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Has Assad Reached Our Breaking Point?

Harsh repression continues, Iran’s ally remains

Marc Tracy
May 12, 2011
Anti-Assad protesters last week in Banias, Syria.(-/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-Assad protesters last week in Banias, Syria.(-/AFP/Getty Images)

As reports of mass arrests and open violence against restive cities and their peaceful protesters mount—and we’re going on two months now—and the hard-line leadership pledges, literally, to fight ‘to end,’ it is getting more and more difficult to distinguish the situation in Syria, where the United States has not come close to threatening military intervention or suggested President Assad step aside, and Libya, where the U.S. has intervened militarily and has called on the dictator, Muammar Gadhafi, to leave power. (Put another way: I wrote much the same post I’m writing now almost exactly a month ago.) The argument for treating the two differently stems primarily from practical considerations, in which Assad provides a classic devil-we-know for the U.S. and Israel as compared to the relatively unstable devil-we-don’t should he leave and somebody else takes over. But at some point, as Mideast columnist Lee Smith has argued, doesn’t the regime become worse than any conceivable alternative, to say nothing of just absolutely heinous enough to warrant stronger action from the West?

Moreover, it looks increasingly likely that a Syria run by somebody other than Assad could be less close to Iran. The Assad dynasty belongs to the minority Alawite sect, which, like Iran’s leaders, is Shia; Syria’s majority is Sunni. And now that there are reports that Iran is shipping conventional weapons to Syria to aid its crackdown—in violation of U.N. sanctions, it so happens—have we maybe reached the point where, even for the U.S. and Israel, the cons of Assad staying outweigh the pros?

Elliott Abrams makes some assumptions I would refrain from making in his helpful blogpost on Syria. I simply don’t think that any remotely influential member of the Obama administration still harbors any illusions about Assad’s reformist inclinations, and I worry about what happens in Syria the day after Assad leaves more than Abrams seems to. But I find myself nodding when he concludes, “whatever the basis for U.S. policy, it is failing and must be abandoned in favor of a far more assertive opposition to the vicious Assad regime and a far more energetic defense of the Syrians now struggling, and dying, to end a regime that has brought decades of repression, violence and terror.” There are still plenty of steps to take before there is military action, much less boots on the ground. But, watching and reading from my comfortable distance, and considering also the myriad ways in which the Assad regime has been an enemy to the Israeli, Lebanese, and Syrian peoples, I plain old want the guy gone.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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