More foreign policy brilliance from John François Kerry

From The Wall Street Journal:

Kerry Opens Syria Talks by Saying Assad Must Go
U.S., Syrian Diplomats Clash as Conference Begins
By Jay Solomon | Updated Jan. 22, 2014 12:38 p.m. ET

MONTREUX, Switzerland—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry kicked off a long-awaited international conference aimed at ending the Syrian civil war by demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem immediately challenged Mr. Kerry on Wednesday, accusing the U.S. and its Middle East allies, particularly Turkey and Saudi Arabia, of supporting terrorist groups seeking to destabilize the Damascus regime.

The early clash displayed the deep divisions between the Syrian government and its political opponents, calling into question whether even moderate successes can be achieved in the first talks between the regime and opposition members in nearly three years of conflict.

The U.S. and Russian governments have worked for more than 18 months to convene the conference that opened in the Swiss lakeside city of Montreux. The primarily goal is to establish a transitional political body with executive powers that will end nearly 15 years of Mr. Assad’s rule.

More at the link.

Remember what happened to Hosni Mubarak? He stepped down — though hardly voluntarily; he had lost the support of the military — following 18 days of demonstrations, and wound up being put on trial and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was vacated, but he is still under house arrest and could well be tried again.1

How about Muammar Qadafi? Once he lost in the civil war, he was dragged from hiding and beaten to death. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia managed to escape and flee to Saudi Arabia, but has been tried in absentia and sentenced to life in prison if he’s ever captured. Ali Abdullah Saleh is hanging on in Yemen, out of office but protected by a law which gave him immunity from prosecution.

Bashar al Assad? All that awaits him is the prison cell, the bullet or the noose, if he leaves office. Given that rather obvious fact, who on God’s earth could (reasonably) expect him to agree to step down until he and his forces are actually defeated in the field?

Now, it’s always possible that someone could have a moment of clarity, and remember some more distant history. In 1979, Idi Amin was forced to flee Uganda, and wound up living in Saudi Arabia, where the royal family gave him exile and an allowance on which he could live in comfort, on the condition tat he stay out of politics. Jean-Claude Duvalier left Haiti and lived for many years in (unofficial) exile in France.2 An offer of permanent asylum with a decent life style somewhere could work for President Assad, but there are hundreds of Syrian officials who wouldn’t be offered a luxurious exile, and would face justice themselves if they surrender. For these hard men, it’s better to fight on, and perhaps be killed or perhaps win, than it is to give up and face nearly-certain punishment.
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  1. He is currently 85 years old, and in poor health.
  2. Stupidly enough, he returned to Haiti, and is supposed to be tried.

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