Can We Get Rid of the Butcher of Damascus?

Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s “President,” is not a stupid man. On the contrary: he is a doctor who practiced ophthalmology in London until he was called back to Syria to assume power on the death of his brother. And he is married to the glamorous Asma al-Assad, who is much beloved by Vogue magazine.

Yet Assad is a butcher. To take just one example, we wrote here about the torture killing of a 13-year-old boy who was swept up in the Assad government’s crackdown on dissidents. Assad has not hesitated to murder thousands of his countrymen who have risen up in revolt against his corrupt dictatorship.

One of the most notable Syrian rebels is the cartoonist Ali Farzat, who has had the temerity to ridicule Assad. Here is Farzat in happier times:

Most recently, Farzat drew a cartoon of Assad hitching a ride out of Dodge (or Damascus) with Moammar Gadhafi that was widely circulated in Syria.

Here in the U.S., we use the word “courage” in connection with politics much too freely. The truth is that it takes no courage at all to participate in politics in this country. One can disagree with, and criticize, President Obama with impunity, and a few years ago liberals could denounce President Bush as “Bushitler” without any fear of the consequences that would have followed if Bush had, in fact, been the slightest bit like Hitler.

In Syria, it actually requires courage to criticize Assad’s regime. Farzat’s courage was punished when Assad’s goons kidnapped him, beat him severely and broke his hands. In the Arab world, this passes for a subtle hint that Farzat should stop drawing cartoons. Someone took photos of Farzat in the hospital; here is one:

The Associated Press describes Assad’s attack on Farzat:

The widely popular cartoonist, who works late into the night, left his studio at 4 a.m. Thursday, the relative and several activists familiar with the attack told The Associated Press.

A jeep with tinted windows soon started trailing him and cut him off on a Damascus street. Four masked gunmen dragged him out of his car, bundled him into the jeep and drove him to the airport road just outside Damascus, beating him and making threats all the while. …

“This is just a warning,” the gunmen told Ferzat, according to a relative who asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisals. “We will break your hands so that you’ll stop drawing.”

The men then singed the artist’s beard, put a bag over his head and dumped him on the side of the road.

What can the United States do to help bring down Assad’s regime? Perhaps nothing. At a minimum, though, let’s stop supporting it. Within the last few months, our bizarrely clueless Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, hailed Assad as a “reformer.” That was, apparently, part of the Obama administration’s “smart” policy of engagement with our most intractable enemies. Unlike a number of Arab states, we have not withdrawn our ambassador from Damascus. That, apparently, is also “smart.” Maybe the Obama administration could forget about being smart for a moment, and do the decent thing. At a bare minimum, let’s create some distance between Vogue magazine and American foreign policy by standing foresquare in opposition to Assad’s brutal dictatorship.

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