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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kill Assad?

In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens argues that if President Obama attacks Syria, he should kill Bashar al-Assad.
Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar's brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family's power, including all of their official or unofficial residences. The use of chemical weapons against one's own citizens plumbs depths of barbarity matched in recent history only by Saddam Hussein. A civilized world cannot tolerate it. It must demonstrate that the penalty for it will be acutely personal and inescapably fatal.

Maybe this strikes some readers as bloody-minded. But I don't see how a president who ran for his second term boasting about how he "got" Osama bin Laden—one bullet to the head and another to the heart—has any grounds to quarrel with the concept.

As it is, a strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that will not run afoul of the only red line Mr. Obama is adamant about: not getting drawn into a protracted Syrian conflict. And it is the one option that has a chance to pay strategic dividends from what will inevitably be a symbolic action.


And so to the Kill Assad option. On Monday John Kerry spoke with remarkable passion about the "moral obscenity" of using chemical weapons, and about the need to enforce "accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people." Amen, Mr. Secretary, especially considering that you used to be Bashar's best friend in Washington.

But now those words must be made to mean something, lest they become a piece of that other moral obscenity: the West's hitherto bland indifference to Syria's suffering. Condemnation can no longer suffice. It recalls the international reaction to Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia, captured by the magazine Punch:
"We don't want you to fight/but by jingo if you do/We will probably issue a joint memorandum/Suggesting a mild disapproval of you." Mussolini went on to conquer the country—using chemical weapons.

The world can ill-afford a reprise of the 1930s, when the barbarians were given free rein by a West that had lost its will to enforce global order. Yes, a Tomahawk aimed at Assad could miss, just as the missiles aimed at Saddam did. But there's also a chance it could hit and hasten the end of the civil war. And there's both a moral and deterrent value in putting Bashar and Maher on the same list that once contained the names of bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.
Very nice, but who will take Assad's place? Al-Qaeda? Seven of the nine groups making up the Free Syrian Army are Islamists of various types....
There will be other occasions to consider the narrow question of Syria's future.
Sorry, but no. Unless you're willing to go in and occupy Syria to make sure the Islamists don't take over, please don't go killing Assad. I'd rather see him and the Islamists kill each other off than have the Islamists in charge of Syria. 

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At 4:19 PM, Blogger Empress Trudy said...

Obama speaks in narrow lawyerly terms of stopping the USE of chemical weapons not punishing the people and states which use them. It's as if Obama is running the Nuremberg trials and the only people he has in the dock are the makers of ZyklonB and the engineering firms which built the gas chambers. In short it's clear that even if Obama does something and it's not obvious he will, that he will leave the Syrians to slaughter one another w/o the use of chemical weapons, or, more likely, with the use of AS MANY chemical weapons.


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