So, getting rid of ISIS but letting Bashar al-Assad off scot-free is the way to go? I think not.
We have been here before. Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Radovan Karadžic, Omar al-Bashir… Simplistic it may be, but remove a criminal dictator and things at least have a chance of getting better. Between them, with the support of first the Soviet Union and then Russia, Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad have corrupted and ruined Syria. Now there is talk that, post-ISIS, Bashar al-Assad should be allowed to remain in power – that’s if Islamic State (ISIS) can be conveniently done away with, which is doubtful.
Bashar Hafez al-Assad is President of Syria and commander-in-chief of the Syrian Armed Forces, although he is hardly ever seen in uniform. He prefers the image of a suave diplomat and avuncular family man. Yet, a large body of evidence collected by UN investigators points to the complicity of senior Syrian officials, including Assad, in crimes against humanity and war crimes. The scale and viciousness of the abuses defy belief.
Human rights groups have also recorded how, over many years, Assad’s General Security Directorate (secret police) has routinely tortured, imprisoned, and killed political opponents and those who speak out against the regime. In addition, hundreds of Lebanese political dissidents have been held in prison since the Syrian occupation of Lebanon (1976-2005), some for over 30 years.
In “The Paris tragedy and Bashar al-Assad’s future” (Al-Arabiya News, 19 November 2015), Manuel Almeida writes, “The notion that ISIS should be number one priority while the genocidal President of Syria is a matter to be dealt with when and if ISIS is defeated, is deeply flawed for a number of reasons beyond the obvious moral one.”
Almeida explains how Assad struck deals with ISIS to buy oil and gas on the cheap, assuring a source of energy to meet Syria’s electricity needs while providing crucial income for ISIS’s terrorist activities. ISIS controls eight power plants in Syria, including three hydroelectric facilities and Syria’s largest gas plant. Assad also released hundreds of jihadists from Syria’s jails in an attempt to portray the civil war as an existential battle between secular forces of moderation and fanatical religious militants. And the regime is directly responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties in the war, in part from its odious and criminal use of barrel bombs.
As noted in the report “Death Everywhere” War Crimes and Human Rights Abuses in Aleppo, Syria (2015):
“Amnesty International and other monitoring groups have documented hundreds of cases since January 2014 involving the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, as well as the torture and other ill-treatment, of civilians by the Syrian government in Aleppo city and its closest suburbs. These violations have taken place within the context of thousands of similar cases that have been documented across Syria since 2011. In so far as torture and enforced disappearances in Aleppo appear to have been perpetrated as part of a systematic and widespread attack on the civilian population by the Syrian government, these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.”
Chemical weapons, cluster bombs, Scud missiles, barrel bombs, fuel-air bombs, torture and execution lie at the door of the man that Western leaders are now considering propping up in order to defeat Islamic State – with which the Assad regime is in cahoots. The flawed logic is that after Islamic State is defeated, they can return to negotiating with Assad when we can be sure there will be a wringing of hands, political whitewashing, and immunity from prosecution.
No Western leader is willing openly to commission the assassination of the leader of another State and yet everyone would be mightily pleased if Assad were to be suddenly killed and the regime deposed. Let’s hope that one of the gods of Abraham is listening.