Why History Repeats Itself in Syria
by Radwan Ziadeh
With the international community’s action stalled while different parties debate national interests and the possible problematic consequences of an intervention, Syria is spiraling into chaos. Each day that this unrest continues unchecked amplifies and complicates the problems that will plague the nation post-Assad. Crimes against humanity are spreading, as the Free Syria Army struggles to incorporate and maintain control over armed rebel brigades. Perhaps a comparison of Bashar al-Assad to former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic will help illuminate the severity of the situation in Syria. The take-away is: we have seen this before, and we (the international community) know that something must be done.
Milosevic, aside from being guilty of crimes against humanity, was supported unity and nationalism whenever one was more amenable to building his power. Heads of state who met with the leader noted that his personality fluctuated between a firm public stance and a relaxed, removed demeanor in private. One of his colleagues recalled his affinity for Disney comics and Frank Sinatra tunes.
Bashar al-Assad displays personality traits similar to those of Milosevic. The leaked emails shows that Bashar takes instructions from the small circle of individuals around him, often flip-flopping his positions without much semblance of independent thought or decision-making. The release of diplomatic cables by The Guardian last week reveals more of Assad’s idiosyncrasies which resemble Milosevic’s: a taste for western music like Chris Brown and LMFAO as well as an interest in the Harry Potter series. These emails, sent in the middle of his regime’s shelling of neighborhoods, reveals Assad’s insulation or removal from the reality on the ground, a situation over which, as the emails reveal, he had control.
In addition to their common curious personality traits, Assad’s siege of Homs recalls Milosevic’s bombardment of Sarajevo. The Free Syria Army also invites parallels to the Kosovo Liberation Army. This is not to say that the FSA should be designated as a terrorist group, although Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly tried to brand them as such. The KLA received military, intelligence, and tactical assistance from Germany, and possibly from the US, Swiss, and British intelligence agencies. While the KLA committed deplorable acts like enlisting children, this parallel serves to highlight the importance of international assistance to the FSA to ensure that they comply with international human rights standards and war conventions. Nations are already arming the FSA, and the Human Rights Watch report released this week shows that assistance is needed to increase coordination, command, and control.
Prominent US congressmen have also supported the arming of the KLA and FSA. Representative Dana Rohrabacher was outspoken in opposing ground troops in Kosovo while advocating arming the KLA. Senator John McCain has gone even further in his statements regarding the FSA, saying that arming and supporting them is necessary, but insufficient at this point. McCain suggested, “at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, local coordinating committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through air strikes on Assad’s forces.”
Furthermore, former US President Clinton was very reluctant to act in the Balkans, while President Obama displays a similar reticence in Syria. The UN sent envoys in both instances. We seem to be living an out-of-body experience in which history repeats itself, we acknowledge the repetition, and do nothing to alter the outcome.
Radwan Ziadeh is the Director of Foreign Relations at the Syrian National Council, and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in Washington D.C.