June 12, 2011

A Hidden Story

Tim Rogers
Dalton Daily Citizen

DALTON — Good morning.

See if you can guess what country I am talking about based on this lead from a recent Associated Press story.

“Policemen turned their guns on each other, soldiers shed their uniforms rather than obey orders to fire on protesters, and three young men who tried to escape were beheaded by forces loyal to (to the) President.”

If you guessed Libya — which for almost three months has been hit by nearly daily NATO airstrikes in an effort to remove Moammar Gadhafi from power — you would be on the right track, but, alas, not correct.

No, you would have to travel counterclockwise around the rim of the Mediterranean until you reached Syria to discover the latest Middle Eastern country to unleash deadly force upon its own people in an effort to keep a brutal dictatorship in power.

I use the term “travel” loosely because no one except for the very brave or the very foolish is trying to get into the country and many Syrians are desperately trying to leave by any means available.

If this winter we saw how popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt could relatively peacefully remove long-standing governments from power in Arab countries, we are seeing this spring that dictators with everything to loose should they be deposed will fight with everything that they have to stay in power.

Because Syria has been a closed society for so long, and much more tightly controlled by the Assad family than even a country like Libya, there is much that we don’t know about what is happening within its borders. But the parallels between what is happening there and what happened earlier this year in Libya are striking.

In both countries, uprisings against the government have been met by brutal force, but in each case it has sparked a revolt against the government.

We quickly sprang to the defense of the rebel forces in Libya who are seeking to wrest control of the country from Gadhafi by enforcing a no-fly rule against the Libyan air force and destroying its ability to challenge NATO planes flying missions over the country. We did this to prevent Gadhafi from using his jets and helicopters against his own people — which he was doing — but that mission quickly grew to trying to drive him from power.

I wonder if we will do the same thing in Syria?

If anything, the Assad family has shown that it is willing to brutalize its own people worse than even Gadhafi — if that is possible — so launching air strikes against the Syrian air force would be in keeping with the policy NATO has established toward Libya.

Of course Syria doesn’t produce the same amount of oil that Libya does, so maybe those air strikes are reserved for countries in which we have more of a “strategic” interest.

It isn’t that we aren’t putting diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria, we are, but what is happening in Syria has not captured the headlines and national attention the same way as the uprising against Gadhafi did.

I think that says more about ourselves than it does about what is happening in either country.

After all, the stories coming out of each place are horrible. Torture and rape as a way of repressing their people appear to have been common tactics by both countries’ security forces and people fleeing both places speak about friends and neighbors who opposed the government simply disappearing and never coming back.

But back in March, we were more full of hope about the economy and more bullish that things were going in the right direction. We were more likely to support the president’s use of military force against Libya even if we wondered if we could afford yet another international engagement.

That has all come to screeching halt in the face of run away gas prices and an economy that is threatening to go backwards again. When that happens we retreat within ourselves and the stories of need and desperation from other countries become less important to us.

 That is human nature. But as we worry about what is happening to our economy I hope we don’t forget the people in Syria and Yeman and the other troubled places around the world.

We can’t protect them all. We can’t intervene in every country were cruelty and subjugation are the modus operandi for the well dressed thugs in power.

But we can and should expose them for what they are. The Assads and anyone who supports them are our enemies.

Let that be the cry that rings out from our rooftops, even if it can’t ring out from the rooftops of Damascus. Perhaps one day it will, if we pay even a little attention to what is going on there.