The reformer has responded to the democratic stirrings in his country with a war against its children. The murder and mutilation of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb is only the most shocking instance of Bashar al Assad’s mercilessness. The Syrian uprising originated in March as an expression of anger at the arrest and torture of fifteen boys, who were accused of scrawling anti-government graffiti in the town of Dara’a, which has now earned a place of honor in the geography of modern dissent. The crowd that demonstrated for the release of the boys was fired upon, lethally, by Syrian security forces.
Who lost Fayyad? This is the question that historians, and Israelis, and Palestinians, will ask about the most recent spiral into nothingness of the search for the necessary peace.
At the Tidal Basin the other day I was reminded that the most stimulating experiences are the unmediated ones. I was educated for mediation, for middle terms that unified logical or lived discrepancies and conquered them with a category. Contradictions were to be eliminated, like dissonances in music, or shown to be false, and in their resolution lay a release. But I have lost my confidence in single descriptions, and I am a little bored with the dream of release.
After only a few days of allied military action, the Libyan nightmare has been averted, and the rebels are now marching westward again. Like the invincible Serbian juggernaut of yore, the power of Muammar Qaddafi, which frightened Secretary Gates, has been shaken. President Obama has done an admirable thing. On March 18, he gave a speech explaining his decision. The speech was both ringing and baffling: as the poet said, I wish he would explain his explanation. What follows is a commentary on some of the president’s statements.
If spring comes, can winter be far behind? We are just concluding one of those rare hours when history could be viewed with something other than contempt. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia introduced a new movement of freedom, and demolished the cultural pessimism that confined such longings to people like us. The revolt in Libya, also animated by a democratic aspiration, exposed not only the depravity of a dictator but also the cravenness with which he was received in the wood-paneled precincts of some of the immensely important people of Washington, New York, and Cambridge.
Barack Obama’s policy toward the Libyan struggle for freedom is no longer a muddle. It is now a disgrace. Here is what his administration and its allies have told the world, and the Libyan dictator, and the Libyan rebels, in recent days.
As the dictators fall, the clichés fall, too. Cairo and Tunis and Tripoli are littered with the shards of platitudes about what is possible and what is impossible in Arab societies, in closed societies. Civilizational analysis lies in ruins. Idealism, always cheaply mocked, turns out to be a powerful form of historical causation, as disruptive of the established order as any economic or technological change, and even more beneficent.
“This violence must stop.” So President Obama declared the other day about the depravity in Tripoli. This “must” is a strange mixture of stridency and passivity. It is the deontic locution familiar from the editorial pages of newspapers, where people who have no power to change the course of events demand that events change their course. This “must” denotes an order, or a permission, or an obligation, or a wish, or a will. It does not denote a plan. It includes no implication, no expectation, of action.