Chaos in Syria

Where in the world is Bashar al-Assad? The Syrian strongman whose government is under increasing attack from Syrian rebels, and whose capital city of Damascus has been descending into chaos, appeared to be missing this week.

People were questioning Assad’s whereabouts Thursday, in the wake of Wednesday’s rebel bombing attack that killed three top Syrian officials, including Assad’s brother-in-law.

Syrian TV showed video of Assad Thursday meeting with his new defense minister, but there was nothing to indicate where that video was shot. There has been considerable speculation that Assad has fled Damascus for a small Syrian resort.

Assad has good reason to fear for his life. He is responsible for the deaths of thousands of his own countrymen, including women and children. If the rebels capture him, they will probably show him no mercy.

Meanwhile, Western officials Thursday were furious with Russia and China for blocking a United Nations Security Council attempt to impose new sanctions on Syria. “The effect of their actions is to protect a brutal regime,” Britain’s U.N. ambassador declared.

He’s right. There’s little question that Assad’s government has been among the most repressive and violent in the world recently.

Over the past 17 months — since the so-called Arab Spring resulted in attempts to overthrow despots throughout the Middle East — Assad’s forces have killed tens of thousands of Syrians and imprisoned and tortured many others.

But even that brutal repression may not be enough to save Assad. His future appears more and more to be following the trajectory of other Middle East strongmen. If he’s lucky, he may end up in prison, as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarek did. If not, he may suffer the fate of Libya’s Muamar Gadhafi — killed by his own people, his body displayed for celebration.

Far from being cowed by Assad’s strong-arm tactics, the rebels in Syria have been growing bolder in recent weeks. The bombing that took the lives of top Syrian officials Wednesday is evidence that the rebels can get past Assad’s vaunted security forces and strike at the heart of his government.

No wonder Assad may be looking for a place to hide.

It is truly unfortunate that countries like Russia and China continue to back the Assad regime with political and economic support. And Iran apparently provides weapons and military assistance.

Even so, we hope Assad’s days as Syria’s leader truly are numbered and that he will be brought to justice swiftly.

Whether such an outcome would result in democracy in Syria is, of course, far from a foregone conclusion. More than a year after their violent upheavals, Egypt and Libya are still struggling to embrace true democratic principles.

Still, if the current chaos in Syria leads to the ultimate demise of Assad’s regime, it will be a blessing to the long-suffering Syrian people.


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