Assad: A President in Name Only

Dr. Radwan Ziadeh – Executive Director of SCPSS

February 26, 2015

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has been active in the Western media as of late, granting two lengthy interviews to Foreign Affairs magazine and the BBC. But has he offered anything new or different in either of these interviews? The simple answer is, no, which begs two questions: Why would he agree to them and what do they reveal?


It has been four years and half years since the Syrian uprising erupted in March 2011. Gradually, the Assad regime has transformed into a powerful militia – one of many – engaged in a desperate conflict with the Syrian people. Assad seeks to drain Syria of its financial and human resources, and, more critically, destroy its social fabric by fomenting an odious sectarian and civil conflict. His regime has ignored all conventions of war. The peaceful revolution was confronted with brutal violence, which took the lives of the finest of Syria’s youth, such as Ghiath Matar, Hamza al-Khateeb, and many others. In the eyes of the regime, no rules of war exist. Hospitals, residential areas, mosques, and churches are all “legitimate” targets. The security apparatus is guilty of torture as Caeser, the former Syrian army photographer, has documented.


Thus, we find the Syrian people struggling not just to maintain their resistance, but more importantly, their unity in pursuit of freedom.


More than 200,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the United Nations, some two-thirds of Syrians have been displaced or forced into neighboring countries as refugees, and terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) control significant parts of the country. Yet Assad still repeats the same lines he used at the beginning of the 2011 uprising, when he decided to launch a war against his own people.


Assad’s killing spree has continued since then, despite severe and escalating international pressure on him. Maybe this is the mark of a true dictator; history has shown that they often live in their own bubbles and have skewed visions of reality.


We thought that after July 2002, when the Rome Statute went into effect, there was a strong system of accountability that would respect the phrase “never again.” As we continue to watch the ongoing crimes in Syria, we realize that we were wrong.


Syria today is undergoing a transition. Assad has ceased to be the president of country; he is now the mayor of Damascus and its environs. Large swathes of the country are inaccessible by the government. Assad cannot leave his palace without being heavily guarded. He has lost control over the border crossings with Turkey and Iraq, which are strategically important. The actions of the regime, which is bombing civilians daily, have created a vacuum of power in Syria being filled by ISIS and al-Qaeda, both of which are committing atrocities in the name of Islam.


The United States should not allow this to continue. It has a responsibility to help and a role to play in ending Syria’s nightmare and paving the way for a democratic future. Airstrikes against ISIS are a good first step, but the Obama administration must also devise a strategy to unseat the regime, which has allowed terrorism to flourish.


Radwan Ziadeh is the executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C. He is also a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University.



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