The Obama Administration and almost all Western leaders are totally frustrated by their inability to stop the on-going carnage in Syria. Even the U.N. admits to over 9000 people killed through March, with the number now assumed to be greater than 12,000. The horror that the world saw last week of more than 100 people tied up and shot in Houla has precipitated this week’s agonizing discussion about what can be done to force the Syrian Government to step down or at least cease the horrific violence.
The fact is that the Assad regime is not collapsing. The Alawite sect of Shiites from whence the Assad family comes represents only 10% of the population. Were they to relinquish power they would need to run for their lives. The Iranians, also Shiites, are the firsthand military suppliers in the region for the Assad regime, with the Russians helping their long-time client Syria with the heavy equipment, a large shipment of which just went out last week. The regime also has the nastiest collection of chemical (and perhaps biological) weapons collection in the region.
Syria has been under the rule of the Assad family for over four decades despite the fact that Syria is a predominantly Sunni country. Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000 after his father’s death and has become as ruthless as was his father in his treatment of those who oppose his regime. (The 1982 bombing and destruction in Hama by President Hafez al-Assad is still considered the greatest slaughter by Muslims against Muslims in history, killing between 15-30,000 people.)
Efforts initiated by the Arab League have failed to even negotiate a ceasefire. The Kofi Anan mission sent by the U.N. has not brought the violence under control. Syria has a larger population than Libya, where the West did intervene, but it is compacted into a land area that is much smaller than Libya. It also has no vital oil reserves as does Libya.
The rebels have no national leadership and few prominent figures. The rebels are poorly armed and have no chance against the Assad army. Assad knows that as long as Russia befriends Syria, the U.N. and the international community can and will do nothing but talk. Ambassador Susan Rice can continue to speak out poignantly as the point person for the President, but she is just the voice of their frustration.
The Obama Administration will not act unilaterally, even with aerial bombardment. Without a multi-lateral operation and preferably under the U.N. there can be no military action. At the moment there is no likelihood that the Russians will let this happen.
As was the case in parts of Black Africa and in parts of Asia, human suffering and violence even against women and children does not elicit a sense of humanitarian outrage. Screams for help will continue and breast beating will escalate, but until Assad is killed or gets expelled by his own people Syria will continue to see its people being slaughtered indiscriminately. Without absolute, explicit, public Arab involvement and full participation the West will not act militarily in Syria.