Hussein Ibish

The Assad Equation

An alarming precedent in international relations is being established in Syria by rewarding gassing civilians

Bashar al-Assad speaks to Turkish media in an interview later uploaded to YouTube by the Syrian president.

The worst fears of those who doubted the wisdom and effectiveness of the agreement between the international community and the Assad regime to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles and capability are rapidly being realized. Today's "deadline" to ship the most serious material out of the country produced no movement. And a new precedent in international relations with potentially far-reaching and alarming consequences – call it "the Assad equation" – is unmistakably unfolding.

Whatever signals the West intended to send through the agreement, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has clearly taken it as an implicit green light to use all other weapons with increasing intensity in his onslaught against both rebels and Syria's defenseless civilian population.

The way the regime is "implementing" the agreement demonstrates they see it primarily as a useful distraction for the international community from the vicious war it is conducting against the Syrian people. The regime probably doesn't care that much about chemical weapons. But, as they are making abundantly clear, when they can avoid compliance, they will.

Reports suggest that today's "deadline" for shipping most of its chemical weapons stockpile out of the country is being systematically procrastinated. Indeed, according to reports by those involved in the process on the UN and international side, the weapons have not even begun to be moved.

Anyone who finds it convenient can cite logistics, winter weather, and, of course, the ongoing conflict for such "delays." All of these complications were fully understood and, presumably, factored into the equation when the December 31 deadline was agreed upon. But the process required to ensure that Syria retains no chemical weapons in the timeframe the agreement sets forth was always implausible at best and, at worst, practically impossible to either accomplish or verify.

The plan to transport Syria's declared 1,200 tons of chemical weapons material requires its transfer from 12 different sites around the country by road to the northwestern port of Latakia. This means, in effect, that the agreement both relies on and therefore implicitly endorses military measures the regime can claim are necessary to secure the areas required for this macabre long-haul convoy.

The agreement not only makes Assad a partner with the international community in the project of getting rid of his own chemical weapons following their use against civilians, but it can also be cited to justify regime offensives in order to ensure their control of all the necessary areas and roads for this transfer.

International authorities say the regime now has "virtually all" of the necessary "logistical and security assets" in order to bring these weapons to Latakia. But to cite this as a positive development can also only mean de facto endorsement of regime control over key areas and transportation corridors of the country.

Assad, therefore, appears to have discovered or pioneered a new principle of international relations: lost legitimacy can be restored, and a consensus in favor of regime change can be profoundly compromised by dumping poison gas on civilians, including hundreds of children.

This, then, is "the Assad equation," and dictators around the world must surely be taking note of the increasingly obvious and substantial benefits to the regime of having committed a heinous war crime.

Worse still, there is no sign that the international community's patience is being particularly tested by how the agreement is playing out. The regime is predictably dragging the process on as long as possible, which they will certainly continue to do, citing any number of plausible-seeming technical and security problems.

Worst of all, and although the West and the United States could not have intended this, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Assad dictatorship regards the chemical weapons-focused process as, in practice, providing cover for an intensification of massive attacks, including of unarmed civilians, by even the fiercest "conventional" weapons.

The ongoing barrel bombing onslaught in Aleppo in which at least 500 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in recent days exemplify this dynamic. International eyebrows are hardly raised by such butchery anymore.

Indeed, the main development in the Western policy conversation since the agreement – the increasing use of heavy weapons against Syrian civilians notwithstanding – has been the emergence of establishment constituencies that openly endorse the survival of the regime as "the least bad option" for the West in Syria.

Today's will hardly be the last missed deadline or breach of the agreement. An endless string of them may be readily anticipated. Meanwhile, Syria will continue to be immolated as the rest of the world shrugs or, in the case of Russia and Iran, applauds. 

As things stand, the "Assad equation" is emerging as a chilling but unmistakable new principle of international relations. And there seems little interest in Washington or other Western capitals in correcting this perilous precedent.

Assad during an interview this past October. (AFP photo/YouTube)

"International eyebrows are hardly raised by such butchery anymore."

  • Beiruti

    Hanibaal: in all likelihood, what you have said will happen. Policy inertia will leave things as they are, assuming the Opposition can hold up their end. But in theend, Lebanon is not an island. It is adversely affected by happenings in the neighborhood. Things that are not of our making, now within our ability to stop. We have Hezbollah engaged with the regime. Others surreptitiously aiding the opposition. Syria is flooded with regional jihadi fighters, who, when they are dome with Syria will look elsewhere to carry on their jihad and we are next door with a porous border. Syria now is a bad neighbor that is becoming a worse neighbor. As for the US, it is a stain on the country that the US turned a blind eye on Lebanon all these years, and when it. Did give us attention, it was the wrong kind. Sort of like a doctor treating a bacterial infection. If you stop treatment half way through, you have weakened the bacterial strain, but not killed it, so that when it comes back, it's even more virulent and less susceptible to antibiotic treatment. This is what the US has done for Lebanon and what it is now doing for Syria. Will the US intervene?? That is a calculation about American Interests. should the US intervene? Sure. But if your neighbors are fighting and you go to break up the fight, the chances are that you will be injured, or will incur the wrath of one or both of the original antagonists.

    January 2, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Beiruti: But why then are you supporting a US intervention in Syria, when the US not only did not intervene to help Lebanon against Assad, but in fact sponsored the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in exchange for peace on the Golan, hostages, and to cavort to the Saudis who at the time sided with the PLO against Lebanon? Why not let Syria rot to the bone over the regime and the Syrian people whose soldiers - sons, husbands, brothers... shelled, killed, kidnapped, tortured us, and ruined our country? Why not let the US suffer the consequences - if any - of its skewed foreign policy that never seems to change or evolve? Why not keep the US out of it - just as it washed its hands like Pontius Pilate of Lebanon's torment - and see where the chips fall? I am not for the Assad regime, nor am I for its enemies. I am against both of them, and I see the Syrian killing fields as Lebanon's ultimate revenge. Any western intervention will bring a solution, less than an ideal one for sure, but still a solution to Syria. BUT I DON'T WANT TO SEE A SOLUTION TO SYRIA. I want to see the Syrian heartbreak go on for decades because this is what will prove to the world the fallacy of an Arab identity, the macabre charade of Arab and Islamic unity...all of which will help re-assert the distinct Lebanese identity we have always been denied. You may argue that other non-westerners are intervening, to which I say that Russian or Iranian help to the Assad regime will never let Assad win. And this is exactly what I want: a decades-long bleeding of the heart of the Arab-Islamic garbage that Syria represents, because in the end this will be a victory for our Lebanon, the Lebanon we believe in, and the Lebanon the Syro-Arab-Muslims dismembered over the bodies of our children.

    January 2, 2014

  • Beiruti

    @Hanibaal, I have been involved here in the States trying to get the US to act for our Lebanon since 1980 and the Zahle War. Your comments are exact, and to the point. Little did we know that Assad was so entrenched in US policy that even the latest atrocities are not enough to move the US to act. The mountain we were pushing the Levanon rock up is steeper than we ever thought.

    January 2, 2014

  • Syricide

    Garbage. Who is this joker? He is months behind the news. Sarin munitions were not fired from Regime positions.

    January 1, 2014

  • sam from boston


    January 1, 2014

  • Beiruti

    Who can be surprised by the development. The whole chemical weapons eradication program, was, afterall, a face saving measure concocted by Assad's erstwhile ally, Vladamir Putin to allow Obama to gracefully backdown from a military assault on Syrian military assets back in August. Only the most naive among us would have thought that Assad would have actually executed the plan long after the world's attention had turned elsewhere. The Chemical Weapons Eradication Gambit was perfect -- Russia saved its ally Assad; Assad went from international pariah to an international partner in the eradication of chemical weapons; and Obama got off the hook. Now, Obama, if he has any balls, will have to revisit the Assad file, note that he has not carried out the terms of the agreement and follow through with completion of the military option that was shelved while the eradication option was being followed. If Obama fails in this, his legacy will not be health care for all Americans but the senseless slaughter of Syrian civilians that Obama could have stopped if he had exercised the powers of his office.

    December 31, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I remember Assad's (father, for the most part) butcheries in Lebanon - I lived through several sieges and savage shelling of civilian East Beirut. Not only did they not raise international eyebrows, but they were acclaimed by all Western countries, cavorting and groveling at the feet of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other oil-laden barbarians, as "a factor of stability" in Lebanon. On the Western side, the Assad regime was seen as "cunning" (as if intelligence trumps barbarism) and as "keeping its promises" (of trading Western hostages for more gains over the blood of the Lebanese). On the Arab side, Assad was the "pulsating heart of Arabism", the "defender of Palestine", and an across-the-board hero of Arabs standing against Western imperialism and Zionism, and -lest we forget - against the otherwise pitiful "isolationist Christian Lebanese" who refused to be victims, who fought to preserve the Lebanese State, and who refused to subscribe to the Saudi-American world order founded on common mercantile interests without a speck of common human rights principles. Hussein Ibish in his anti-Assad harangues today exemplifies the vanguard of the sectarian double standard, conjuring up all the right principles in defense of Syria's Sunnis, yet having savagely renounced those very same principles when it came to Lebanon a mere two decades ago. A simple case in point: When Lebanese-Americans tried to push the Syria Accountability Act trough Congress in the early 2000s, Mr. Ibish himself and his horde of Arab-Americans opposed it tooth and nail. I might agree with the foundation of Mr. Ibish's opinion above, for the Assad regime was my enemy since 1970 and remains so to this date, but I can only feel disgust and revulsion at the sudden turnabout and discovery of these foundational principles by those who persisted in colluding and supporting the very same regime they today call their enemy, even as it tormented and destroyed Lebanon during three long decades.

    December 31, 2013