Syrian President Bashar Assad delivered a speech Sunday that had the virtue, at least, of offering clarity. No, he insisted, he would not step down. He would not negotiate with the rebels who control much of the countryside and parts of major cities. He would not consider the compromise "transition" proposal being peddled by a UN envoy with the backing of his ally Russia, as well as the United States. Instead, he said, he would fight to the end against "enemies of God and puppets of the West."
The State Department offered a succinct judgment on Mr. Assad's hour-long speech, his first in six months: "His initiative is detached from reality, undermines the efforts of (UN) Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, and would only allow the regime to further perpetuate its bloody oppression of the Syrian people." After 22 months of protests and civil war in which his regime has steadily lost ground, Mr. Assad is offering the same hollow political formulas and slogans about terrorists that to which he has clung all along.
The tragedy is there is scant sign Mr. Assad will be compelled to face reality any time soon. Despite their gains, Syria's rebels continue to lack the heavy weapons necessary to break the regime's hold over Damascus or to stop the artillery, missiles and planes Mr. Assad is using to pummel cities. With the United States and other Western governments refusing to help, recent reports have said rebel arms supplies are drying up.
Last week, UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay estimated more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria, a "massive loss of life (that) could have been avoided if the Syrian government had chosen to take a different path than one of ruthless suppression of what were initially peaceful and legitimate protests by unarmed civilians." She added: "Unless there is a quick resolution to the conflict, I fear thousands more will die or suffer terrible injuries as a result of those who harbour the obstinate belief that something can be achieved by more bloodshed, more torture and more mindless destruction."
The Assad speech made clear the ruler and his clique remain locked in that belief. But it also illuminated the fecklessness of U.S. policy. The same State Department statement that began by condemning Mr. Assad for undermining Mr. Brahimi concluded by saying that the Obama administration would continue to support the latter's initiative, along with the "framework for a political solution" the dictator had just rejected. As with the Syrian regime, the administration has become impervious to fact or real-world developments.
Mr. Assad is not the only one who will bear responsibility for the frightful carnage Ms. Pillay's agency has documented. As she put it, "the failure of the international community, in particular the (UN) Security Council, to take concrete actions to stop the bloodletting, shames us all." Syrians, she said, have "repeatedly asked: 'Where is the international community? Why aren't you acting to stop this slaughter?' We have no satisfactory answer to those questions. Collectively, we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns."