Juan Cole writes: The world community has failed Syria, just as it failed Rwanda and the Congo, though the human toll in Syria is a fraction of those killed in the African events. Russia and China have used their veto to block any effective United Nations Security Council resolution that might lead to regime change. India has also, unlike the Arab League, opposed any call for President Bashar al-Assad, the Butcher of Homs, to step down.
Those on the left and in the libertarian movement who stridently condemned Arab League and NATO intervention in Libya (which forestalled massacres like the one we just saw in the Baba Amr district of Homs) have been silent about al-Assad’s predations and clueless as to what to do practically. Perhaps they do not care if indigenous dictators massacre indigenous protesters, as long as there is no *gasp* international intervention.
The Baath one-party police state, dominated at the top by the minority Allawite Shiite sect, has deployed armor and artillery to bombard city quarters without regard to civilian casualties. Thousands of innocent civilians are dead at regime hands. Some 200,000 Syrians have had to flee their homes. While defectors from the military have formed a Free Syrian Army that has attacked and ambushed the regular army, these attacks have formed a minor part of the violence. Likewise, bombings by “al-Qaeda,” Sunni Muslim radicals, have been few and far between. Mostly, the violence has stemmed from government troops sniping at peaceful protesters. The protests have often been big, and they have been persistent, but they have predominated in medium-sized and smaller cities away from the capital of Damascus. They are unable by themselves to cause the regime to fall.
Many of the protests are economic, not ideological. In much of rural Syria, a persistent drought has deprived farmers and urban food distributors of enough water. The Baath Party, which back in the 1970s was very good at dams and irrigation works, has been unable to get the water flowing, either because the drought is too severe or because the party has become corrupt and inefficient. Likewise in many of the protesting cities, there are many fairly recent labor migrants from the countryside, whose hopes for urban jobs have been disappointed by the world economic crisis since 2008. Many of the demonstrations have been in working class districts of central cities, suffering most from high unemployment. To dismiss these civilian crowds of workers and farmers as “Salafis” and “al-Qaeda” is bad social science and just regime propaganda.