What’s happening in Syria proves yet again the difficulties and disadvantages of dealing with tyranny. The diplomatic ineptitude of the good guys merges with their lack of will to evolve a military strategy. Poor Ban Ki-moon, the mouse-like U.N. secretary general, can only moan about Bashar Assad’s “appalling brutality” and the Russian and Chinese veto on what might otherwise have led to unanimous condemnation and perhaps eventual action, Kosovo style. Hillary Clinton speaks of “sending a clear message of support” to the Free Syrian Army, and invites Assad to step down — that will really rattle the brute. William Hague talks of “tightening the stranglehold” while also assuring everyone that he is in touch with dissidents abroad and no arms are being sent to those who are fighting on the streets for regime change. The response to Assad’s mass murder of his people, then, is meaningless cliché-mongering and pitiful evasion.
The tyrants are free as usual to do their worst. Far from stepping down, Assad is fighting for his life while nothing and nobody prevents him from deploying tanks and artillery against towns like Homs, and villages in the provinces. Clips of film show housing on fire and men filling mass graves under cover of night. The Russian foreign minister, a man as cold and mendacious as any commissar from Soviet times, says it is not illegal to arm Assad. Themselves experts in suppressing populations, the ayatollahs of Tehran have seconded hundreds and perhaps thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and their general commanding as well, to help kill Syrians. These various promoters of tyranny have no compunction either about getting their way through brutal diplomacy or by reducing politics to simple murder.
As things now stand, Assad looks likely to stay in power at the head of a hateful police state for an indefinite time. The Iranian ayatollahs will be handed a victory in that case, leaving them well placed to manipulate Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, to provoke revolts of fellow Shiites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and to finalize their nuclear-weapons program against Israel. To arm the Free Syrian Army is self-defense, as it may be the only measure still available to prevent the Syrian civil war from swelling and bursting from a regional issue into an international crisis.