Frederic C. Hof writes: In March 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a fateful and catastrophic choice. In Deraa, regime thugs had pulled the fingernails off of teenagers guilty of the high crime of spray-painting anti-regime graffiti. Instead of going there to console and compensate families, he ordered the same thugs to open fire on demonstrators. With that decision, he signed his political death warrant — and perhaps that of Syria as well. What began in Deraa spread rapidly and (at first) peacefully. Now it consumes Syria entirely in a vicious and increasingly sectarian civil war.
Americans are now mourning the slaughter of innocents in Connecticut. Syrian children are terrorized, traumatized, injured, and killed daily. Americans wonder how to regulate the ownership of combat weaponry in the hands of private individuals. Syrians contemplate the horror of a regime that knows no limits in the methods it employs to stay in power, and an armed opposition no doubt tempted at times to mimic the behavior of those who do the unspeakable without regret or remorse.
What will be next? Chemical warheads mounted on Scud missiles launched in the general direction of rebel-held areas? Alawite villagers slaughtered by armed men seeking to avenge atrocities by a regime that has cynically and shamelessly put at risk the Alawite community?
In these circumstances, time is the enemy of humanity. The longer the regime has to break the Syrian people into combustible categories of sect and ethnicity, the greater the chance that Syria will become a stateless, chaotic and expanding black hole in a region where stability is a challenge in the best of circumstances. Lebanese, Turks and Jordanians already feel Syria’s agony — and share in it. Time, in this case, is not the great healer. Time is the deadliest of enemies. [Continue reading…]