Hundreds of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Syrian cities on Friday to call for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad in one of the largest outpourings of opposition since protests began over three months ago. At least 12 protesters were killed by Assad’s internal security forces. More than 1,400 Syrians, most of them peaceful protesters, have been massacred in a series of violent crackdowns by the embattled regime in Damascus.
The Assad regime, which has ruled Syria with an iron hand since seizing power in a military coup in 1970, has failed to halt isolated protests from mushrooming into a nationwide popular opposition movement. The regime had now desperately launched an offensive along Syria’s border with Turkey to prevent opposition forces from crossing the border to join more than 10,000 Syrians who have escaped to refugee camps in Turkey. The regime fears that these refugee camps would give the political opposition an international platform and base of support for advancing its demands for regime change. The regime itself has long manipulated Palestinian refugees to advance its own narrow interests versus Israel and Lebanon, as well as Iraqi refugees versus the United States and the Iraqi government.
While Syria has been seared by unrelenting repression and intimidation, the regime has grown increasingly isolated and has become the focus of growing international pressure. Even the Obama Administration, which naively sought to ingratiate itself with the Damascus dictatorship when it first came to office, has belatedly sought to restrain the brutal regime, despite implausibly clinging to its wishful thinking about Assad being a “reformer.”
But the regime has unfortunately been embraced by Representative Dennis Kucinich (D–OH), who saw fit to travel to Damascus to meet with Assad. Kucinich later gushed in a breathless statement, reported by the Daily Caller:
What I learned from my meeting with President Assad is that he does care about what’s happening, that he wants to respond, that he’s thinking about the different ways that would be the best way to address the needs of the people.…And that’s what he’s talking about. He’s talking about the people. He’s very engaged in that kind of a discussion. And frankly, that’s a positive development.
Kucinich, eager to bask in the international limelight, has tragically been manipulated by the Assad regime to shore up its own bankrupt claims of legitimacy. This sad episode in value-free engagement diplomacy undermines U.S. foreign policy interests, deflates international pressure against the regime, and abandons the Syrian people to a cruel fate.
Kucinich is the most egregious example of misguided American legislators courting Damascus. Before him came Senator John Kerry (D–MA), who became a conduit for diplomatically engaging Assad on behalf of the Obama Administration. And before that came the ill-advised and counterproductive 2007 trip to Damascus of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–CA), who sought to establish warm relations with the Assad regime, significantly undermining the Bush Administration’s efforts to isolate and pressure Assad.
The net outcome of such naïve attempts to engage the gangster regime in Damascus is to help that regime literally get away with murder. Just yesterday, the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued indictments in another murder suspected to have been supported if not plotted by Damascus: the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The tribunal issued secret indictments against four Lebanese men, at least three of whom are linked to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. One, Mustafa Badreddine, is a top commander inside Hezbollah’s covert killing machine and the brother-in-law of Imad Mugniyah, Hezbollah’s chief terrorist operative, who was killed in a mysterious car bombing in Damascus in 2008. Hezbollah, whose political wing has become an integral part of Lebanon’s current government, has threatened to plunge Lebanon into civil war if its henchmen are arrested.
In Syria and Lebanon, the “Arab Spring” has devolved into a long, hot summer of rising political tensions, popular protests, regime violence, and threats of imminent civil war.