The West Must Finally Respond
From the beginning of the Syrian revolution, I was convinced that the Assad regime’s reaction to the peaceful demonstrations quickly spreading across the country would be directly affected by the response in turn of the international community. Therefore, I continuously pushed for international resolutions that would hold Assad accountable for the ever-increasing killings and atrocities perpetrated by his forces in Syria.
The United Nations Security Council, which certainly could have exerted some legitimate influence over Assad’s behavior, remained completely closed because of Russian and Chinese veto power. This made Assad feel immune to any international action against him, which in turn gave him more confidence with every step he took toward committing additional levels of violence against the Syrian people.
So, Assad began tentatively using the Syrian air force; he feared that extensive bombardment would elicit a violent reaction from the international community, as happened to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya. Assad’s sporadic, and then later regular, aerial bombardment of civilian populations and infrastructure was met with only rhetorical condemnation from the international community and reports from international non-governmental organizations detailing human rights violation.
Later, Assad resorted to using ballistic missiles, like Scuds, in a vain attempt to intimidate the Syrian people and retake lost territory. NATO counted the number of missiles raining down on Aleppo, rather than preventing them from falling on civilians. This encouraged Assad to kill more civilians; he is reported to have begun firing diluted chemical weapons on Khan al-Assal, Sheikh Maksoud, Ghouta and elsewhere. The international reaction was that the West had no interest in getting sucked into a civil war.
Then, as the revolutionaries began advancing quickly in the Damascus suburbs and Latakia, Assad’s desperation grew. His base of support pressured him to kill and intimidate more civilians. There is no other reason for Assad’s now broad use of chemical weapons except as a desperate attempt to completely crush the revolution and make any international response impossible because of the burgeoning chaos within the country.
Thus far, Assad has emerged unscathed from every reprehensible escalation of violence he has committed against his own people. The United States, in concert with an international coalition of the willing, must bring a hasty end to the Syria conflict and prevent horrific chemical attacks like those inflicted on Eastern Ghouta last week. Targeted airstrikes should be conducted and a no-flight zone enforced in order to protect civilians from further regime bombardment. Maybe then, the age of impunity in Syria could finally end and a new of era of hope and accountability could begin.
Radwan Ziadeh is the spokesman for the Syrian National Council, and a fellow at ISPU.
This article was published by the New York Times on August 26, 2013. Read it here.