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Bernard-Henri Lévy

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The End of the Game in Syria

Posted: 11/14/11 07:40 PM ET

Bernard Schalscha, this former Trotskyist at my magazine, La Règle du jeu who, for the last eight months, has been gathering information coming out of Syria revealing the savagery of repression in Homs, Hama, and Qousseir, is the one who introduced me to a recent exile of the country. The man describes the tortured. Those cut down by machine gun fire. The burial services the militia take advantage of to make sure they make their quota of potshots. And the clouds of smoke that rise like a veil of black crepe above the heads that, even then, refuse to bow. For him, the cause goes without saying. A power that behaves this way, a power that assassinates so methodically, a power that plunges your head in blood, your own blood, when you dare to raise it, is a power in its death throes, cornered, done for, condemned -- it's merely a question of days, weeks, but nonetheless doomed.

He is an officer of the upper echelons of the Syrian army. He is older, much older. And he has been in the West for several years already. With the build of an aging athlete, his close-cropped hair, the slight dents in his forehead (traces of torture once endured?) he reminds one of Gregorious, the boxer in Jules Dassin's Forbans de la nuit . He knows the regime inside out. He is in contact with other, younger officers who are the backbone of the army and who, at this very moment, are deserting. He has news, precious and fresh, concerning the state of demoralisation, new indecision, and the beginnings of panic as well on the part of his peers who have been faithful to the regime and who, suddenly, no longer believe in it. For him, the result of this struggle is no longer in doubt. For him, also, the days of the dictatorship are numbered.

He is Rifaat al-Assad, Bashar's own uncle, the brother of his father, Hafez al-Assad, founder and architect of the dictatorship. I had already met him once before, in London, six months ago. It was at the beginning of the Libyan war. The beginning of the bloodbath in Syria. At the time I was struck by his incredible resemblance to this brother for whom, for a long time, before they split, he had served as a double. He has the same face, long and sad, the skull so high it looks almost hydrocephalic, the occasional stormy flashes expressed in his eyes, the sudden laughter that borders on the diabolical. Except he has already broken with the regime. Exiled in London with his son, he is in contact with some of the renegades of the system. He knows it better than anyone, this Alaouite clique that has taken over his country. Before disassociating himself, he was part of it for decades, and so he knows it from the inside. In his eyes as well, his nephew, Bashar, had only one way to resolve the situation: reform. He has not seized the chance. Now it's over.

These three men, however different they may be, agree on one point: a regime that fires on its own people, that considers them just so much meat for the butchery, a regime that knows no other language in which to address its subjects than that of fighter planes and cannons, has lost every bit of its right to legitimacy and to govern. Sooner or later, according to a scenario lacking only the last act, thus not quite written, its fall is inevitable. In the history of the 21st century, this law already has a name -- it's the Gaddafi Theorem.

These three men agree on a second point: the increasing isolation of the regime; the multiplicity of voices rising, louder and louder, from the depths of the Arab world, to compel it to lay down its arms; Assad's partners, his "brothers", those within the Arab League who, for so long, shielded the father as they did other dictators of the region, and who are now starting to let go of the son. The world has changed, they say. Human rights, the rights of peoples, are a new idea in this part of the world also. And a regional power is born, one called Qatar that, with its calculations, its ulterior motives, its ambiguities, from now on is doing all in its power to prevent the most bloodthirsty regimes from causing harm. As in Libya? Well yes, as in Libya! The Libyan precedent, once again. The same force, the same forces, produce the same effects. How can the protagonists fail to see it? By what strange autism is Bashar incapable of comprehending that the same coalition is taking shape, the one that overcame Qaddafi and that will overcome him as well?

All the more so since there is one last point concerning which my three interlocutors are coming to agree. It has been a taboo subject up until now. It was the word that, above all, one mustn't utter. And there were even men in France -- I met them before last summer, when La Règle du jeu was organizing a rally in support of the civilians being murdered in Syria -- who said they would rather die than be compelled to say it. The word is "intervention". Or, better still, "international intervention». Why is it that what was done in Libya has not been done in Syria? There are several reasons for this double standard, this outrageous iniquity, but this one stands out in particular: the Syrians, contrary to the Libyans, have not asked for it. They have often even refused it. Well, this is in the process of changing as well. And that is the last reason why the Damascus regime is doomed.

War has been declared, against Assad.