While we’ve been distracted by tons and tons and tons of Birther and Afterbirther coverage and the cracks filled in with the ramp up for the wedding of Kate Middleton and William Windsor there have been events going on in Syria that are increasingly pointing to more trouble in that Arab State.
Over the last few days tanks have been deployed in Deraa and other cities inside Syria. The various security forces have opened fire with live ammunition on protesters with more than 400 reported dead. It is hard to know exactly what is going on in Syria as the Assad government had expelled all foreign journalists. However in the days of the internet reports and video are leaking out.
Today there is a major development. The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that 400 members of the Ba’ath Party have resigned the government and the party over the killing and oppression of the protesters. Here are excerpts from two of the mass resignation letters:
From the Deraa officials:
“In view of the negative stance taken by the leadership of the Arab Socialist Baath Party towards the events in Syria and in Deraa, and after the death of hundreds and the wounding of thousands at the hands of the various security forces, we submit our collective resignation.”
From officials in Banias:
“Considering the breakdown of values and emblems that we were instilled with by the party and which were destroyed at the hand of the security forces … we announce our withdrawal from the party without regret,”
There have also been reports that some units in the Syrian Army have refused to fire on protestors in recent days. For a tightly controlled society like Syria this combined with the continuing protests and the resignations are the political equivalent of massive earthquakes.
We have seen this story played out in other Arab countries since the start of the Arab Spring. Unfortunately it is looking as though Syria may go the route of Libya and head into civil war rather than the more controlled military take over we have seen in Egypt.
The arch of these revolutions has been one of relatively peaceful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia to growing repression and violence as seen in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and now Syria. It seems that the autocrats of these countries have learned only one lesson, that when a popular democratic uprising starts the correct response it to become more brutally oppressive.
Unfortunately for them, sight of others in their region acting to remove the autocratic governments that have oppressed them and succeeding to some degree or another has emboldened a young and restless population. The people are at a place where they feel that they have nothing to loose and something tangible to gain, so the time is right for revolution.
It is sad that while the world was more than willing to go after Col Khadafy in Libya there has been no formal condemnation of the acts of the Assad government, even as it uses the same kinds of heavy weapons against their people that the Libyan dictator used against his.
A major block to this kind of condemnation, at the United Nations at least, is that Russia has explicitly said it would veto any such resolution. The Russian Ambassador is claiming that the violent clashes in Syria are different than the ones in Libya because:
violence in Syria did not meet certain criteria that justify international action against the Syrian government – namely that it was not a threat to international peace and security – and that foreign intervention would pose a threat to regional security.
Personally I don’t find that very persuasive. Syria is on the boarders of Israel like Egypt. Having the government there collapse into civil war will certainly make things more not less tense in that part of the world.
Which brings up a point that we have not really settled in this country; what is the responsibility of a nation that wants to promote democracy to the people of another nation which wants to overthrow a dictatorship?
It is easy to say “we should always support them” but like all easy answers to complex issues it leads to more problems than its solves. The reality is that not all revolutions against autocratic governments immediately turn to democracy. In fact more often they are just reshuffling the people at the top and not revamping the entire system.
Again Egypt may be an exception rather than the rule. The protestors in Egypt wanted a new and real democratic government. It is unclear that the Libyan or Yemini rebels want that or just want the current leader replaced by their leader. I don’t say this as a slander, it genuinely is unclear what kind of government we will get and how democratic it will be if and when they are successful.
The same is true in Syria. It comes from a fact of a totalitarian regime; those kinds of government so control the society that there is not a good pool of people to run a new government, except the ones that were part of the old regime. Sadly they are going to be too comfortable with the idea of secret police and single party rule to, generally, make a good go at anything approaching real democracy.
We have seen this in the evolution of many of the former Soviet Republics. Some have done moderately well, while others are now becoming more and more like the old U.S.S.R. that the came from.
If you can not know what the outcome of a revolution will be and the ideal you want to support is democracy, is there a reasonable metric that allows intervention? There is the humanitarian aspect to be sure, but as we have seen all too clearly a long war does almost nothing for the people of a nation, they suffer as both sides fight for control. The people of Afghanistan and Iraq can attest to that.
I am not sure what the answer is but as we watch the developments in Syria and elsewhere it is a question we should be trying to answer, not with knee jerk responses but with the knowledge of the consequences if we act and the consequences if we fail to do so.
The floor is yours.