Israel Pulse

'Helpless' West is Powerless Facing a Coalition of Bullies

Article Summary
The West is "helpless" when it comes to the dictatorships in Iran, Syria and North Korea, writes Nadav Eyal. While the three dictators support each other, the West fears encouraging the alliance. Democratic trends haven't weakened the regimes, and their violence is nothing new. What is new — globalization and technology — is not hurting them.

Much like viruses, dictatorships show surprising resistance and a seemingly endless capability to produce effective mutations. Iran, Syria and North Korea go on making a laughingstock out of the weak, toothless West — that same West that has learned nothing from a long history of ruthless aggression.

The "Western World," as it is commonly referred to, had to address itself last week to three isolated and totally unfamiliar regimes. It is astonishing to see how much energy and how many actions, both covert and overt, are invested in dealing with these three remote states, which are light years behind the developed, enlightened world. Yet, for the United States and Europe — and, as a matter of fact, for Asia and South America as well — these dark regimes are black holes of instability, a lasting global deformation.

This evil troika is bad news to the entire international community — barring, of course, each other. Among themselves, the three regimes have formed a close alliance. They regularly exchange military intelligence, technological knowhow, ballistic missiles and, if needed, even uranium. Their media channels sing the praises of each other's leadership and, with nothing else to show off, cling to the poor export figures of the tri-lateral trade between one leprous country and another. It is a cozy alliance of the lonely, of those cut off from the rest of the world: the coalition of the bullies.

Let's see, what was it that preoccupied the world last week? North Korea seemed to be threatening to set the Korean Peninsula ablaze all over again. The multistage rocket, which Washington claimed was cover for a ballistic missile test, was launched Friday morning, April 13, exploding less than two minutes after lift-off. At the same time, Pyongyang is reportedly preparing for a third nuclear test.

Last Saturday, a meeting was held in Istanbul for a round of talks with Iran on its nuclear program. Although more isolated than ever before, Tehran has already announced that it will never again suspend uranium enrichment nor agree to shut down its heavily fortified underground uranium enrichment facility in Fordow, near the city of Qom.

As if all of this were not headache enough, the international community is at a loss in face of an escalating civil war in Syria. The ceasefire declared last Thursday, April 12, was apparently broken even before going into effect. In the past two weeks, the Assad regime really let loose and, after massacring his own people for months, the brutal Syrian dictator is now dispatching helicopters to spray bullets into crowds of demonstrators and shelling residential neighborhoods without discrimination, whether rebel activity is present or not.

Thus the agenda of the international community last week included attempts to end the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, to forestall yet another war liable to be ignited by the lunatic North Korean tyranny and to thwart — preferably by negotiations and sanctions — Tehran's efforts to gain nuclear military power. The notion that Assad, Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-un are close allies is not only grotesque, but actually sickening. One can imagine the three conferring with each other — their talks must sound like Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" or Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" — with Assad and Ahmadinejad swapping useful advice on the suppression of protest demonstrations and torture of opposition activists and young Kim Jong-un calling both on the phone to offer more ballistic missiles or uranium in exchange for wheat.

However, this coalition of evil is not an accidental trivia item, but rather an inevitable fact. The North Korean dictatorship is fundamentally different from the religious totalitarianism of the Islamic revolution, and the despotic rule of the Alawi community and the Assad clan has nothing to do with the ideologies of the two other autocracies. North Korea poses a nuclear threat to its neighbors and is totally isolated from the rest of the world. The Iranian regime is relatively more open to the world and is not yet a nuclear power. Unlike the first two, Syria has no full-blown political ideology, except perhaps the ideology of power and dominance, which its regime is currently struggling to maintain by all means. To the extent that it presents any threat on the foreign front, it was formerly considered a rather limited regional threat. However, despite the differences between the three countries, they all confront the democratic world with a similar challenge, the very same challenge that preoccupied the West for the best part of the fateful 20th century: the simple menace of dictatorship.

From Nazi Germany to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the pattern is clearly evident. An endless number of words have been written on the ways to deal with such regimes, in particular when they are slipping down that slippery slope, on a collision course with the West. However, the international community is extremely careful not to tie its three major problems — Iran, Syria and North Korea — together. The scars left by former US President Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech are still manifest in the global political discourse. Any explicit mention of such association could provoke the three regimes into formally consolidating their alliance and trigger even more radical moves on their part. It could also serve to justify extensive military action by the West against Pyongyang, Teheran and Damascus. This is a highly dangerous idea.

The free world's media has reported time and again that the Syrian regime, driven by despair, has started "aiming guns at its own citizens" and "killing its own people." Such reports reflect the deep cognitive gap between the West's perception of events and reality. There is nothing new about the conduct of the Syrian regime or its way of thinking. Its actions against the rebels in Homs, Halab or Idlib are no different from its treatment all along of individual opposition activists, and what it does today it would have done ten years ago. It is only that the atrocities carried out these days are on a much larger scale. The cruelty has not erupted all of a sudden out of nowhere nor is it a manifestation of despair. The Assad regime is fulfilling its essential function, and that is to go on ruling. To that end, it does what it knows best: tyrannize and terrorize its citizens. Instead of dozens or hundreds per year, it is now killing in the thousands. The numbers are all that has changed. The dictatorship has not changed it ways. This is the way dictatorships act.

In the liberal discourse, a lot has been said about the far-reaching impact of globalization and the information revolution on our lives and on the world we live in, where democracy has become — so we believe — the only viable option. The truth is that globalization has its dark aspects, as well, and that, while the Internet has changed much in our lives, it has not changed any of the world's dictatorships. Much like viruses, dictatorships show surprising resistance and a seemingly endless capacity for producing effective mutations. The fact that Syria's First Lady Asma Assad can go on online shopping sprees does not help any the babies dying at the electricity-deprived Homs hospital, and the exposure of the ruling family's e-mails — apparently, conclusive proof of the triumph of the information revolution — has done nothing to undermine the vicious Syrian regime. The really big surprise is the way the world is squirming and wavering when confronted with cases of pure evil. It is certainly a surprise considering world history. The response of the West amounts to failed attempts at passing condemnation resolutions at the United Nations Security Council or forcing ceasefires that nobody believes in on mass-murdering regimes, which are quick to ceremoniously declare it and immediately ignore it. Democracy, which has swept the world from South Africa and the Middle East to Asia, is besieging the dictators. It is a risky situation, and not only for them.

Found in: west, syria, iran

Nadav Eyal is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He directs Channel 10's foreign news desk and was formerly a political reporter and European correspondent for Maariv daily. Eyal was named one of the hundred most influential people in the media for 2011 by the Israeli business magazine Globes. He holds an LLB degree from the Law Faculty at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a masters degree in global politics from the London School of Economics.


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