Day: January 10, 2012
Bashar al Assad is right. There is an international conspiracy to bring him down. The United States, Turkey, much of the Arab League and many European countries want him out. They are providing aid and comfort to the protesters, though so far as I can tell no arms and little encouragement to violence.
The President’s response in his first public statement in more than six months is to double down, attributing the rebellion to the international conspiracy rather than to an international effort to force him out due to his method of dealing with what originated as a nonviolent rebellion. He is not being obtuse. He knows perfectly well what is going on in the streets. He is trying to survive by rallying nationalist Syrians, especially minorities that fear a Sunni Islamist takeover, against the internationals.
The big question is whether the protesters should remain nonviolent in the face of a brutal doubling down. My answer is unequivocal: yes. Self-defense would of course be more than justified at this point. But the use of arms by the protesters will enable the regime to convince its shaky security forces to use more violence, reducing the numbers of people in the street. This is precisely what Bashar al Assad is counting on.
Nonviolence, however, should not mean passive. The protesters need to increase their numbers. The Arab League human rights observers have played a useful role in reducing the potential for overt regime violence and thereby encouraging people to go to the streets. The protesters should be courting them and asking for more, not calling for their withdrawal. The protesters should also be courting the security forces, which can only be done if the protests remain nonviolent.
The Arab League on Sunday called for UN training for its observers but failed to call on the UN Security Council to denounce the violence and send UN observers. It is important that the January 19 Arab League meeting overcome the obstacles to calling for UNSC action. The Syrian National Council should focus on ensuring that it happens.
The continuing splits in the Syrian opposition are mainly these: secularist/Islamist, violence/nonviolence, international military intervention/no international military intervention. My own preferences are clear: I’d choose secularist, nonviolence, no international military intervention, the last because I just do not think it is going to happen. But in the end, what counts is not what I would choose. What counts is that the Syrians somehow transcend these differences. Benjamin Franklin’s advice is apropos:
We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately