In late January, the estimated death toll hit 6,500. As March ended, it neared 10,000. On April Fool's Day, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "We think Assad must go. The sooner the better for everyone concerned." From April 3 to April 10, the Syrian National Council estimated that Assad's minions killed 100 people a day.
Despite repeated ceasefire proposals and calls for dialogue, despite various reactions by the international community, all of them (so far) irresolute, Syria's civil war continues unabated.
Why? Because the Assad regime believes it is locked in a kill or be killed war with the widespread, resilient, yet deeply fragmented rebel opposition. Despite the regime's powerful sources of external support, which include Iran (arms, money and security advisers), Russia (weapons and diplomatic friction) and China (diplomatic friction), the rebels have demonstrated they are prepared to die in order to destroy the despised dictatorship -- in other words, regime change.
Assad uses negotiations to buy time to pursue ever-more-violent repression. Yet every day more Syrian government and army officials defect to the rebels. Defection is an absolute reaction. If Assad defeats the rebellion, defectors and their families have two rather absolute choices -- execution or exile.
The Syrian civil war is thus a death match, and a death match is not negotiable. A meaningful "absolute reaction" by NATO and its Arab allies must account for this harsh fact. Syrian rebels don't need Kofi Annan or Obama administration platitudes, they need weapons, and NATO and Arab leaders with the guts to sever Assad's Iranian supply line.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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