On My Mind: Syrians await global action

Ironically, Assad's claim to Barbara Walters that he is not crazy would appear to be correct.

Syrian President Bashar Assad 311 (R) (photo credit: Sana / Reuters)
Syrian President Bashar Assad 311 (R)
(photo credit: Sana / Reuters)
Criticism from the United States, European Union, UN Human Rights Council and even the Arab League has not yet made impact on Bashar Assad, as his brutal crackdown enters its tenth month. Now we know why.
“Public opinion outside Syria doesn’t matter,” Assad, speaking in perfect English, calmly told Barbara Walters in his first interview with an American television reporter since the uprising began in March. Walters and her ABC Nightline crew came to Damascus during a rare opening of Syria to foreign journalists. Neil MacFarquhar and Anthony Shadid of The New York Times, both of whom speak Arabic, also have reported in recent days from Syria, providing glimpses of the regime’s brutality, though they did not meet Assad.
With Walters the Syrian dictator projected the same divorced-from-reality worldview he conveyed in his last interview with an American media outlet, The Wall Street Journal, back in January. He declared then that Syria was immune to the kinds of disturbances taking place in Tunisia and Egypt because unlike those countries Syria never engaged in any relations with Israel.
Since that veneer of stability was busted two months later with the start of the Syrian uprising, the regime’s main message has been that foreign provocateurs, not Syrians, are behind the protests. Yet the real foreigners weighing in so far have been Arab and Western governments, and UN officials, criticizing Assad, some demanding that he step down, some imposing a mix of sanctions to bring pressure on the regime to end the internal bloodshed.
Here Assad does seem to care about opinion outside Syria, and has reacted, though not in a way that is helpful. The numbers of killings by the regime has risen every time a foreign government has criticized Assad’s rule.
Assad is non-discriminatory in his dismissiveness, ignoring the US, EU, UN and Arab neighbors equally. His acceptance in early November of the Arab League plan to withdraw Syrian forces from cities and towns across the country turned out to be just as hollow as the national speeches Assad delivered months ago promising reform.
IRONICALLY, ASSAD’S claim to Barbara Walters that he is not crazy would appear to be correct.
He is not crazy. He is diabolical. The calmness of his detachment, of his denial of responsibility for the actions of his own security forces and his complete lack of remorse for the killing is truly frightening.
Under most circumstances, the notion that an Arab leader could call into question the credibility of a United Nations report would be considered laughable. But Assad did when dismissing the latest Human Rights Council report that cited more than 4,000 people who have been killed, 300 of them children, and Syrians of all ages being imprisoned and tortured.
Indeed, it was the arrest and torture of schoolchildren in Daraa in March for scrawling anti-regime graffiti that ignited the uprising in Syria.
The only UN body with real power that can impose sanctions and refer Assad to the International Criminal Court is the UN Security Council.
But there Russia and China, with their veto power already used once and threatened to be employed again, remain Assad’s staunchest defenders.
But if world leaders are truly committed to seeing Assad go, then they must mobilize together to see that he does leave, and here the US can play a critical leadership role.
First, there must be a concerted effort now to adopt a meaningful UN Security Council resolution.
Russia and China must understand that the Assad regime’s continuation threatens their own interests in Syria.
Second, Assad’s cri%mes against humanity should be referred without delay to the International Criminal Court for action.
Third, Arab League sanctions already approved should be implemented now.
Fourth, the White House should recognize that sending Ambassador Ford back to Damascus was a mistake. After the US Embassy was attacked and several Arab ambassadors departed, Ford’s return sends mixed messages about the US resolve to join with other nations in supporting the Syrian protesters and ending the Assad regime.

“The heart of every Syrian is tremendously hurting by watching victims fall daily and the slow response of the international community,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a leading Syrian human rights activist who currently is based in Washington, DC, in his appearance at the UN Human Rights Council last week, the third time the Geneva-based body has convened in special session to discuss Syria.
Each Arab country undergoing upheavals is charting its own course with the final outcome uncertain. Fear of what may happen in Syria after Assad falls is not an answer. It’s an excuse for not recognizing the evil and taking the bold actions to end the horrors that the Syrian people are enduring.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.