Many Syrians who voted for Bashar al-Assad in today’s presidential elections did so in the belief that the alternative to the current regime is a takeover by Islamist radicals.
Increasingly, Western leaders agree. As Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Syria, said recently, “As bad as the regime is, there is something worse — which is extreme elements of the opposition.”
This is a cruel irony. It ignores how the United States’ lack of involvement in Syria allowed extremists to flourish in the first place. The question is not whether the Syrian regime is better than Islamist extremism, but how the world can forsake Syrians to suffer oppression by both.
For years, Syria’s besieged opposition has pleaded for help from the international community, to no avail. Instead, al Qaeda-linked groups entered Syria and grew. Awash with funds, largely from private sources in Persian Gulf states, they now impose their rule of terror on many Syrian towns. Mounting evidence indicates that Assad himself facilitated these groups, so that he would have a legion of terrorists he could claim to fight.
Assad will not stop committing war crimes, let alone agree to a negotiated transition, unless pressured to do so. Sanctions and diplomacy have failed. Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran, continue to reinforce him with money, arms, fighters and United Nations vetoes.