An atrocity: Assad welcomed back

June 7, 2023

From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters

It is an atrocity that Bashar al-Assad was welcomed back to the Arab League Summit on May 19 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after his Syrian regime regained membership earlier in the month. This is one more attempt to bury the Syrian Revolution, which has heard its obituary pronounced again and again since the first mass demonstrations of Arab Spring, March 15, 2011.

Meanwhile, since April, Lebanon has been deporting hundreds of Syrian refugees back into the hands of Assad’s forces, part of his apparatus that made an industry of torturing prisoners and rebels, even children. Already deportees have been arrested or conscripted into the Fourth Army, the palace guard responsible for so many massacres of civilians.


Syrian refugees in Turkey worry that they are next, as Turkey voted on May 28 in the Presidential runoff. The winner was incumbent President Erdoğan, who, despite Turkey’s NATO membership, has tilted toward Vladimir Putin. Trade with Russia has more than doubled since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Erdogan’s challenger Kilicdaroglu campaigned on evicting all 3.4 million Syrian refugees. That would send them back into the hands of the Assad regime, which Russia’s air power, along with Iranian ground troops, has propped up for eight long years. Most Turks voted against Kilicdaroglu and his threats. Bombing of civilian targets in rebel-held areas has continued even after the devastation of the Feb. 6 earthquake.

Because Putin employed his tried-and-true tactics of bombing schools, hospitals and apartment buildings in Ukraine, as he had practiced in Syria since 2015, there seemed to be an opening last year for nations to belatedly hold Putin, and Assad with him, to account for those earlier war crimes in Syria—and more importantly, provide the space for the still-active Syrian Revolution to continue. But now, instead of dragging Assad to the International Criminal Court, the rest of the world looks entirely too comfortable with rehabilitation for Assad, just as the Arab League has done.


Feb. 17, 2019, a correspondent in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria, writes: “The burnt body of Zahra Khaled Aldabos in *Khan Sheikhoun*. No worries this time- It’s not a chemical attack! Meanwhile, Bashar is asking refugees to come back! The last time he had a live talk was a year and a half ago.”

Even in the years that Assad was a pariah, most nations including the U.S. limited their response to his attacks on civilians—even suspected chemical attacks—primarily to resolutions of condemnation and to sanctions, sanctions that vetoes by Russia and China in the UN Security Council made unenforceable.

When Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” by attacking Ghouta with sarin nerve gas in August 2013, even though Obama had promised that invited retaliation, Obama’s only act was to charge Putin with guaranteeing that Assad would give up his chemical weapons inventory.

That led the way for Putin to use his air power to prop up Assad, destroying cities beginning with Aleppo, to drive revolutionaries back into Syria’s northwest corner. Assad’s welcome back to the Arab League Summit and to other diplomatic circles demonstrates that solidarity from revolutionaries regardless of borders is all that those who fight for freedom in Syria can count on.

—Bob McGuire

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