Obama on Syria

December 22nd, 2011
Published: Dec. 22, 2011 at 6:33 AM United Press International

By JAMES. G. ZUMWALT
UPI Outside View Commentator

HERNDON, Va., Dec. 22 (UPI) — Nearly half a century ago, Bob Dylan wrote a protest song entitled “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The song proffered questions about peace, war and freedom. Among the lyrics, Dylan posed the following inquiry of man:

“And how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?”

The answer to this question lies in the responder’s perception as to how many people have died.

On the night of Feb. 26, 1991, during the first Gulf war, U.S. forces caught a convoy of almost 2,000 Iraqi vehicles in transit along Highway 80, stretching from Kuwait City on to Basra. Mines dropped from U.S. planes blocked the forward advance of the convoy; vehicles in the rear, destroyed by air attack, blocked a retreat; desert sands prevented an off-road escape. Boxed in, the convoy became a “sitting duck.”

Dubbed the “Highway of Death,” the scenes of devastation became one of the most recognizable images of that war. Viewing film footage of the convoy’s destruction, President George H. W. Bush perceived “too many people have died” and ordered an immediate end to hostilities.

With the convoy still smoldering two days later, the author was among those surveying the carnage. Few human remains were visible. Appearances had proved deceiving — while the total devastation suggested thousands died in the onslaught, few actually perished as most had abandoned their vehicles, escaping on foot.

But a “kinder and gentler” president, who well understood the ravages of war from his own World War II service, sought to end the killing — even though those being killed had brutalized innocent Kuwaiti citizens.

Twenty years after the first Persian Gulf war, we see a dictator, Bashar Assad, ruthlessly torturing, mutilating and killing Syrian citizens who for months have demonstrated peacefully against his brutal rule.

Not only has he ordered his security and military forces to so act, he has allowed his equally brutal ally, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to dispatch covert units into Syria in an effort to intimidate demonstrators as well.

No Syrian is safe, not even those seeking quietly to bury their dead, as a group of funeral mourners recently learned.

On Dec. 12, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay informed the U.N. Security Council that, after almost 11 months of protests, at least 5,000 Syrians have lost their lives, including 300 children. She reported Assad issued orders to his military and security forces “to shoot unarmed protestors without warning.”

Within 24 hours after Pillay’s report, 40 more civilians lay dead at the hands of Assad’s army of executioners.

Despite threats of actions by the Arab League and pressure by the West, Assad continues to paint the city streets red with the blood of the innocent.

That flow of blood may soon increase. Pillay also reported Assad’s army will be on the march to strike at the heart of the unrest in the city of Homs.

Assad recognizes that time is a factor in cutting out the heart of the opposition. The international community has been slow to take action; therefore, he must strike to wipe the opposition out before that community decides enough is enough, organizing and embarking upon a more aggressive policy.

Well aware of the fate that has befallen other recently toppled tyrants in the region, Assad knows losing his fight isn’t an option.

The question must now be put to U.S. President Barak Obama whether “too many people have died” in Syria for the United States not to take a more aggressive stand against Assad before he unleashes his military to increase the opposition’s body count.

A U.S. president’s perception will once again determine what step the United States takes next.

Obama’s perception, perhaps more strongly than ever before, is Assad will fall. Even the Israelis, who initially believed it wouldn’t likely happen, now say the collapse of Assad’s dictatorship is imminent.

But it may well take many more months for the collapse to occur — giving Assad additional time to pursue a resolution along the lines his father did almost three decades earlier.

Meanwhile, we can expect Obama, once again, to adopt a laissez faire attitude on Syria — content to allow events play out there while he does nothing — thus clearing the way for Assad to murder thousands more innocent civilians.

Obama’s inaction ignores Assad’s family history. It was Assad’s father, Hafez, who in 1982 razed the town of Hama, murdering thousands of Sunnis opposing his regime. It is estimated in one weekend, he slaughtered at least 10,000 countrymen — claiming another 20,000 to 30,000 lives in the ensuing weeks.

While the son’s rate of slaughter is slower, there is nothing to stop him from picking up the pace in a similarly brutal sweep.

With the cloud of the executions of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi looming overhead, Bashar undoubtedly sees his fate is either to kill or be killed. His death throe will take with him as many fellow citizens as possible.

Assad the father’s massacre at Hama — described as one of “the single deadliest acts by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East” — may well pale in comparison to what Assad the son has in mind.

Ironically, to the query raised in Dylan’s song as to how many lives will it take before he knows too many people have died, Dylan’s refrain is ominously responsive to any answer Obama could give based on his actions to date in Syria:

“The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind,

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

(United Press International’s “Outside View” commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)
© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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