No Dialogue With Assad

The New York Times: Room For Debate

In calling for dialogue with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus, the United Nations Security Council is missing a key point: After killing more than 8,000 civilians, Assad and fellow corrupt authoritarian elites have made it abundantly clear that they will stay in power at any cost, and no international agreement can restore them to domestic legitimacy.

Had Syria’s rulers been seriously concerned about the future of the country as a whole, rather than their own parochial interests, they would not have deployed their media outlets to deepen sectarian divides, nor would they have employed brutal tactics to crush the protests that began in March 2011. A regime that orders its soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters and pound residential neighborhoods indiscriminately with tanks and helicopters is not interested in negotiations.

Half-hearted calls for dialogue with Assad communicate to him that the international community will once again confer legitimacy on his regime once he’s done killing those who support democratic reforms.

Assad and his cronies are clearly interpreting the lack of international outrage as a green light for further escalation, as they deploy tanks and heavy artillery in Homs and do their worst to retake the areas they’ve lost.

Arab and international diplomatic efforts have not stopped the bloodshed, nor have they deterred Iran and Russia from continuing to supply Syria with weapons, intelligence and training. The U.S. and its allies should call for Assad to step down immediately, and prepare to arm his opponents. Syria is already in a state of civil war, and arming opposition forces will at least give them a chance to protect themselves.

International leaders are no fools, and their insistence on dialogue at this stage makes them both morally complicit in the continuing crackdown, and culpable for the instability that will result if Assad clings to power. After all, an animal is never more dangerous than when it is wounded.