Robert Fisk: The rhetoric is turned up as the number of innocent dead rises


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Words, words, words. Bashar al-Assad knows his Hamlet, and he is not impressed. Yes, his isolation grows daily. A day after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pulled his ambassador out of Damascus, the Kuwaitis and Bahrainis have dutifully followed his example.

The Arab League believes that Bashar should "immediately stop" the violence. The UN has roared. Even Turkey, according to the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has "run out of patience". The trouble is that everyone has been running out of patience with Syria since the spring, and no one has done more than turn up the rhetoric as the statistics of innocent dead ticked up from 500 to 1,000, to more than 2,000. And the Assad family fully understands the hypocrisy of the Arab and European reaction to the Syrian bloodbath.

Had Messrs Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama stopped short after they saved Benghazi they may have had the spittle and the munitions to destroy some of Assad's 8,000 tanks.

William Hague – he who once childishly believed Gaddafi was en route to Venezuela – has been waffling on about how little the West can do to stop Assad. This is rubbish. Britain's RAF bases in Cyprus are infinitely closer to Syria than to Libya. Had we prevented the bloodbath in Benghazi and left the Libyans to their civil war, we might have found a public opinion strong enough to stomach an assault on the Assad legions.

But no, Libya has oil, Syria has little and – despite all the roaring from the Arabs – most of the dictators, in Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, in the rest of the Middle East, would still prefer a "reformed" Assad to freedom, dignity and liberty for his people.