Ghouta Rules: Justice waiting for Assad

 26 Aug 2016 - 1:26

 

By Makram Rabah

In the course of human history tyrants such as Bashar Al Assad in Syria have used brute force and massacres to maintain their rule.
Those who have ordered and carried out atrocities have often attempted to justify them as a legitimate use of force against local dissidents or by employing a foreign conspiracy scenario.
This week Bashar Al Jaafari, Assad’s representative at the UN, blamed the 2013 sarin gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on French intelligence.
This ridiculous and feeble accusation is somewhat similar to the crazy characters one sees in tabloid magazines who claim to have been abducted by aliens and forced to do unspeakable things.
Jaafari’s announcement, ludicrous as it may seem, is revealing of the delusional depths Assad and his allies have reached.
On August 21, 2013, the world witnessed the horrifying aftermath of Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, which, according to a US report, caused an estimated 1,429 fatalities, including 426 children.
No sane human doubted that Assad was the real culprit and that the international community would soon punish him and his allies for their transgressions.
In his latest interview in the Atlantic Magazine, US President Barack Obama talked about how he had previously drawn a red line and warned Assad that any movement or use of chemical weapons would warrant a direct US military response.
However, the so-called Obama Doctrine, which has steered the US away from involvement in the Middle East, was to prevail.
Consequently, following Ghouta, Obama opted to take the easy way out by asking Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syria’s main patron, to clean up Assad’s mess.
Accordingly, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov orchestrated a dishonorable arrangement that amounted to a school yard rebuke of a bully.
Rather than, destroying Assad’s capabilities to launch future missile or aerial attacks, he was ordered to hand over his entire chemical weapons cache — an instruction that seems to have had little effect on the regime’s ability to massacre civilians.
Seemingly, this tragic affair ended with Assad being essentially rewarded for his crimes. The international community stood helpless as the American-Russian consensus pushed the war in Syria to a new level.
However, by killing his own folk Assad was merely walking in the footsteps of his late father, who 31 years earlier had destroyed the city of Hama.
Hafez Al Assad, who was challenged by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, unleashed his wrath and his troops, killing 20,000 of his own people and razing the city to the ground.
The New York Times correspondent in the region at the time, Thomas Friedman, reported asking a taxi driver in Hama where all the houses and people had gone. “You are probably driving on some of them,” was the chilling reply.
Friedman went on to coin the term “Hama Rules” to describe the logic that drove Assad to employ such brutally. Simply put, Freidman concluded that when dealing with the region, Hama Rules meant there were no rules at all and the most brutal actor would be the last man standing.
While these barbaric rules certainly still apply to this day, especially within the Syrian context, much has changed. Primarily, Hafez Al Assad had a better understanding of local and regional politics and he knew his people better than his optometrist-turned-president son could ever do.
Secondly, by allowing Iran and its subsidiaries — Hezbollah and Iraqi factions — to set up shop in Syria, Bashar Al Assad has been exposed as unfit to outmaneuver or outfight any of the local opposition groups, prompting his Russian and Iranian allies to do most of the legwork.
The main difference between father and son is that that Hafez never denied ordering the Hama massacre, remaining silent and not attempting to justify himself to his own people or the world.
Bashar Al Assad, on the other hand, has had the audacity to gas men, women and children and accuse others of the crime.
Assad can and will continue to accuse France, the Syrian opposition or even Martians of perpetrating the massacre of Ghouta but the harsh reality remains evident — the blood of other Syrian civilians in Duma, Madaya, Aleppo, Daraa and Homs will ensure punishment sooner rather than later.

The writer is a PhD candidate at Georgetown University’s history department. He is the author of “A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967–1975” and a regular columnist for Now Lebanon.