Human Rights, Middle East, Politics, Syria

Bashar Defects from the Army

Proven money-saving strategy in International Criminal Court these days: dictators who hang themselves on international TV before they even get to The Hague!

“Never interfere with your enemy when he’s in the process of destroying himself,” the saying goes, and it’s never been more true than for President Bashar al-Assad, the self-professed non-commander-in-chief of the Syrian armed forces.

Being in Turkey during yet another absurd Assad media opportunity (watch the interview in full here), then seeing the Istanbul reaction to it, deserves a pause in my Christmas travel programming.

Bashar and Barbara’s ABC network interview pre-empted a European football match in a sports bar in trendy Beyoğlu. Damning excerpts of the interview played on 2 giant screens on the Bosphorus ferry.

Two headlines dominated the news in Turkey this week: the Merkel/Sarkozy Eurozone deal and the escalating violence in Syria. And nobody’s sure which one they should be worried about more.

Just because Turks aren’t out on the street by the thousands (yet) demonstrating in support of the Syrian people doesn’t mean they’re not keenly aware of what’s going on there hour by hour. If I had a 900 kilometer border with a country on the verge of…we’re not sure yet, but it won’t be good…I’d keep very current on the news, too.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last spring that there was no question of Turkey closing its borders with Syria, yet that’s exactly what’s happened already in at least 2 cases, primarily because truck drivers going back and forth across the border are being shot at indiscriminately.

Guess not so many trucks lately, with the 30% tax on imported goods Turkey just slapped on Syria, which might hurt Assad’s pride more than his pocketbook, given the downward spiral of that friendship, gone in 9 months from warm-like-family to cold-as-ice.

Although the Turkish government long ago “ran out of patience” and came “to the end of the road” with the Assad regime, this week for the first time Erdogan stated that all options were on the table, should the Syrian conflict impact the region and, specifically, send a flood of refugees across its borders.

Then, in the middle of all this, Barbara Walters of ABC goes to Damascus…and Americans groan.

Baba Wawa, Barbara’s nickname and persona made famous by brilliant comedienne Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live. Barbara, whose latest gig is a gossipy women’s morning talk show, whose topics range from interviews with cute movie stars to cute hairstyles for summer.

And that’s exactly how she posed her soft-ball questions to Bashar: in that awe-struck, kiss-up way of hers that works for the cast of Twilight, but grossly minimizes the seriousness of Assad’s crimes against humanity continuing unhindered in Syria, thanks to ping-pong foreign policy in the United Nations and the Arab League.

Obviously Bashar wasn’t confident enough in his lies to talk to hard-hitting Anderson Cooper of CNN, who’s been “keeping ‘em honest” in the Arab Spring for months now and has made it his personal mission to out Bashar on his violent duplicity, especially his army’s crimes against children.

It’s hard to choose the most ridiculous part of that ridiculous interview, but Bashar saying he wasn’t in control of the Syrian army ranks right up there. That the armed forces weren’t his, they belonged to the country, and he wasn’t in charge of them.

Really? You’re President but not Commander-in-Chief? You’re not the one giving orders?

No orders were given, he said (conveniently in the 3rd person).

“Bashar defects from the army.” Demonstrators in Homs pounced on that revelation, and Homsis are the fastest protest sign-makers in this whole revolution.

To the real defectors, members of the Free Syrian Army ‒ 10,000 strong, according to their commander who’s giving orders from Turkey, which also hosts the fledgling Syrian National Committee ‒ it’s not news, it’s irony.

Of course, Bashar and his cronies are in charge of everything, everywhere, 24×7. That’s how dictatorships work (and why the Assad family has proven over the decades that they’ll do anything rather than give theirs up). Syria’s suffocating, humiliating government that knows nothing but brutality is exactly what prompted Syrians to leverage the Arab Spring in the first place and say, “It’s our turn! We can do it!”

That, and the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Hamza al-Khateeb, whose horrific and well-documented death enraged the Syrian people…and whose death Bashar claims never happened. (Somebody, please send him the YouTube link to the Arabic media interview with Hamza’s mother.)

To look at those gruesome photos of young Hamza, as he was given back to his family, and to have no visible reaction…when looking at those same photos from 6,000 miles away moves many of us to tears, even now.

I guess the new obituaries ‒ new names, photos, and bios that are posted every single day on Facebook ‒ aren’t real, either. Dozens and dozens, including 9 children in the past 24 hours.

Guess Assad hasn’t heard about Maher al-Hussein, 10 years old, who bled to death in his own home after being hit by a sniper bullet in Bab Sebaa, Homs. Or 12-year-old Mohammed Nassar, who was also killed by cross-fire.

There’s a massacre brewing in Homs that’s every bit as real as what the UN Security Council voted to prevent in Benghazi, Libya back in March…which China and Russia had no problem with. It promises to be just as devastating as Bashar’s father Hafez’s demolition of Hama in 1982, with one big difference.

The brave social media heroes of Syria, who risk their lives every time they shoot a video, make a phone call, and post or tweet, will try, through non-violent protest and spreading news around the world, to stop it. If they can’t, they’ll document it.

Either way, Bashar will pay. As Syrian democracy activists have said over and over: not one name, one family, one story will be forgotten and left out of the indictment to the International Criminal Court.

Once the Assads are gone and Syria is a democracy, the first city I’ll visit is the one I’ve written the most about on this blog: Homs. Of all the major cities in Syria, Homs is well-known among its fellow citizens for its generous spirit and sense of humor and people I know from Homs are exactly like that.

Both of these positive attitudes are contagious, and that scares hey-don’t-blame-me, it’s-not-my-army Bashar to death.

As well it should.


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