On January 6, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave his first public speech in six months to a crowd of supporters in an opera house in central Damascus. He showed no signs of releasing his tenuous grip on power, ignoring international pressure to step down, and the opposition as they gain ground in the suburbs of Assad’s Damascus stronghold. Many are calling Assad’s speech “defiant” and “out of touch,” as he blamed the opposition forces—which he called West-backed “terrorists” and “murderous criminals” in his speech—for the 21 months of bloody conflict that has killed 60,000 so far, and refused to negotiate with any armed groups. It is just as well for opposition, however, as any peace plan in which Assad remains in power is probably a non-starter.
But how “defiant” and “out of touch” is Assad? The answer to this question may have significant ramifications for the future of the Syrian civil war, the Middle East, and the United States. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that satellite images taken late last November showed Syrian armed force personnel mixing what was most likely the deadly neurotoxin, sarin, and packing it into 500-lb bombs. Soon after, President Obama and other world leaders warned, last year, that the Syrian Army’s use of chemical weapons was a definite red-line for intervention by the United States.
The real question is, is how of touch is Assad? Did he or does he plan to use chemical weapons on Syrian soil? Does the mere fact that Syria has these weapons, and may use them at any point warrant U.S. intervention (an effort that would require an estimated 75,000 troops on the ground in Syria)? Does President Obama have the legal authority or the obligation to intervene, even covertly, if it means saving innocent lives? What do you think?
PHOTOGRAPH: Associated Press, Huffington Post