpah of the Syrian leadership is such that the photos and video of dead Syrian soldiers in Jisr al-Shughour [formerly Edessa, a famous Crusader redoubt in the early Middle Ages] is of soldiers murdered by Syria's brutal intelligence agencies who serve as political commissars with AK-47s aping Stalin's murderous goons by shooting soldiers less enthusiastic in their killing of innocent civilians. The vivid pictures are accompanied by plaintive commentary by the hypocritical RELIGION OF PEACE murderers. The likelihood of many of the citizens' being Christians is high in that part of Syria.
Gideon Rachman also isn't exactly optimistic:
A few weeks ago, I heard a senior person in the Obama administration talk about the situation in Syria. One of the problems with Bashar al-Assad, he said, was that the Syrian leader was still surrounded by his father’s old cronies. But one positive development, he mused, was that it was no longer possible simply to kill 10,000 protesters in a single city, as Hafez al-Assad once did.
I wonder whether that may be too optimistic?
The reports from Syria are certainly alarming. Refugees flooding across the Turkish border. And the citizens of the rebellious town of Jisr al-Shugour, bracing themselves for a full-scale assault by the army.
I think the idea that the Syrian army could not simply kill thousands of their fellow citizens was based on two assumptions – or, perhaps, hopes. First, that in the internet age, it would be impossible to carry out bloody repression on this scale, without immediately provoking a paralysing international outcry. Second, that the development of the international doctrine of a “responsibility to protect” brutalised civilians – even within the boundaries of a sovereign state – would make Assad junior stay his hand.
But, in fact, the Syrian control of international coverage of the unrest inside their country has been remarkably effective. A few smuggled out photos taken on mobile phones and some hasty phone interviews, on crackly lines, simply do not provide the depth of coverage and therefore the international pressure, generated by the hundreds of foreign reporters and cameras in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. So much, for all that guff about the irresistible power of Facebook and Twitter. Television cameras and foreign reporters on the ground still matter more.
As for the “responsibility to protect” – the Libyan intervention is the most dramatic example of the doctrine in action, yet recorded. But the problems and controversy surrounding Libya, have actually demonstrated how hard it will be to replicate. Even at the time of the Libyan resolution, it was pretty clear that the West was unlikely to have the stomach or the manpower to stage a similar operation in Syria.
The fact that China, Russia, South Africa and others feel that the UK, France and the US have gone well beyond the mandate to “protect civilians” in Libya – and are now clearly engaged in attempted regime change - is also making it much harder to get a new resolution on Syria approved.
So, all in all, I fear that the idea that the Syrian government will not be able to get away with mass murder may prove too optimistic. In the long run, I suspect a really savage crackdown will seal the fate of the Assad regime. But, in the short run, I think they could well get away with it. Let’s hope that, even now, they pull back.