Friday, March 23, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #49 - Part 3


I've been wanting to talk about this for weeks, but it always got pushed aside, there always was something else that took precedence. I tried to get in a much-shortened version of it last week, but again I ran out of time.

The revolt in Syria is just over a year old now. The government of Bashar al-Assad marked the occasion with what one person accurately called "a Potemkin rally" in Damascus, a sort of command performance in support of the regime.

Opponents also tried to mark it with demonstrations in a number of cities only to find those gatherings being shot at by the military - as pretty much any gathering of nonviolent protesters can now expect there.

That's the way the movement started: massive street protests, particularly in Damascus, against the 40-year dictatorship first of Hafez al-Assad and now of his son Bashar, massive unarmed street protests that were being fired on by soldiers loyal to Assad. But the protests continued. The government couldn't break the protesters and the protesters couldn't break the government. As the protests continued and continued to be met with deadly violence and repression, they spread and hardened and what began as street protests has now evolved into what can only be called an armed insurgency.

The protests started as part of so-called Arab Spring, the wave of protests that swept away regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and just last month in Yemen. But the level of violent repression in Syria dwarfs that seen in those three. In Yemen, the new government said that over 2,000 people were killed over the last year of protests - but that number is just a fraction of those killed by the Assad regime: Independent estimates put that figure at perhaps over 9,000.

Assad's mass murder of his own people has earned him condemnation even from some unexpected quarters: Sometime back the Arab League suspended Syria's membership and has called for Assad to step down. They want him out, gone.

But it doesn't seem likely that will happen anytime soon: US intelligence reports suggest that Assad still has the support of most of the army as well as the nation's elite and that his downfall, if it is to come, will be a matter of months, not weeks. And now opposition forces in and out of Syria are calling for international military intervention and, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, urging the rebels be armed by the international community.

Two things here. One is that I am not going to give the rebels a free pass: When you turn to violence, you turn to what comes with it: The rebels have employed car bombings; in fact, there were two this past weekend in Syria, killing scores and wounding hundreds.

At the same time, as is often true, the levels of violence don't begin to compare: We have scores on one side versus over 9000 on the other. That does not constitute a balance or even, at least in some senses of the term, a moral equivalence. And the destruction and death that Assad has brought to the people of Syria has raised anger and fury all across the world.

But here is the real thing, the real reason I so wanted to bring this up: Months ago on this show I condemned Barack Obama, I said he had disgraced himself and his office by ignoring the War Powers Act and actively snubbing Congress in his eagerness for military intervention in Libya. The justification for that, you may recall, was the hypothetical threat of a possible massacre in the Libyan city of Banghazi if Muammar Qaddafi's forces could capture it.

Now, in face of a real, ongoing, day-by-day massacre in Syria, the response pretty much limited to a sternly worded letter.

Let me be clear: I do not want intervention in Syria; I find it to be an extremely rare occasion when the best response to a pile of bodies is making a bigger pile of bodies.

But what I do want is for someone to explain to me, explain to me in very simple words, why in face of a possible massacre in Libya intervention was absolutely necessary, so necessary that neither the law nor the Constitution could serve as barriers, but in the face of a real massacre in Syria any such action of any sort is completely off the table - and explain it, if you can, in words that do not involve the letters o-i-l.


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