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A Broken Prize
Assad Races Across Obama's Red Line

Election posters celebrating the Syrian President now hang all over Damascus, reports the Guardian. “Our Bashar,” one reads, “we will not accept a president other than you. We have chosen you. You have our loyalty.” For the first time in Syria’s history, voters can choose from several presidential candidates. One is a businessman from Damascus. Another is a member of parliament from Aleppo. The third is an ophthalmologist, the sitting President, and overseer of the brutal civil war. There are no posters celebrating the first two.

Syria’s election is, obviously, a foregone conclusion. None of the refugees who fled the civil war will be permitted to vote. No one living in areas controlled by rebels will be able to participate either. The two candidates who are not Bashar al-Assad are members of the (government-sanctioned) opposition, but can hardly compete with the state-backed President.

The election will be yet another success for Assad. He is slowly but surely winning the civil war. On Tuesday, the UN’s mediator in the conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, one of the world’s most able diplomats, resigned in sadness. He left no clue as to who might succeed him in his thankless quest, if anyone. A few days earlier, top Iranian officials gloated that Iran and Assad had won the war. “We have won in Syria,” the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee told the Guardian. “The regime will stay. The Americans have lost it.”

As Brahimi stepped down, reports emerged that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons over a dozen times against rebels and civilians. President Obama had, not long ago, called the use of chemical weapons a “red line” that Assad should not dare to cross. When he did, in terrible fashion, Obama threatened retaliatory air strikes, but backed down when Assad agreed not to do it again. But Assad continued the slaughter using conventional weapons and ugly things like barrel bombs, which destroy structures and people indiscriminately. Now it appears he has been using chemical weapons all along as well, apparently without fear of any sort of retribution from the West. The NYT:

Mr. Fabius’s [the foreign minister of France] assertions of chemical weapons use, most of them involving chlorine bombs, came as other signs pointed to Syrian government culpability. Human Rights Watch, in a report on Tuesday, said it had evidence that Mr. Assad’s forces had dropped chlorine-filled bombs from helicopters on three towns in northern Syria in April. The chemical weapons treaty that Syria signed last year prohibits using chlorine as a weapon, even though chlorine itself is not banned.

Meanwhile, a ceasefire deal has been reached in Homs, allowing several thousand rebel fighters to leave or surrender, and some civilians to return home. The rebels could fight no longer. “We were so depressed by the end,” one told Loveday Morris of the Washington Post. “We lost hope. We came to the edge of death. We didn’t care anymore.” Once the capital of the Syrian rebellion, Homs now belongs to Assad. A flag-raising ceremony planned for Wednesday will celebrate the regime’s victory.

But “Homs is a broken prize,” Morris writes, and unrecognizable in some areas: “Three years of airstrikes and artillery, mortar and rocket fire have pummeled formerly ­rebel-held areas of the city to a state beyond recognition.” Much of the rest of the country is also a broken prize for Butcher Assad. As is the election. And yet, he can almost lay claim to victory. Some Syrians might not mind. “Let us live with dictators,” said a Greek Orthodox priest declared to Morris, after returning with other refugees to Homs this week. Looking around at the destruction he said, “If this is freedom, we don’t need it.”

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  • Anthony

    I don’t care, and the American people don’t either. You can’t have a muscular foreign policy abroad with a population that is severely economically distressed

    • Andrew Allison

      Perhaps you should try and convince Putin of that [/grin]

  • Anthony

    See Adam Garfinkle’s current TAI essay.

  • Curious Mayhem

    That “red line” — is it dotted, dashed, or what? And what’s the thickness?

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