The massacre in Syria continues and the diplomatic freeze has begun. Is the government of Bashar al-Assad making its death rattle?
The advent of Ramadan heralded a tightening of the regime's death grip over the restive city of Hama. Hyper-conscious that the customary gatherings and religious services would serve as a convenient gathering and rallying point, the Syrian security forces have launched full-scale assaults to terrorize civilians. Scores have died in recent days and more than 2,000 have been killed since the Syrian revolution exploded from the provinces in March.
There is outrage aplenty but minimal action over the Assad government's unswerving escalation of violence. The EU has pushed for an extended sanctions list against key regime members. The August violence finally goaded the United Nations Security Council into condemning the ongoing assault against the protest movement. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait, no amateurs at repression themselves, have withdrawn their ambassadors. And Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu is today in Damascus in what is the strongest expression of concern yet over the Assad's government's actions. But the killings, and the protests, rage on.
The lackluster international response is not a product of mere negligence, though many of the formal Syrian opposition decry it as such now that the dead number the thousands with many thousands more detained. The single most important reason is that the regional and international community has no clear sense of what a post-Assad Syria could look like. Would the multiple fault lines of Syrian society deepen and fracture, forcing the country down an abyss of civil war? How genuine is the threat of armed paramilitary violence a real possibility? Is a peaceful post-Assad Syria at all possible?
Many Syrian opposition figures have denounced the empty calls for reform coming from Europe and the US since the early days of their revolution. Assad has made what amount to token gestures towards reform, announcing an end to the 44-year-long state of emergency and nominal introduction of multiparty politics, the levels of violence witnessed in Syria subvert any faith in dialogue or genuine democratic reform. The regime seems to be intent on massacring its way through the revolution.
Governments can and do rule without the consent of their citizens, and though revealed for the calculating and ruthless autocrat that he is, Assad is prepared and able to protect his rule for some months more. Condemnations of violence, though right and necessary to highlight the plight of ordinary Syrians, have limited use. Either under the auspices of the United Nations or more informally, Syria's neighbors and key Western governments should form a "committee of concern" to hold crisis talks with the government and with the leaders of the opposition movement to broker a new political framework. Barring a dramatic change of heart from Damascus, prospects for diminishing the violence and securing a stable, inclusive future for Syria are dim.