Decades from now, Assad will be remembered for his bloody tactics

As the slaughter continues amid the smouldering ruins in Eastern Ghouta, few are listening.
Sunday 25/03/2018
A wounded Syrian girl receives treatment following regime bombardments on the besieged Eastern Ghouta region, on February 21.   (AFP)
Etched in memory. A wounded Syrian girl receives treatment following regime bombardments on the besieged Eastern Ghouta region, on February 21. (AFP)

Sometimes, in the cloud of constant news, events go unnoticed: Fifty dead in Syria last week; 22 killed yesterday; another 15 bombed to pieces today.

The mirror of history, however, will show that industrial killing is happening every day — today, tomorrow and surely next month. Events in Syria over the past seven years will probably turn out to be the 21st century’s worst atrocity.

The political history of the past 100 years is littered with murderous dictators. Hitler killed millions of Europe’s Jews. Pol Pot massacred 1 million-3 million Cambodians in the 1970s. Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in Halabja.

No one said or did much about those atrocities at the time they occurred. The Holocaust wasn’t universally spoken about or recognised until the 1960s. Pol Pot and Saddam ruled for years after their worst actions and were thus allowed to kill thousands more.

In those days, the United States positioned itself as the world’s policeman and moral authority, despite its involvement in violent coups across Latin America in the 1970s and ’80s. However, the United States didn’t act when or shortly after the atrocities occurred because it was embroiled in a complex web of wars, not least the Cold War.

Europe was still reeling from the fallout of two world wars and too preoccupied with internal troubles to care much about murderous campaigns in far-flung parts of the world.

In Syria, a very 20th-century murder campaign continues. It’s seven years this month since Bashar Assad’s regime — under the refrain “Assad or we burn the country” — turned its guns on peaceful protesters.

In past years Assad’s terror made international headlines (though to little practical effect) but, as the slaughter continues amid the smouldering ruins in Eastern Ghouta, few are listening. Western leaders can claim no excuses for their inaction. There is no Cold War, no internal political strife akin to the 1940s or the collapse of communism in the 1980s.

As civilians who oppose the Damascus regime are finding out, the terrible reality is that Assad is only now hitting his stride. Once the regime has crushed opposition elements in Idlib and Ghouta, where in the last month bombings have killed 1,250 people and injured thousands of others in some of the worst violence of the war, it will turn its sights on the autonomous Kurdish cantons of the north-west.That could become a new chapter of the conflict.

Years from now, it is likely the same gruesome scenes that illustrated life in Yarmouk in 2015, eastern Aleppo in 2016 and Ghouta in February and March 2018 will be repeated in Kurdish regions. Combine the atrocities and we’re looking at the actions of the century’s worst mass murderer.

What makes Assad different from Pol Pot or the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin? Very little. A 2015 study by academics in The Netherlands said that “the president [Assad] has prominent psychopathic tendencies.”

It added: “The president also registered prominently on the psychopathic subscale failure to accept responsibility. Persons who score on this trait are usually associated with forms of excusing behaviour, rationalising behaviour or attributing guilt to external factors.”

There is one significant difference, however. While the lives destroyed by murderous dictators of the past cannot be saved, there is some hope for the people hiding in basements or cowering in fear of the Syrian regime.There are thousands of people alive today who could, with the proper international response, survive this war.

Can we still, today as in the past, claim we didn’t know? When the memorials are built decades from now to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Syrians slaughtered at the hands of their own government, will there be much head shaking over how it all happened?

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