11/15/2011 01:36 EST | Updated 01/15/2012 05:12 EST

What Stops the World From Taking Out Assad?


Where is the international outrage against Syria? Where are the so-called activists who readily boycott Israel on university campuses or the hypocrites who mislabel it an apartheid state? Where are the fake humanitarian flotillas to Damascus? Neither a peep nor a whisper -- only a whimper.

The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's days are numbered. As he continues to kill his own people, the pressure to bring him to justice will increase; his ruthless actions have even convinced the violence-tolerant Arab League to fire a few warning shots across his bow by suspending him from their midst. In an ominous sign of his growing isolation, Turkey and Jordan have also jumped on the anti-Assad bandwagon and are offering their own criticism and advice. But for now, he continues to rule Syria with an iron fist and a bloodied conscience.

As Western countries congratulate themselves on their role in helping to end the intractable and rapacious Gaddafi dictatorship (and keep their fingers crossed that whoever follows will not be worse), many wonder why we don't employ the same Right to Protect (R2P) reasoning used to end Libya's nightmare to help the Syrians as well.

Right to Protect (R2P) is a brilliant policy of the West that arose from the ashes of the Holocaust. Alongside many other human rights initiatives including the establishment of the United Nations (UN) and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the more recent Rome Statute which led to the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) -- itself an echo of the trials at Nuremberg and subsequent Nazi war crimes trials--these efforts were designed to help nations around the world take action to avert future slaughter. But the ICC picks and chooses its battles carefully -- some of which seem to be politically inspired.

R2P allows nation states -- primarily the western alliance through NATO -- to take unilateral action to protect civilians against tyrants. With genocidal maniacs running amok, it is seen as absolutely necessary to police the world in order to advance human rights and protect the innocent. However, the world's action against some atrocities (most of which are not genocides) must move beyond politics and national interest. The differing global reaction to Libya and Syria is a good case in point.

The international response to Muammar Gaddafi and the most recent atrocities he committed, including attacking civilians inside their homes, repressing demonstrations with live ammunition, using heavy artillery against funeral processions and strategically placing snipers to inflict maximum injury on those leaving Mosque, moved quickly and efficiently on all fronts; ultimately, one of the world's most arrogant, vain and vicious dictators went down to a cowardly and cowering defeat.

Without exception, it is believed that the atrocities committed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime are far worse. The UN estimates more than 3,500 people have been murdered; tens of thousands have vanished and are believed to be incarcerated, while thousands more have fled their villages to the Turkish border as refugees. There is documented evidence and video of tanks shelling civilian areas and shooting at protestors as well as numerous media reports of the abduction of children and rape of women, humiliation and beatings.

Since Syrian crimes can be classified as 'crimes against humanity' especially because they are state policy, systematic and directed, why has R2P not been invoked by the international community nor has reasonable action been undertaken by the Security Council and the ICC? The answer is simple: politics and personal interest.

No one sympathized with Gaddafi. He managed to isolate himself from the Arab League by criticising it; he was linked to terrorism and the Pan American bombing over Lockerbie and was widely seen as a bumbling fool given his largely incoherent rant at the UN last year. On the other hand, "Dr." al-Assad, an ophthalmologist by training, has been perceived as a Western-educated young reformer who wants to advance his nation. But, as Prof. Fouad Ajami recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, massacre is a family tradition for the al-Assads.

In addition, Russia is a heavy supplier of arms to Syria and has a strategic military foothold in the Middle East through Syria. Along with China, it has already rejected resolutions at the UN condemning the Syrian atrocities. More recently, Russia criticised the Arab League's decision to expel Syria, and continues to oppose any sanctions against its trading partner. Syria is moreover Russia's foothold into the Mediterranean housing its naval base in Tartus.

And so, despite the actions of the Arab League and a growing chorus of anti-Assad voices around the world, the bloody Syrian crackdown continues and the death toll continues to climb. Like Gaddafi, Assad will rule to the bitter and dishonourable end.

Assad is like the scorpion in the famous fable, "The Scorpion and the Frog." After promising the frog he would not sting her if she carries him across the river, the scorpion does indeed sting her dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion explains it's in his nature.

Despite his desperation, war is the Assad regime's nature. Rumours are that his trendy embarrassingly Vogue-profiled wife Asma read the writing on the wall long ago and fled back home to London with the kids.

But the single most important question on everyone's mind is who will take over after al-Assad? Perhaps and unfortunately, no one is rushing in to clear the way as the Arab Spring has yet to yield a flower.