Bring Syria’s Assad and his backers to account now

John Allen and Charles R. Lister* write: For 5½ years, the Syrian government has tortured, shot, bombed and gassed its own people with impunity, with the resulting human cost clear for all to see: nearly 500,000 dead and 11 million displaced. Since Russia’s military intervention began one year ago, conditions have worsened, with more than 1 million people living in 40 besieged communities. Thirty-seven of those are imposed by pro-government forces.

While subjecting his people to unspeakable medieval-style brutality, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sabotaged diplomatic initiatives aimed at bringing a lasting calm to his country. The most recent such diplomatic scheme was trashed not just by Assad, but also Russia, whose aircraft were accused of subjecting a U.N.-mandated aid convoy to a ferocious two-hour attack in September.

Since then, at least 2,500 people have been killed and wounded in eastern districts of Aleppo, amid horrendous bombardment by Syrian and Russian aircraft, and Russia cynically vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have prohibited further airstrikes in the city.

It is time for the United States to act more assertively on Syria, to further four justifiable objectives: to end mass civilian killing; to protect what remains of the moderate opposition; to undermine extremist narratives of Western indifference to injustice; and to force Assad to the negotiating table. The United States should not be in the business of regime change, but the Assad clique and its backers must be brought to account before it is too late. The world will not forgive us for our inaction.

The consequences of continued inaction are dreadful. U.S. policy has never sought to decisively influence the tactical situation on the ground. Unrealistic limitations on vetting and a policy that prohibited arming groups to fight the regime left us unable to effectively fight the Islamic State or to move Assad toward a transition. U.S. policy and strategy on Syria had a major disconnect, in being focused militarily on a group that was a symptom of the civil war without any means to achieve the stated policy objective: Assad’s departure. [Continue reading…]

*John Allen, a retired U.S. Marine general, led the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013 and the international coalition to counter the Islamic State from 2014 to 2015. Charles R. Lister is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 thoughts on “Bring Syria’s Assad and his backers to account now

  1. Óscar Palacios

    Missing in the list of four justifiable objectives is to stop Saudi Arabia’s slaughter in Yemen. If I were Russian I would put that on the Westerner’s table. “You want us to stop bombing Aleppo? Sure! Tell the Saudis to stop bombing Yemen.” As long as there are multiple political standards instead of justice, the hypocrisy will forever provide ammunition to the likes of Putin. Americans want Russia to behave “well”, and it’s constantly slapping Russia in the wrist; but it says nothing to its spoiled children in Saudi Arabia and Israel.

    Why would Putin cave in, when he has, like America, the capacity to turn any country into radioactive ash? After the fall of the Soviet empire, the notion that the US was the “sole superpower” arose. Sure, Russia isn’t anywhere near the total sum of American power. And some writers love to point out that Russia’s GDP is smaller than Italy’s, for example. But Russian military muscle by far overwhelms every other potential adversary with the sole exception of the US. And even then, a MAD equilibrium exists between the two. Putin understood this. He only lacked the West’s media industry. I remember watching the tanks on CNN during the attempted coup in 1991; Putin must’ve watched that too. And though RT will never catch up with its Western counterparts, it fills vacuums and has been growing very aggressively. That’s why I say that Putin, above all, is a gifted alumnus of the West.

  2. Paul Woodward

    Putin can still engage in whataboutism even if the Saudis stop bombing Yemen (which of course the Saudis should). Moreover, however much the Russians might profess their interest in regional peace and stability, they probably welcome the continued bombing of Yemen precisely because it provides them with justification to denounce Western hypocrisy. Yes, Western powers should stop being so hypocritical, but don’t imagine that that would be a catalyst for political change inside Russia.

Comments are closed.