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July 15, 2015 10:40 am

The World’s Surrender on Iran Will Doom Syria First

avatar by Ben Cohen /

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Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – Last week—and please forgive me for the graphic nature of this metaphor—Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled down his pants and urinated over the graves of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys exterminated by Serb forces in the enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Twenty years after Bosnia was torn apart by the genocide committed by both Serb and Croatian forces, the Russians—who were the main backers of the regime of the late tyrant of Belgrade, Slobodan Milosevic—are still playing the insidious role of denying the most monstrous crime to take place in Europe since the Second World War. In vetoing a joint American-British resolution to commemorate the slaughter at Srebrenica with the legal status of a genocide, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin grunted that what was tabled at the U.N. Security Council was “not constructive, confrontational and politically motivated.” Predictably, his words drew a furious response: “After 20 years, Russia showed that it backed the crime instead of justice,” declared Munira Subasic, the head of the Mothers of Srebrenica Association.

But as deplorable as the Russian stance is, it isn’t at all surprising. Towards the end of the 1990s, when it came to dealing with genocide and crimes against humanity, the momentum was clearly on the side of the western democracies. Among the milestones were the creation of the International Criminal Court—whose true purpose was to try monsters like Milosevic and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein—and the development of the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. In essence, that doctrine, known by the shorthand of R2P, was aimed at overriding state sovereignty in order to prevent authoritarian and totalitarian regimes from exterminating their own civilians at will.

Halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, it’s time to admit the bitter truth. We’ve failed. We’ve failed to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity. We’ve failed to deliver a decisive message to the world’s tyrants that they can no longer get away with murder. If anything, we’ve actually encouraged them to believe that the more violent and intransigent they are, the greater the chances of them receiving deferential treatment. Look at North Korea. Or Qatar. Or any other despicable regime that denies those who live there the right to speak and vote without fear of intimidation or arrest.

Look, most of all, at Iran, and at the deal that was reached Tuesday in the talks over Tehran’s nuclear program in Vienna. The litany of losers arising from this deal is by now familiar: the United States of America, which in the name of enhancing its own security is fatally compromising it; Israel, which now faces its most serious existential threat since the Yom Kippur War of 1973; and the Arab states, many of whom will now be racing towards their own nuclear program.

But the biggest and most immediate losers are those who are too often forgotten: the Syrian people locked in a diabolical civil war that puts the horror of Bosnia into the shade and credibly rivals Pol Pot’s massacres in Cambodia when it comes to atrocities. And the reason? Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, who is a tool of the Iranian regime.

Well over 200,000 civilians have been killed during the four-year conflict. More than 4 million refugees have fled the country, living in makeshift camps in countries like Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon—all of them becoming increasingly inhospitable to a massive population influx that has created an enormous financial burden. Inside Syria, close to 8 million people have been displaced from their homes. When you remember that the pre-war population of Syria was 22 million, you come to the staggering realization that more than half of its people have lost their homes and livelihoods. No wonder they are calling this the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

And where is the West, with its Responsibility to Protect doctrine? In the Syrian case, we appear to have inverted it; rather than weakening the Assad regime, we are in fact strengthening it. And the necessary battle against the barbaric forces of Islamic State doesn’t mean we aren’t also obliged to confront Assad, who launched this ghastly war in the first place.

How, though, does Assad himself see the situation? Some clue as to his vision was provided in a recent interview published on the Russian Sputnik website, conducted by the French parliamentarian Jean-Frederic Poisson—who sounds, if you’ll allow me the pun, like a rather fishy character who talks about the “stability in Syria” that the preservation of Assad’s rule would bring.

In his comments to Monsieur Poisson, “Assad criticized Western governments for meddling in regional countries’ internal affairs, ‘failing to listen to the voices of nations,’ and displaying ‘double standards’ in the fight against terrorism.” All tropes, you will notice, that his Iranian paymasters were raising at the nuclear negotiations in Vienna.

The surrender in Vienna reverberates most immediately in Syria. Assad’s most powerful backers are now Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, assisted by the notorious Qods Force and various intelligence agencies. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’a terrorist group, is also engaged in combat on behalf of Assad. Even Shi’a militias from Iraq, like the Kata’ib Hezbollah, have been imported into Syria by the Iranians. Imagine what they can do—and will do—when billions of dollars of sanctions relief make their way into Tehran’s coffers after the signing of this nuclear deal.

Assad’s future is not, of course, guaranteed. Recent reports suggest that members of Assad’s own Alawite community are fed up with Iranian domination of their country and are challenging their president on that basis. Still, the guns, the planes, and even the chemical weapons remain largely in Assad’s hands, supported by the Iranians and also the Russians, who have no reason to commemorate past genocides when they are involved in present ones.

So, then: what of the Responsibility to Protect? Maybe we should rename it the License to Kill.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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  • William C. McKee

    Is getting rid of the President of Syria actually in the best interest of the people that live there? That didn’t turn out to be the case with Saddam — did it?

    Saddam protected his citizens without any regard to their religious beliefs. And was very generous with the distribution of his country’s oil wealth. He only brutally killed those that threatened him or his nation. Well maybe aside from the Kurds. But nobody seems to like them. Today, 2000 year old Christian communities have been cleared out by ISIS. And likely they aren’t much better in being fair to Jewish communities. ISIS is so radical that they even kill those that have the same book and beliefs as themselves.

    The death count attributed to ISIS in Iraq, probably even exceeds the death count in Syria. And it is primarily ISIS that is doing all the killing in this country. Civilian killing at least. The stated concern of the author in his thread.

    What is happening within Syria is something of a black box. As the Syrian president is a friend of Iran. And much of the world is on the outs with Iran, we have a tendency to fill in the picture that we should also be on the outs with the President of Syria. But that is more speculation than it is evidence.

    What would be some objective evidence? Recently the US government reported the results of spending 500 million dollars, over a several year time span to train up moderate Syrians to go to war with Assad. The tacit [assumption] by the US government, and unfortunately by the author, who should have perhaps known better, was that there would be even a majority of Syrian citizens who would put in for all this free training and equipment. Training also well away from the dangers to be found in Syria itself. So how successful was the CIA program Mr. Cohen? The CIA is well experienced with overthrowing governments. Just ask the Iranians about such matters. So over this span of time, how many “free” Syrians joined up for this really sweet program to get rid of the evil “dictator”? Would you believe a total head count of 90 people?

    President Obama did probably “secretly” send in arms from the armories of Libya to theoretically arm the “moderate” forces against Assad. The result? It is too dangerous to send in reporters without risking their torture and death. However, there seems some argument that most of the Libyan armaments wound up in the hands of ISIS. And this same ISIS took on greater than 15 to 1 odds in fighting Iraq’s supposedly well trained army and completely routed them — butchering those that they captured.

    What may we conclude from this “black box” situation Mr. Cohen? It seems likely that there just aren’t that many “moderate” Syrians. Or if there are some, the CIA wasn’t able to find much fight in them. If that is the case than any overthrow of Syria will result in a greater genocide than has thus far been seen by a completely unchecked ISIS takeover.

    You have seen the overall reported headcount of Syrian civilians, in this reporter-free “black box”, and went with the flow of assuming that the majority of killings were by the hand of Assad. And you did this, likely by trusting the accounts of the Obama Administration. But that same administration only found 90 “moderate” Syrians to fill the ranks of supposedly 10’s of thousands of revolutionary forces. So, up in smoke went the trustworthy basis of your assumption. You are left with arguing that ISIS won’t take control with the departure of Assad, and that they won’t kill just about everybody that they don’t like.

    • Pat McCrann

      Excellent. Thank you.

  • art

    Obama has succeeded in reversing US foreign policy. Starting with the abandonment of the Aegis anti missile systems in the Czech Republic and Poland, “resetting” with Putin, Spying on France Germany Israel etc. making PM Brown and the Dalai Lama enter the whitehouse through the servants entrance, the perfidous betrayal of Israel, the sponsoring of islamists and the muslim brotherhood to the destruction of 70 years of non proliferation. Obama/kerry/hillary have damaged US credibility Obama has punished the US which he sees as the last neo colonial power

  • P Guetta

    If Assad was taken out from the start of this conflict many innocent life’s would be saved and IS would not be in Syria. The international community did let Assad committed horrendous atrocities in his country and his people . Obama red line never come to light .Obama lied

  • And Mr Putin was reportedly satisfied with the nuclear deal with Iran, too – money in the form of exports, I suppose. Wasn’t it only in 1961 that the Russians admitted Lenin’s war crimes? Have they ever admitted the Armenian genocide?

  • Cohen my broer you are living in dreamland if you think the West are little gods who can dictate at will to other powerful nations on earth.Bro Iran told George Bush that they are not Iraq or Afghanistan and American Mid-east military bases are within range of Iranian ballistic missiles.American military commanders advised their president to back off,of which he did.Meanwhile the Iranians continued their research in atomic sciences.So these world powers had no choice but corporate with Iranians and implement check and balances for Iran not to acquire an atomic weapon.Then logically Iran was to be rewarded with the lifting of economic sanctions.That is how politics are conducted Cohen.You are only advocating brute force but that won’t successed.

  • David Goshen

    Little is said about the fact that the recognition of Serbia,Kosava etc is only recognized by a very small number of countries.This is partly because for example the division of Kosiva from Serbia was badly done.An area entirely occopied by Serbs on the Kosova northen border instead of being left in Serbia was allotted to Kosova-reminds one of the Sykes Picot division which mainly ignored the local population when dividing!

  • Vivarto

    This is idiotic.
    Killing 8,000 people is a mass murder, not genocide.
    Killing a whole nation is a genocide.

  • Ronald Brandt

    The unnecessary toilet comment at the opening of this article, led me to not read the rest. Perhaps the author had good things to say. I’ll never know

  • Matt

    The Arabs use Italian super cars as free taxi’s then when the miles add up dump them in a boneyard in the desert, eventually to be resold. No rush.