The violence the government has been unleashing on the Syrian people unfortunately continues, with Syrian troops Monday reaching towns near the Lebanon border “guns echo[ing]” and “claiming to look for terrorist groups.” But Monday also saw more than 150 Syrian activists, intellectuals, and dissident leaders meet to show support for the pro-democracy protests as well as condemn Assad’s violence and call for a peaceful transition that could lead to the end of Assad’s rule.
“The solution to this crisis has to address its root causes. This regime must be toppled and replaced with a democratic system,” said leading Syrian writer Michel Kilo, who spent three years as a political prisoner.
A declaration issued at the end of the meeting at a Damascus hotel pledged to support the goal of a democratic state that guarantees freedom and rights to all members of society.
It called on the authorities to end military assaults on cities and towns, withdraw troops and security forces from the streets, release thousands of political prisoners held without trial and allow the rights of protest and assembly.
The additional international pressure, primarily through sanctions, has also put pressure on Assad and given legitimacy to the protesters. But the more important factor is that the Assad regime’s ally, Turkey, has been pressuring him as well:
In the past five months, [Turkish Prime Minister] Mr Erdogan and Mr Davutoglu have repeatedly urged long-overdue reforms on President Assad, including gradual moves towards multi-party elections.
As the Assad regime continues to wage war on its people, the Turks have become more outspoken, with the prime minister, warning they would not tolerate another Hama – the 1982 massacre of Sunni Islamists by Mr Assad’s father, the late Hafez al-Assad.
[…] Pressure is building for decisive action as Syria’s scorched-earth campaign gets ever closer to the border. Turkish leaders are becoming more strident, with Mr Erdogan denouncing the repression as “savagery”. “There are three types of leader in this region,” says Mr Davutoglu. “Those who see change as a must and want to lead and manage it; those who accept the need for change but who are following rather than leading in the hope of gaining time; and those who are resisting change.
“The third category will disappear – I told Bashar this – the second can get by for a time, but only the first category will survive. We are telling our friends in the region we want them in that first category,” he says. Look at us. We made these sorts of changes [after the AKP came to power] in 2002 – even before people started to demand them.”
We’ll see how far these small victories go, but it is nonetheless progress, and a far cry indeed from what some foaming-at-the-mouth Congressional war-mongers like Lindsey Graham were advocating just a couple weeks ago:
“If it made sense to protect the Libyan people against Qaddafi, and it did, . . . the question for the world is have we gotten to that point in Syria?” Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, added: “We may not be there yet, but we’re getting very close.” He explained: “It has gotten to the point where Qaddafi’s behavior and Assad’s behavior are indistinguishable . . . You need to put on the table all options, including a model like we have in Libya.”
The arguments in favor of war for humanitarian reasons are so helplessly narrowed to “the only way to stop these atrocities is U.S. intervention” that they don’t even allow for the possibility of change absent such an intervention. Even so, as I wrote here, “unless and until the U.S. government halts its own support of such atrocities in Yemen, in Bahrain, in Iraq, in Afhganistan, in Pakistan, in Palestine, and elsewhere, we have no moral or practical standing to intervene in Syria.” These minor instances of progress have been made, again, even while the U.S. has not only refrained from engaging militarily, but even foregone opportunities to end the atrocities peacefully.