Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (centre) pledged his
eternal refusal to negotiate with the ''terrorists'' when
he spoke to supporters in Damascus recently. Photo from
The most frustrating part of covering the Lebanese civil
war (1975-90) was that after a while there was nothing left to
say. Syria is starting to feel just the same. It's horrible,
but atrocities are a daily event in all civil wars.
It's not going to stop any time soon, but you can only say
that so many times before people get bored and move on.
Except for the people who actually live near Syria's borders,
the audience for ''news'' about Syria has already moved on.
Consider the recent exhaustive study by the United Nations
Human Rights Commission concluding that 60,000 Syrians have
been killed in the civil war since March, 2011. That's
considerably higher than the previous estimates of deaths in
the war, which were running around 40,000, and the UNHRC
hoped that this new number would finally galvanise the rest
of the world into action, but it changed nothing.
Last month's ''news'' was that the Russians were on the brink
of abandoning their Syrian ally, President Bashar al-Assad,
which would surely bring about his rapid downfall.
''One must look the facts in the face,'' said Mikhail
Bogdanov, Russia's deputy foreign minister and Middle Eastern
''Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot
be ruled out.''
However, Mr Bogdanov did not actually say that a rebel
victory was desirable. On the contrary, he said that it would
not happen for a long time, if ever, and that such a victory
would ruin Syria. Then the spokesman of the Russian foreign
ministry, Alexander Lukashevich, announced that the media had
simply misunderstood Mr Bogdanov: ''We have not changed our
position, and we will not change it.''
And so to the recent piece of theatre: a widely touted speech
in Damascus in which Assad would propose a way to end the
conflict peacefully. He did no such thing, of course, instead
declaring his eternal refusal to negotiate with the
''terrorists'' who are fighting his army.
He will only talk to the ''puppet-masters'' (an unholy
alliance, he claims, between Israel, Western governments and
al Qaeda), not to the puppets.
Well, what did you expect? He and his Alawite sect are
convinced that they must go on ruling Syria or face
destruction. He's not actually losing the war, either.
Syrians are deeply divided by sect and ethnicity and class,
and enough of those groups are on Assad's side that he can
probably hold out for a very long time. By the time he
finally loses (or wins), perhaps years from now, Syria will
indeed be ruined.
So why doesn't everybody else ''do something about it''?
Because what ''everybody else'' really means is ''somebody
else, but not me''. No government is going to order its
soldiers to risk their lives in a military intervention
abroad unless it has reasonable confidence that their
sacrifice will not be futile. That assurance is simply not
available to governments that might contemplate intervention
It's a quarter-century since the first dictatorial regimes
were overthrown by non-violent revolutions, and the remaining
ones have all had time to study the phenomenon.
They have unanimously and quite correctly concluded that
their best chance of survival is to push the protesters into
violence. In a civil war, everybody is in the wrong, and the
side with the greatest ability to inflict violence (the
regime) may win.
Some regimes, like the communists in eastern Europe or the
apartheid regime in South Africa, decided that they would not
impose a civil war on the country even if the alternative was
Others, like the Egyptian regime two years ago, could not
trust the army to fight a civil war on their behalf. But the
senior commanders of the Syrian army are almost all Alawites,
and they were actually willing to fight a civil war rather
than surrender power.
Now they have their war, and it will go on for a long time.
By the end, there may not even be a unified Syrian state any
more. And no outside force is going to stop it.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent London