Playing into Assad’s game
By Tom H. Hastings
The US media has been especially emetic recently in their coverage of the sequester. While cuts to human services, education, health care, and environmental protection are huge, most of the stories are all about how this will hurt the military, will threaten our national security, will ripple out into the civilian world, and woe woe woe. Really?
How is it, then, that John Kerry has just promised $60 million in starter funds plus more “non lethal” aid to the Free Syrian Army, the irregulars in Syria who are mirroring some of the worst of the Assad regime? The FSA has tortured, killed civilians, and shut down all current hope of a nonviolent solution to this civil war. John! Where is that $60 million coming from? Do they let you just walk into the printing room at the US Dept of Treasury and grab a suitcase full? Who do you think is going to pay for it, now that the budget is sequestered and all we hear is whining from the military and their media buds? At least Fox News is your new BFF, eh?
Kerry is talking about sending military vehicles to the FSA while NPR reports from Pentagon spokespeople that the US military–thanks to the sequester–will be short on military vehicles. John! Are you paying attention or are you just paying thugs to continue a violent revolution they hijacked from a very promising nonviolent civil society Arab Spring uprising two years ago?
Syrian and Iranian officials responded predictably, asserting that this aid will only prolong the war, which is almost certainly true. When dictators face elections–as Assad will next year–they usually run out of excuses and lose when they face organized nonviolent civil society opposition, even when they brutally suppress it. This happened to Pinochet, Milosevic, and to hand-picked successors to crime bosses like Kuchma in Ukraine, and yet now we see Bashar al-Assad given the perfect excuse to postpone elections indefinitely and the US is contributing to that.
Yes, the Iranian and Syrian officials are cynical. Syria’s Walid al-Moallem and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi claim that Syria’s regime is legitimate and that Syria is a sovereign nation and everyone should shut up about whatever Bashar al-Assad wants to do to his lowly subjects. This is quite 19th-century of them, at best, but when Kerry arranges support for the armed revolution, he is Just So 20th Century. Yes, Assad’s sovereignty stops at violations of human rights, but now we know that nonviolent interventions, coupled with support for nonviolent indigenous civil society opposition, work best, and incur lower costs for all parties.
Back when Assad was being terribly brutal toward a mostly nonviolent opposition, Iran criticized him. The foreign minister of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi told Assad to recognize the legitimate voices of Syrians and even Ahmadinijad said the crackdown should stop. Thanks to the justification provided first by the FSA and now by the USA, Iran has closed ranks and is attacking the US. This is so unnecessary and so very unhelpful to Syrians (remember them, John?).
If we could apply the sequester double-time to the US military and use a small part of that instead to support nonviolent civilian movements we would repair much of the damage to the US image worldwide even as we would be far far more effective at spreading sustainable democracy.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings directs PeaceVoice.