Thousands of Syrians poured into neighboring Turkey this week, fleeing a scorched-earth military campaign that brought new levels of violence to the regime’s drive to silence dissent. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used helicopter gunships and indiscriminate shelling by tanks to seize the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, a center of the pro-democracy movement. Witnesses said hundreds of local men were rounded up as troops burned nearby farms and villages. Among the 8,500 people settling into refugee camps in Turkey were dozens of soldiers who deserted rather than fire on unarmed civilians. “Terrible things are being done,” said deserter Ismail Sher Saleh. “I have seen people getting shot for no reason.”
This could be Syria’s tipping point, said The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial. “Pro-democracy revolutions often start rolling only when individual soldiers refuse orders to shoot unarmed civilians.” Just such a mutiny, in fact, prompted Assad’s crackdown in Jisr al-Shughour. “But by killing even more civilians—in such a wholesale way—the regime may only drive more soldiers to defy their superiors.”
Why isn’t the U.S. helping these brave resisters? asked The Washington Times. “Assad’s thugs have killed more civilians” than Muammar al-Qaddafi did before the U.S. started bombing Libya, yet President Obama has offered nothing but platitudes to the Syrians. The administration says the key difference is that in Libya, there was a U.N. mandate to intervene. Apparently, then, Obama has given the U.N. “the implicit veto power” to prevent the U.S. from “acting in its national interest or defending the helpless.”
It’s not that simple, said Adrian Peracchio in Newsday. Qaddafi’s fate affects only Libya, but Assad’s fall could sow chaos in Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. In “the worst scenario,” Iran, Syria’s ally, could intervene militarily to prop up Assad. That is why “Obama and his allies have decided that the devil they know in Syria is still preferable” to an unknown alternative. But their “misguided restraint” is shortsighted, said Frida Ghitis in The Miami Herald. Just last week Assad sent protesters pouring into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. “If his brutality against the Syrian people was not enough, his willingness to trigger another regional war” should convince the international community to get serious about engineering Assad’s removal now, before it’s too late.