The situation Syria is a particularly challenging one for the makers of U.S. foreign policy. The Syrian regime has managed to create special ties with several different entities over the decades, including Iran and Hezbollah. Toppling it is likely to change many things in the Middle East, each change carrying a possible undesirable outcome for the United States or Israel. It is understandable why the official U.S. response to the Syrian regime's crimes has been largely symbolic in nature.
If we concern ourselves with the interests of the Syrian people, however, whatever follows the regime of Bashar al-Assad cannot be worse.
This is evident in the Syrian regime's handling of the current demonstrations and protests taking place across the country. The death toll has approached 1,000 protesters, mostly killed by live ammunition. Tanks have been deployed into the streets of cities like Homs and Daraa. At least one mass grave was found near Daraa after a siege of the city cut off food, electric and water supplies.
And since Syria has banned foreign reporters from entering the country, Syrians have been relying mainly on cell phone footage posted on YouTube and Facebook to spread the word about their plight. Reuters' Suleiman al-Khalidi and Al Jazeera's Dorothy Parvaz have offered their personal accounts of being held by the Syrian regime. Reading the reports and watching the amateur footage posted on YouTube, I can only reach the conclusion that the regime in Syria literally hates Syrians. Its rancor toward them is staggering.
That may sound over the top to Americans, but it's no news to Syrians. In fact, Syrians have seen worse from their Baathist regime in the past. The bloodbaths in Homs, Hamah, and other cities in the '80s claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Syrians at the hands of the country's armed forces. Decades of living under this regime have taught every Syrian to suspect his or her own family members of being intelligence pawns, ready to report them if they say the "wrong" thing. I have a few Syrian friends living in Minnesota who cannot obtain information by phone from their own family members living in Syria. This is because people in Syria are so cautious about what they say over the phone that they avoid even describing neutrally what's happening there.
The people of Syria are dealing with a regime of unparalleled brutality. If we assume the worst- case scenario, that a branch of the Taliban would take over after the end of the Assad regime, Syrians would still be better off.
The other day I watched in horror as Al Jazeera's Arabic channel showed footage of 13-year-old Hamza Alkhateeb, who was arrested, tortured, then killed by the regime's goons. The footage was an autopsy report showing evidence of head trauma, neck fracture and several bullet holes in the boy's arms and torso. The report said the boy's genitals were mutilated as well. Upon receiving Hamza's body, his family was instructed to sign a form promising not to take part in anti-regime protests.
Clearly, a regime with such an attitude should not be allowed to exist anywhere. I urge Minnesotans concerned about human rights to pay more attention to the situation in Syria.