The Syrian Dilemma

by Carlos Alberto Montaner

(FIRMASPRESS) The Syrian Army exterminated hundreds of its citizens as if they were cockroaches. Many of them were children. Practically all were defenseless civilians. That government’s cruelty has no limits. The dead exceed one hundred thousand.

One of the theories is that Assad’s generals used sarin gas to terrify their adversaries. That chemical began as a devastating insecticide; When the Germans in 1939, one year after discovering it, realized that it was 500 times more powerful than cyanide, they hastened to turn it into a weapon of war. At that time, Mr. Hitler was more interested in killing people than insects.

Eventually, all major powers manufactured it, but in the 1970s they decided to ban it. Its effects were much too horrifying. It killed by asphyxia, amid growing pain and a total loss of control of vital functions. People died in convulsions, screaming, mired in their own urine and excrement.

That is why, exactly one year ago, President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons like sarin was the limit of allowable atrocities. From that point on the United States, he threatened, would take direct reprisals against Assad’s regime.

So maybe it wasn’t sarin gas. Some experts believe that the death of those victims was caused by a high concentration of other lethal gases used against people who were locked in. It could be. It is no consolation, but maybe it is a nice detail that you’re murdered with an authorized gas rather than with a poison that has been banned.

The horror is such that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius wants to go to war to oust Assad and his government of criminals. It is the same reaction Sarkozy had at the time of the conflict in Libya. It was the French, allies of the British, who spurred the NATO operation that put an end to the regime (and life) of Qaddafi.

France is an peculiar country. It ceased to be a major power one century ago but it retains its imperial reflexes and acts decidedly in what once was its area of influence. French paratroopers have brought order (or something like it) to Gabon, Chad, Zaire, the Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic and Mali. It is Africa’s gendarme.

Paris doesn’t send paratroopers to Syria because it is not Africa. It is too hard a bone to chew. However, it will be difficult for President François Hollande to sit on his hands. After all, Syria and Lebanon were French inventions built with the rubble of the Ottoman Empire after World War One.

What can be done against the rogues in the Syrian government? It is known that Assad and his minions are terrible, but some in the opposition are not far behind. There is no guarantee that those who inherit the power in Syria will not tilt toward some form of fundamentalism, including the Al Qaeda madhouse.

Since there is no good option, the least bad of them will suffice: to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad and explore the possibility of contributing to install in Syria a government committed to abide by the five primary objectives spelled to me by an expert on the region (who asked for anonymity lest he be expelled from his U.N. post):

1. It will neither murder nor torture its citizens, renouncing the incomprehensible slaughter between shiites and sunnis.

2. It must break its alliance with Iran.

3. It must abandon its ties with Hezbollah, an organization that is justly described as terrorist.

4. It must respect Lebanon’s sovereignty.

5. It must make peace with Israel and recognize that country’s right to exist.

How to win that war? This is what the diplomat told me: "By lavishly aiding the Syrian opposition with weapons and supplies channeled through the French and funded by the Saudis. Nobody is naive enough to expect that in that country, a democracy that respects civil rights will be established. At this point, the world would be satisfied just to see the slaughter stopped."

Perhaps he is right.