Shattered illusion

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad gestures as speaks at the Opera House in central Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

In his speech over the weekend, Bashar Assad effectively put an end to any thoughts of diplomacy or peaceful international solutions to the violence in Syria.

The setting for the speech, the Damascus Opera House, was entirely apt, given the fantastical quality of Assad’s words. He offered nothing.

He succeeded only in proving that he has lost touch with, or is willfully ignoring, reality. He failed to produce concessions, and refused to recognize the opposition as more than tools of the West.

In effect, the speech was a declaration of war. There are two key points that must be taken from it.

The first is further, conclusive, evidence that Assad is not willing to accept any plan that involves his own departure, despite the wishes of the rest of the world.

The second is that all diplomatic efforts that Syria has paid lip service to have clearly been methods of procrastination, providing the regime more time in which it hoped it might eventually beat the rebels.

The defiance in Assad’s speech suggests Sergei Lavrov spoke with inside information when he said any plan to end the bloodshed could not include Assad’s removal, and that Lakhdar Brahimi’s comment that the choice was between hell and the political process was made in the knowledge of Assad’s intransigence.

The speech provided no way for the country to move forward. The opposition had no choice but to reject the speech, given its content and the way it was presented. By the time he had finished Assad had made it more than clear that no diplomatic efforts would move him and his government from their ultimately untenable position.

This realization puts the international community in a corner. They have only been offering the Syrian people a sedative by suggesting that international diplomacy might be a peaceful way out of the crisis. But this version of peace has seen 60,000 people die in less than two years.

Despite their fundamental disagreements, Assad and the interests of the international community have converged to stretch this conflict out, with the West happy to let poorly armed extremists be killed by Assad’s forces, while pronouncing to the world that it was imperative to allow more time for a diplomatic solution.

There can be no more ambiguity after Assad’s speech. If anything good can be said to come from it, it’s that there can be no more diplomatic procrastination.

Assad has thrown down the gauntlet in front of world powers. Every day this challenge is not addressed directly lays bare the hypocrisy of the values the West purports to uphold.

Now is the time for big decisions. Either the international community is in collusion with Assad to destroy a country and kill tens of thousands, or they have to live up to their statements and take action.

The ball is in their court. Every further delay will mean the death of thousands more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 08, 2013, on page 7.




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