Syria : Politics and Morals

We have made many mistakes in assessing the Syrian regime and its leader Bashar-al Assad. I have already pointed out a few of them in this blog. Our most serious mistake was probably to consider that it was simply more harshly despotic than other regimes, without seeing that its very nature differed from the dictatorships we usually compared it to.

Let’s admit that we may have been taken in by the appearance of the young dictator, reputedly schooled in the West (where he only spent fifteen months as an adult and mainly in the company of Syrians), trained as a doctor, a profession that would seem, a priori, to require some qualities of compassion and married to a young, beautiful, UK-educated Syrian with an impressive résumé (that no one ever thought to check however).

And yet there were many signs that should have awakened our caution. Nevertheless it took five months for the westerners to understand that it was useless to wait for him to change his governmental politics and, at last, call for his resignation.

Deep down, we see the Syrian regime as the oriental cousin of Tunisia or Egypt, that is, securitocracies with patrimonial power that the West put up with for economic or geopolitical reasons. But it’s more to Saddam Hussein’s or Gaddafi’s regimes that we should have, from the start, compared Bashar-al Assad’s.

Just like them, Assad is closed to reason. Just like them, he is not held back by moral inhibitions.

The only logic adopted by the Syrian regime is the “logic of power” which, in this particular case, is the product of a mafia-like clan obsession.  Since the beginning, the regime’s only objective has been to remain in power. This is why Assad cannot reform his country for any reform would entail a loss of power. This is why the pseudo-reforms announced one year ago are all, in essence, purely cosmetic.

To achieve this goal, anything goes. Including mass-murder. Including the eradication of two thirds of the population, if Mahar-al Assad’s (Bashar’s younger brother, in charge of organizing the repression) comments are to be believed.

Throughout the twentieth century, other states and regimes exterminated parts of their populations. However, their crimes against humanity and their genocides were committed in the name of an ideology. Pathological,yes, but an ideology.

There’s nothing of the kind in Assad’s regime, unless we consider “its either me or chaos” as an ideology. Which means we are in the presence of sheer savagery, barbarity and inhumanity. Bashar al-Assad has even surpassed his father in the negation of every moral principle. The Hama massacre in 1982 was committed behind closed-doors. But Bashar, as for him, kills quite openly as testified by the live stream of testimonies and pictures of the abominations – sometimes taken and sold by the very security forces of the regime –that have been carried out against the Syrian people for months.

The American Ambassador in Damascus, Robert Ford, did not hesitate to call the regime “evil”[1]. The religious undertones of the word are, without a doubt, enough to repel the French political class and its diplomats. Yet our vocabulary and our judgments – “scandal”, “contemptible regime” – are not enough to describe the monstrous transgression of human rights that is being carried out at the doors of Europe, in a country France has many reasons of being close to. We should be filled with dread in front of everything that is inflicted upon those men, women and children – in one year, the regime has killed an average of two children a day.

There is no doubt that the regime will fight till the last man, « till the end », as Rami Makhlouf said[2]. Neither Kofi Annan, nor probably the Russians or the Chinese will convince Assad to put a stop to the repression. He will only stop when the revolution has been crushed, bled dry “for thirty years”, like after Hama, as he himself said before the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Mustafa Khalife, who has known the hell of Syrian prisons, ruthlessly describes what will happen after this[3]. Assad will act, as he did after Hariri’s murder, with a complete sense of impunity because he knows he is protected by the Russian-Chinese double-veto, Western pusillanimity, and Iranian and Iraqi support.

We have to keep all this in mind when our leaders say they will not do anything unless the Security Council gives them a mandate to act.


It’s high time to balance the risks linked to a military support to the Syrian people and the moral considerations which compel us to help them.

The risks are not insignificant. An intervention of some members of the international community in Syria could create a situation close to –or maybe even worse – the Iraqi quagmire the Americans had to endure. As for arming the revolution, it would mean distributing weapons to the population, thus increasing the risk of civil war. These two solutions could also lead to a regional conflagration, involving Lebanon, Jordan – the weak links of Middle-East -, and even Israel and Iran. It would then be difficult to stop such a war.

On the other hand, letting the regime crush the revolution and slaughter a part of its population could also be dangerous. First, it would clearly be a moral error, one from which the West would recover with difficulty. Second, it would mean that Bashar al-Assad and his major ally, Iran, have consolidated their position in the region. Which eventually would lead to new unbalances and new conflicts that would get more and more difficult to solve. It would also be perceived as a Russian victory, which could convince the country it was right to come back to its Cold War positions. Finally, which people would now have the courage to rise up and claim its freedom? The people would now know that countries which have made freedom and human rights their trademark are no better than dictatorships.

Furthermore, what would happen if, thanks to their courage and their determination, the Syrians succeeded, without any avowed foreign help, to topple Assad’s regime? There would be a real risk that, disgusted by the lack of solidarity shown by the Western world and more than ever convinced, as they often say, that nobody but God is with them, they could, to our dismay, establish a regime that is more Islamist than it is democratic.

In this case and wherever he is, Bachar al-Assad will also have won.


Since the time will inevitably come when politics catch up with morals, when, in one way or another, we will have to pay for our lack of judgement, our lack of courage and our lack of solidarity, we might as well immediately choose the moral side.








[2] « Syrian Elite to Fight Protests ‘to the end’ » New York Times, 10 mai 2011

[3] Libération, 17 février 2012

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