Washington Watch: Getting away with murder

Assad’s enablers are no less guilty than he is for the ongoing violence in Syria.

Assad with defense minister and chief of staff 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Sana)
Assad with defense minister and chief of staff 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Sana)
Hitler’s war machine would have ground to a halt long before the spring of 1945 had it not been for the invaluable assistance of the so-called neutral nations that supplied him with critical strategic materiel, services and other resources.
It has been estimated by some historians that the war could have ended before the Allied invasion in June 1944 had it not been for those countries. Sweden shared intelligence, allowed the Wehrmacht to use its rail system for invading Russia and in some years provided up to 100 per cent of needed iron ore. Portugal and Spain provided nearly all of Germany’s wartime supply of wolfram for producing tungsten for machine tools and armaments. Spain even sent soldiers to the eastern front. In 1943 Turkey sold Germany 100% of the chromium needed for manufacturing armor.
But Switzerland was Hitler’s most valuable ally. It laundered his stolen gold and other loot to provide Germany with the hard currency it needed to pay the other neutrals for all their goods and services.
These countries called themselves neutral – and some also did business with the Allies – but they were Hitler’s enablers because without them he could not have kept his killing machine going for so long. Millions of Jewish lives could have been saved along with millions more civilians and soldiers in that final year of the war.
That is relevant because of the killing going on in Syria today. Bashar Assad is no Hitler and his victims are numbered “only” in the thousands and not the millions, although he has the capacity to kill millions of Israelis with his arsenal of conventional as well as chemical and biological weapons.
For the time being he is focused on killing fellow Syrians who have been conducting peaceful demonstrations in pursuit of freedom.
The United States and Israel are particularly worried about the fate of Assad’s arsenal of unconventional weapons as his regime slowly disintegrates and he becomes increasingly desperate to hold on to power at any cost.
His desperation may be understandable from his point of view, since he and the minority Alawite regime he inherited from his even more ruthless father are fighting for their lives. It may be too late for him to adopt the reforms he has long promised but refused to deliver, and the collapse of his government could spark civil and sectarian warfare.
Prolonging the agony – and the threat that the violence will spread beyond Syria’s borders to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey – is a network of enablers who help keep Assad’s war machine operating. They range from would-be superpowers to oil companies to arms dealers.
Hizbullah, Hamas and the assorted terror groups that enjoy sanctuary in Syria understandably want to see Assad stay in power. So does Iran, which has reportedly been sending weapons and Revolutionary Guards advisers.
But it is hard to understand why countries like Turkey, Brazil, South Africa and India – all claiming to be democracies – are protecting Assad at the United Nations.
The Obama administration, which has limited clout in Damascus, finally abandoned any illusions about Assad being a reformer and last month called for him to leave. It has steadily – but a bit too slowly – been ratcheting up the sanctions while pressing the Europeans to get tougher.
The UN has approved an arms embargo on Syria, but Russia and China have blocked efforts to impose tougher sanctions.
In fact, Russia earlier this year tried to quash a UN report charging Iran with violating the weapons embargo.
Finally, late last week the EU reluctantly agreed to follow the US lead by imposing an embargo on Syrian oil. The 27 EU member states buy 95% of Syria’s crude oil, which is responsible for over a quarter of that nation’s income.
Big oil also opposed the sanctions. Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Total are major investors in Syria and lobbied hard against sanctions. Italy weakened its sanctions by postponing them until November 15 to allow for completion of existing contracts.
The EU also banned financial or insurance service involved in such transactions, but the action still falls short of the investment ban imposed by Washington last month and it may have only limited impact on Assad’s funds.
Meanwhile, Russia loudly denounced the 27-nation decision as “unilateral sanctions” against its long-time client state and called for a “partnership approach.” Sounds good, except Russia is the principle obstacle to that course, along with China. The two have successfully blocked the UN Security Council from imposing tough sanctions, making them Assad’s principle benefactors.
Russia’s historic alliance with Syria goes back to the Cold War era. It was Syria’s principle supplier of armaments for decades, a role it has sought more recently to resume, and it played a key role in sparking the 1967 Six Day War by feeding false intelligence to its Arab clients that Israel was massing troops on the Syrian border and planned to invade.
China and Russia see the United States as a rival for leadership in that part of the world, and they want to be seen as the friend of despots struggling to hold on to power. And they have economic interests; in effect these two countries with communist backgrounds are becoming more capitalistic than the West and adopting the attitude that making money trumps other considerations.
After all, both countries are repressive regimes that can identify with another, albeit lesser, autocracy facing a population demanding freedom. If their own conduct is any indicator, neither has any problem with Assad’s actions in jailing dissidents and abusing prisoners and other activists. Like-minded Cuba also opposes tough sanctions.
The complicity of all of Assad’s enablers, big and small, is reminiscent of another era.