Assad in Western eyes: From riches to rags By Dmitry Babich

29 February, 2012Voice of Russia

The recent pronouncements by Western leaders and the monarchs of the Persian Gulf  Emirates on the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his regime make one want to rub one’s eyes. Are we hearing them from the same people we have just seen shaking hands with Assad and hinting at lucrative contracts with his “regime”? Didn’t the French president Nicolas Sarkozy consider it an honor to meet Assad at his Elysee Palace just one year before? Now Sarkozy calls him a “mass killer.” And wasn’t Sarkozy’s glamorous wife Carla Bruni entertained by the company of Assad’s British-raised wife, Asma? And can a person indeed change from a welcome guest to a mass killer in the short period between December 2010, when al-Assad’s last visit to France took place, and now?

The Syrian leader’s fall from grace followed the rules of the modern fashion industry – it was indeed the inverted version of the “rags to riches” formula. First, all of the president’s official visits were canceled; second, the European Union and the USA slapped sanctions not only on the regime’s representatives, but also on economic activity inside the country; third, on Monday the US State Secretary Hillary Clinton said that theoretically Assad could be declared a war criminal. Madame secretary, however, stopped short of  putting this theory into practice, since, in her opinion, such a move would make it more difficult to talk Mr. Assad into shedding his powers.

The law books say unequivocally that a person is not a criminal until he is proven guilty, with the jury saying yes or no, but Mrs. Clinton, an experienced lawyer herself, prefers to place Mr. Assad in some twilight zone of “theoretically recognizable” crime. Meanwhile, part of the blame is placed on Russia and China as the two countries that blocked the draft Security Council’s resolution on Assad’s removal from power.  Mrs. Clinton called their position  “ a travesty.”

“I do not understand  why the Western countries put all the blame on Russia and why, instead of  trying to silence all the guns, the West and its allies want only one side – the government’s one – to stop shooting,”  said Alexey Pushkov, the chairman of the Duma’s international  committee. “Meanwhile, the opposition gets from Washington  a very different signal, namely – you are on the right track to victory!”

During the last week Assad’s fall from grace reached its ultimate stage – at least, on the diplomatic front. On February 23 Hillary Clinton called the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council  “ the true representative of the Syrian people.”  Meanwhile, the Qatari foreign minister openly called on the “international community” to arm the Syrian opposition, generously proposing that Qatar and other Arab countries could take the lead in this process.

Somewhat embarrassingly, the regime of Bashar al-Assad just refuses to die, thus failing to justify Western expectations. “The point is that Assad is far from running out of resources and out of public support, the Syrian situation is different from the situations on other “Arab Spring”  territories where an indeed significant majority of  local people wanted the old leader to go,” said Pushkov, who recently returned from a trip to Damascus.

One of the justifications put forward by the Western powers for their position and for the actions of their allies in the Gulf is the support that the Syrian regime receives from Iran and its old-time ally in neighboring Lebanon, the mostly Shia-oriented Hezbollah movement with a bad reputation in the West. But again – what about history?

“One should not forget that Hezbollah itself was to a certain extent a product of the Israeli invasion of  Lebanon in 1982,” said Vyacheslav Matuzov, the chairman of the Russian Society for the Promotion of Friendship and Business Ties with Arab Countries. “The occupation brought about a resistance movement, with ties to Iran. If the United States indeed wanted to see Lebanon and Syria without Hezbollah, they should have restrained their Israeli ally back then.”

Alas, it is always easier to blame someone else’s allies, not your own.

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