Assad Channels Videla.

Bashar Assad has likened the civil war in Syria to a surgeon performing messy emergency surgery. Much blood is spilled but it is in the best interest of the patient’s survival that it do so. In this case the patient is purportedly Syria (but in actuality the Alawite regime), and the surgery is required because of the gangrenous actions of foreign-backed “terrorists” and extremists.

That comment brought back some unhappy memories. On March 24, 1976 the military dictatorship known as the “Proceso de Reorganizacion Nacional” (Process of National Reorganization) was installed in Argentina. Over the next seven years it killed over 30,000 people and tortured, imprisoned and exiled at least that many more. It refined the concept of “disappearing” people without a trace (although it was later revealed that many of the disappeared were sedated and dumped from aircraft over the South Atlantic). It was a very bad moment in Argentine history, and the psychological and social scars of that sorry time are still evident to this day.

Assad’s surgical analogy struck an unpleasant chord with me because that is exactly the language used by the “Proceso” to justify its actions. In one of its first proclamations the Junta spoke of the need to rid Argentina of the “malignancies” of subversion, economic instability, social disorder and moral decay, and that in order to do so it would have to “extirpate without anesthesia” the cancers afflicting the Argentine body politic (on this see “Acta fijando el proposito y los objectivos basicos para el Proceso de Reorganizacion Nacional,” Republica Argentina, Boletin Oficial, 29 March 1976 and Republica Argentina, Documentos basicos y bases politicas de las fuerzas armadas para el Proceso de Reorganizacion Nacional. Buenos Aires: Junta Militar de la Nacion, 1980). It seems that when it comes to “organic” parallels between the state and society, Arab and Argentine dictators think alike.

It might behoove Mr. Assad to remember the fate of his Argentine counterparts. Their regime collapsed under the double-barreled weight of popular unrest and foreign conflict (the Falklands/Malvinas War, which was staged by the Junta as a diversion from its internal problems). The generals who commanded that regime were all eventually tried and convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, where several have died. Argentine justice certainly was not swift or completely fair, but in the end the self-professed “surgeons” were found guilty of homicidal malpractice rather than lauded as the triage medics of the country.

Assad has that double-barreled weight now resting upon his regime. His conflict is internal rather than external, but the involvement of external actors is substantial and not limited to UN proclamations, jihadist infiltration or covert military assistance to the Syrian Free Army. He is therefore well on the path to following his Argentine counterparts down the road to collapse and overthrow, and it is now more a question of whether he will die in a prison cell or on the street rather than if he will fall. After all, once the dictator starts talking about emergency surgery on the body politic, it may be the case that he is the worst tumor of them all.

15 thoughts on “Assad Channels Videla.

  1. I much prefer the justice meted out to Qaddafi. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

  2. Phil:

    You are surely a more reasonable man than that. The problem with the eye for an eye line of thought is that you wind up with a post-Gaddafi scenario: armed militias roaming the country taking vengeance, exacting their idea of justice and preventing the consolidation of a strong central government with majority support. In Syria the Alawites see this as an existential struggle, and as far as the majority Sunnis are concerned it just may well be. Hence the soft exit option (apparently being explored with Assad’s exile in Russia) is the best way of negotiating a post-Assad settlement. So long as the Alawites and Russians secure guarantees regarding their respective interests in a Sunni-led regime (which could well continue to use the Baathist institutional structure as the basis of the post-Assad Syrian state), then the possibility of an end to hostilities can be contemplated.

    Otherwise, the civil war will have to run its course, which means eventual military involvement (covert or overt) from foreign actors. The Iranians are already in the game, as are special forces from other countries in the anti-Assad coalition, so the stage is set for either eventuality. The Russians understand that the balance of forces will tip against them even if they put troops in to defend Assad, so they have become more interested in brokering a deal that protects their naval base and weapons contracts. It is the Iranians who have the most to lose with Assad’s exit, so they are the ones pushing the Assad hard line now that the tipping point is approaching

  3. Pablo,

    Argentina in the 70s and Syria is a non-sequitur.

    I doubt there was any proxies of Western powers in Argentina creating a casus belli for external intervention in the form of a R2P template.

  4. l_f:

    Of course there are differences, as there are between different Arab dictatorships themselves and the various South American dictatorships of the 1960s-1980s. The point of the post is about the “organic” description of their atrocities by the two regimes in question, and the combined pressures (broadly described as internal and external and not explicitly delineated) exerted upon them that caused their demise. I was not writing about the specifics of each case, which I have done elsewhere both here and in other fora.

    The way you phrase your remark appears to indicate some sympathy for the Assad regime. That is a shame, regardless of the machinations of other actors.

  5. I would assume there are some differences but the post generally did not indicate that per se.

    As for the comment about sympathy for Assad regime- I take quite an exception to that.

    I do believe that critical thinking should be rigorously applied and honest observers not loosely assign tag lines like regime or other loaded terms, if one is unbiased according to a quite educational book “Straight and Crooked Thinking”.

    Unless one is actively operating along the lines of Walter Lippman and Edward Bernays.

    To be brutally honest, one should really closely examine the instances and agendas of Western media, regional/global actors and certain observers, who liberally apply the term regime or other loaded terms to Syria or Libya and not to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen etc.

    We could even look at the word “massacre” and how it was used to describe the incident in Homs, and imply that it was the Syria Government who are responsible.

    I suppose, only critical thinkers would seriously contemplate why the western media use the term “surgical strikes” in areas like Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq; but then quickly glosses over the proportionality of the innocent bystanders that were killed and coldly dismiss them as collateral damage.

  6. l_f:

    You clearly have no idea about the origins of the term “political regime,” which as any student of comparative politics 101 knows is a neutral rather than loaded term that refers to the complex of institutions, mores, rules and behaviors that characterize and help differentiate between different forms of rule. Since this has been covered at length in previous posts here at KP, and given that the literature on political regimes extends into the hundreds of sources, I shall leave you to self-educate on that score.

    As for your obfuscation about the definition of the word “massacre” and the rest of your comment…well, that shows you to be ideologically blind.

  7. “You clearly have no idea about the origins of the term “political regime,” which as any student of comparative politics 101 knows is a neutral rather than loaded term that refers to the complex of institutions, mores, rules and behaviors that characterize and help differentiate between different forms of rule”

    Would you talk about the ‘Obama Regime’? Or the ‘Clark Regime’?

  8. Hugh:

    I realize that you fashion yourself quite the stirrer, but do you have to be so thick? What you are referring to with the Obama and Clark references are known as governments or in the case of the US, administrations. These are not the same as regimes.

    Governments are the incumbents of political decision-making positions, installed under the institutional conventions and rules for selection determined by the regime and whose roles are defined and overseen by the legal edifice of the regime. Hence you can have a liberal democratic regime with a National or Labour (or Republican, Democratic, Socialist, Christian Democratic or any other party) government. You can have a one party, personalist or military bureaucratic regime with a specific party, clan or cadre as the government (the Syrian regime is a one party military-bureacratic regime with a strong ethno-religious base). But in the end the terms “regime” and “government” are not synonymous, as any second year Pol Sci undergraduate would know.

    I am closing comments on this issue. Ignorance is one thing but persistently stupid commentary that is off-subject is intolerable.

  9. Hugh:

    OK, I apologize for that. I just hate dealing with off-topic comments that display incomprehension of basic concepts in political science.

  10. No problem Pablo, we all know what it’s like to get passionate about a subject and say something we shouldn’t.

  11. Deflated pride aside; the internet is a better place with Hugh (and the rest of us) schooled on the intricacies of power structure nomenclature. Cheer.

    The situation is depressingly intriguing; the opposition forces are facing sustained attack from regime forces enjoying considerable technological advanatge. The appear to be suffering territorial setbacks. Limited pro-opposition ‘small arms’ supplies from Saudi etc have been delivered via Turkey.

    Pablo; will Russia (be allowed to?) continue arms shipments? Will we see western nation special forces interventions in the near future? or could we see the Arab League act decisively?

    One thing is for sure; much more blood will be spilt :(

  12. Luke: The Russians are sending arms that are part of pre-existing contracts and so will argue that they are contractually bound to do so. That includes repair and maintenance of the Hinds that are now being used to strafe civilian residential areas. There are reports of foreign spec ops already helping the Syrian Free Army, and of course Iran has sent its own special operators to advise the Syrians (and the militias) on counter-insurgency operations. The Arab League could also be involved in covertly sending specialized military assistance to the rebels, as it did in Libya. But the real fly in the ointment is al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which has upped stakes from Iraq and relocated in Syria to help its Sunni brethren win the fight. The car bombings in Damascus are its work, which is not coordinated with the FSA or any other foreign-backed rebel units.

  13. Thanks; appreciate the detail.

    You stated above “So long as the Alwaites and Russians secure guarantees regarding their respective interests in a Sunni-led regime… then the possibility of an end to hostilities can be contemplated. Otherwise, the civil war will have to run its course, which means eventual military involvement (covert or overt) from foreign actors.”

    The situation seems clearly well past the point of ‘peaceful’ resolution and full on insurrection is inevitable.

    Karl Sharro wrote recently “As it stands, the West’s stance towards Syria is uninspired and unfocused. Far from having a clear plan, let alone a grand conspiracy, Western nations are trudging along with no clear sense of purpose. The downside of this is that the same erratic and unpredictable patterns of Iraq and Libya could re-emerge unexpectedly.”

    That strikes as a mostly accurate, albeit grumpy, summary. Could it be valid to view Western military intervention as something of a bizarre forced drug/cure addiction for states in turmoil. Having self appointed as global sheriffs and been half accepted based on ‘successful’ interventions in Balkans, Libya etc?

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