Week 17: Villain – President Assad of Syria

by George_East on April 28, 2013

villain_2_iconThis Week’s Villain of the Week is President Assad of Syria, who stands accused of using chemical weapons against his own population

Bashar al-Assad is no newcomer when it comes to our Villain of the Week Award.  He has picked up the Award on at least half a dozen former occasions and last year placed a creditable second in our end of Villain of the Year annual awards.   His is a brutally oppressive and deeply corrupt regime in which in typical Ba’ath Party style there is little that wouldn’t be contemplated in order to keep power.

Ever since the uprising started against his regime in April 2011, in the wake of the other Arab Spring revolts of the early part of 2011, there has been a ratcheting up of the methods that Assad has employed to stay in office.  This has included the use of live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators, the use of tanks and artillery against the northern city of Homs, the cynical and fake constitutional referendum and the massacre of children at Houla.

The total estimated civilian dead is 35,000, out of a total figure of about 70,000, as the nation has descended into fall blown civil war.    In addition to this the number of displaced refugees is estimated to be 1,200,000 internally, with a further 1,400,000 fleeing across international borders.   The number of political prisoners taken by the regime is estimated by the UN to be in the 10,000s.
Although there have been atrocities on both sides, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have made it crystal clear that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of such abuses have been perpetrated by the Syrian national forces (if you’ve got the stomach for it read Amnesty’s detailed report Deadly Reprisals).  As the New Yorker’s John Lee Anderson observed in a superb piece this week, Assad’s modus operandi has been to see what he can get away with, and with each indication that nothing will be done by the international community in response, to then rachet things up to the next level.

It is against this back drop that the reports on Thursday that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons (and Sarin gas in particular) against its own people in Aleppo and on the outskirts of Damascus must be considered (British intelligence reports have suggested a third attack near Homs).  The initial announcement by the new Secretary of State for Defense Chuck Hagel described the position as the US intelligence agencies having ‘various degrees of confidence’ that such chemical weapons had been used.    However, it was notable that Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the level of confidence from the intelligence agencies from the Committee’s own private briefings, as ‘medium to high’.

The CIA and other agencies are all too aware of the dangers to them of further intelligence cock ups after the debacle of the non-existent WMD programme in Iraq.  There is also strong pressure within the White House to find that there is not enough evidence for certainty, as Barack Obama described the use of chemical weapons, as a ‘red line’ during the election campaign, and he is danger, as a result, of looking weak, if there is no military response (and it goes without saying that any military response is fraught with serious geo-political and military risks).  It is therefore not surprising that greater certainty is being sought – evidence from the ground.  That evidence (as with Halabja in Iraq in 1988) may take some time in coming.  There is, of course, a chance that this is some kind of false flag operation by the Syrian opposition, though it begs the question as to how they would get hold of Sarin gas (if the samples from the ground that appear to have been taken have been properly analysed and the reports of what they have found are true).

It is right, of course, that these things need to be investigated properly and that a considered judgment is made.   However, I don’t think anyone can be under any illusion that the Assad regime is capable of such attacks.    If the stories prove to be completely false or if it is shown that such attacks did happen but it was the Syrian rebel forces carrying out black ops against their own supporters then we at Allthatsleft will be more than happy to take back this Award, though I have a funny feeling that by then the bastard Assad will have done a whole load of other shit to his own people more than worthy of a truck load of additional Awards.

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