Wednesday, December 26, 2012

High-Ranking Syrian General Defects in New Blow to Assad

The New York Times is reporting today that a high-ranking Syrian general has defected, terming his departure "a new blow" to the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad.

The defector, Maj. Gen. Abdul Azia Jassem al-Shallal, announced his move in a video broadcast by Al Arabiya, saying that he had taken the step because of what he called the Syrian military’s deviation from “its fundamental mission to protect the nation and transformation into gangs of killing and destruction.”

An interesting question is how, once Assad falls, the new government of Syria deals with people like Gen. Shallal. He can claim that he left as a consequence of the brutality of the Assad regime against its own people in the last year.

But what this general can never honestly deny is that the Bashar al-Assad regime and that of his father, Hafez al-Assad, has always been a brutal dictatorship. Since the rise of the Ba'ath Party in the 1960s, there never have been ordinary freedoms for the Syrian people--no free commerce; no free elections; no freedom of speech; no freedom to travel; and no ability to stand up to the police state the Assads built.

And a major part of that brutal state required the work of men like Maj. Gen. Abdul Azia Jassem al-Shallal. He may never be held accountable for his crimes against humanity. But the fact that he defected shortly before the end of the regime he was a big part of should not absolve him of his record.

General Shallal’s statement came as Syrian insurgents were claiming new territorial gains against Mr. Assad in the northern and central parts of the country and as a special envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League was visiting Damascus as part of an effort to reach a political settlement that would halt the conflict, the most violent of the Arab Spring revolutions that began in the winter of 2010-2011. More than 40,000 people have been killed since protests against Mr. Assad began in March 2011.

There have been a handful of other big defections from Assad in the last half year. And there will likely be some more in the next 3-6 months. To me it seems that these defectors are more driven by a desire to be on the winning side than they are by moral qualms about how bad that government is. Gen. Shallal can see what is coming--Assad will fall in 2013. Shallal simply hopes to save his own skin.

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