Adrian Hamilton: Only a mass uprising will rid Syria of Assad

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The Independent Online

Don't be fooled by the outraged cries coming from London, Paris, Washington and now the UN Secretary-General over the Russian and Chinese veto of the resolution on Syria.

True, it spoiled the careful build-up of diplomatic pressure organised by western and Arab governments. But it's also quite convenient to put all the blame on these two countries for the continuing escalation of violence.

Of course President Bashar al-Assad must welcome the fact that he escaped the censure of the UN. But does anyone think for a moment that, had the resolution passed, he would have instantly ceased bombarding Homs or any other centre of resistance?

Given the growing armed strength of its opponents, the regime in Damascus feels it has no alternative but to suppress with full force the revolt while it still lacks the weaponry or numbers to overthrow it.

Assad may make all the promises he likes to the visiting Russian Foreign Minister about stopping the violence and talking to his foes. But only once his regime has won the battle on the ground.

Diplomacy in these circumstances is essentially just a means of western politicians sounding as if they are "doing something" about a situation that anguishes their public but about which they can do very little without direct military engagement.

Russia and China might well have been wrong to veto the resolution. But that doesn't make the Russians wrong in the basic case that they have been making. However the UN resolution was worded, the intention was regime change, and, like it or not, it does smack of western-inspired intervention.

The West would argue, just as it did over Libya, that the support of the Arab League and the refusal to put troops on the ground make this something quite different from western interventions of the past. Libyan intervention – which Russia and China went along with – does not provide a reassuring example, however. Imposition of a no-fly zone quickly led to one-sided bombing of the regime's forces and effective participation in a civil war.

Regime change is the name of the Syrian game now. It's far too late to talk of negotiated settlements. The question is whether it can be achieved quickly on the ground without civil war.

The best hope is that horror at the civilian casualties will combine with a middle-class conclusion that the Assad rule is doomed to produce a mass insurgency that sweeps away the government.

The more likely development is the arming of the rebellion by the religious groups in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, eased by Turkey and very probably helped clandestinely by the US and the West.

In either case, diplomacy is now but a side-show.