As­sad the war crim­i­nal

White House still re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge the ob­vi­ous

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton says Syr­ian strong­man Bashar As­sad might be a war crim­i­nal. The ques­tion is how many more civil­ians he has to kill to con­vince her.

In Se­nate tes­ti­mony Tues­day, Mrs. Clin­ton was asked if Mr. As­sad could face war-crimes charges, sim­i­lar to those levied against for­mer Yu­goslav leader Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic. “I think that based on def­i­ni­tions of war crim­i­nal and crimes against hu­man­ity,” Mrs. Clin­ton said, “there would be an ar­gu­ment to be made that he would fit into that cat­e­gory.” But she was cau­tious about rec­om­mend­ing that course of ac­tion be­cause tak­ing that step “lim­its op­tions to per­suade lead­ers per­haps to step down from power.”

The White House main­tains con­certed ac­tion in Syria is un­nec­es­sary. “We are work­ing with our al­lies through the Friends of Syria to iso­late and pres­sure As­sad,” White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney said this week, “and to try to get him to re­al­ize that his days are num­bered and to cease the bru­tal­ity that he’s been wag­ing against his own peo­ple.”

No one seems to have told Mr. As­sad. On Thurs­day, regime forces took con­trol of the rebel strong­hold of Homs af­ter a bloody 26-day bat­tle. Homs had be­come a sym­bol of the re­sis­tance to Mr. As­sad and the grue­some toll the civil war is tak­ing among Syria’s civil­ians. Over the past year, about 8,000 peo­ple have been killed by regime forces seek­ing to put down the re­bel­lion. Eleven months ago, when 1,200 peo­ple had fallen vic­tim to civil strife in Libya, Pres­i­dent Obama de­clared a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis that re­quired an armed re­sponse. “As pres­i­dent,” he pro­claimed then, “I re­fused to wait for the images of slaugh­ter and mass graves be­fore tak­ing ac­tion.” Now the White House re­sponse to pic­tures of bod­ies in the streets is that it is “not the time to fur­ther mil­i­ta­rize the sit­u­a­tion in Syria.”

Other coun­tries are find­ing ways to act. On Thurs­day, Kuwait’s par­lia­ment passed a res­o­lu­tion of sup­port for the rebel Free Syr­ian Army and called for Mr. As­sad to be pros­e­cuted for crimes against his own peo­ple. Other Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil coun­tries such as Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia have said they would cut diplo­matic ties with Da­m­as­cus and sup­port the rebels. Mean­while, Iran has sent two war­ships to Syria, os­ten­si­bly for a train­ing mis­sion but sig­nal­ing durable sup­port for the As­sad regime.

The time has passed when the United States could hope to fi­nesse a so­lu­tion. Mea­sures such as of­fi­cially rec­og­niz­ing Syr­ian dis­si­dent groups as le­git­i­mate agents for the Syr­ian peo­ple could lay the ground­work for more as­sertive in­ter­na­tional ac­tion. While seek­ing war-crimes charges may dis­suade Mr. As­sad from vol­un­tar­ily re­lin­quish­ing power, al­low­ing him to con­tinue to slaugh­ter his own peo­ple will be even less con­vinc­ing. It is too late to pre­vent hor­rific vi­o­lence in Syria, but it is still pos­si­ble to hold the per­pe­tra­tors ac­count­able.

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