The Syrian Tragedy

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Just a little over 60 days ago, on March 27, 2011, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer” in her testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee.  Not since September 30, 1938, when Neville Chamberlain descended from a plane after meeting with Herr Hitler, waving a piece of paper and declaring that he has achieved “Peace for our time,” has there been such a wholesale misreading of a very dangerous and volatile situation by a public leader, predicated, primarily, upon wishful thinking.

By now, the death toll from Bashar’s brutal regime’s war against his own people, participating in overwhelmingly peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrations, has reached 1,400. Human Rights Watch has put the number of protestors imprisoned at 10,000. Syrian authorities blame the violence on “armed gangs.”

Reports have just begun to come out, thanks to YouTube and Facebook, that the Syrian government is now using attack helicopters to fire machine guns and rockets at the demonstrators. Randomly, capriciously and unmercifully slaughtering its own citizens. They have fired on the undefended border towns, near Turkey, such as Jisr al Sugar and Maraat al Namaan. Latest reports say these helicopter gunships have killed more than 25 civilians.

Thousands of people are streaming out of these towns and fleeing to safety over the border to Turkey. At this point there are at least 4,300 refugees with the number steadily growing. The Syrian army has even been shooting at the refugees as they are in the process of fleeing over the border.

Everyone by now has become familiar with the name of Hamza Ali al Khateeb, the 13 year old boy who came out to an antigovernment demonstration in the town of Saida. He was arrested by the police and his extraordinarily mutilated, burned and tortured body was returned to his family later that day.  When his father saw the picture, he was so horrified , he passed out.

But there are so many more anonymous Hamzas. One only can imagine what happens to these freedom loving dissidents when they are held in the notorious Syrian prisons. For years the State Departments Human Rights Report has been documenting the arbitrary arrest of political prisoners, lack of due process, and grotesque prison torture and abuse by the Syrian government.

What leads a Secretary of State to have read the cards so seriously wrong when her own Department has been publishing these reports of human rights abuses for thirty years? Little has changed in these thirty years, since the current leader’s father Bashar al Assad masacred more than 20,000 civilians in the Syrian town of Hama in 1982.

No doubt this refusal to acknowledge the brutal reality of the Syrian regime by the State Department has been motivated by the Obama administration’s obsessive and irrational demand that Israel cede the Golan Heights (the militarily dominating high ground) to Syria as it encourages Israel to take yet another “risk for peace.” For many years, when peace talks break with the Palestinian down with the Palestinian track, the State Department and the administration shift to “the Syrian track” and demand the Israelis place their trust in the words and peaceful intentions of such brutal leaders as Bashar al Assad, or his late father, Hafez.

It is time, once and for all,  for some sober-headed realism and some truth in our foreign policy — not wishful thinking.  While American State Department officials might well be inspired by a Syrian White House Lawn Signing Ceremony with lofty speeches of “peace for our time,” Israel would be left defenseless, within easy tank and artillery range of a brutal dictator who has no qualms about massacring his own citizens — much less the Israelis whom they have sworn to destroy.

While these State Department officials return to their safe and warm homes in Chevy Chase, Fairfax or Georgetown, Israel — the only democratic and stable U.S. ally in the region — would be left vulnerable and defenseless against the whims of this maniacal regime. It is difficult to believe that our Secretary of State has been so misinformed that she has never read the reports coming out of her very own Department.

In the meantime, what is keeping the U.S. from helping the freedom-loving dissidents of Syria who are daily risking their lives to overthrow a clearly corrupt, brutal and disgusting regime? This is a regime that has, by the way, has long maintained alliances with Iran to brutally occupy Lebanon and empower Hezbollah Only the Iranian axes has to gain by Bashar Assad’s remaining in power. While we are unsure of the political views of the Libyan rebels we are helping, it is clear that the Assad regime, whose political brutality we have all witnessed, has got to go. The human rights tragedy in Syria is profound. What will it take for the world to finally act?

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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