When Bashar al-Assad began his war against his own subjects eleven years ago, Arab popular opinion swiftly turned against him, and Arab rulers shunned him—not only because of his brutality, but also because they felt threatened by the growing power of his Iranian patrons. The West, and even such international bodies as the World Health Organization (WHO), followed suit. Undeterred by sanctions and condemnations and with the assurance of support from Moscow and Tehran, Assad went about bombing his country into submission. That Arab leaders are now mending relations with Damascus demonstrates that his persistence has paid off, if not for the country he rules, then at least for himself. Marwan Safar Jalani, himself a refugee from Syria, comments:
In June, the World Health Organization appointed Syria to its executive board. Interpol readmitted Syria to its network in October. Algeria and Egypt have pushed to reinvite Syria to Arab League membership. . . . These international bodies and nations appear to have either forgiven, forgotten, or chosen to ignore the reasons Syria was cast out from their community. But in doing so, they normalize the atrocities committed by or on behalf of Assad’s regime and risk emboldening other leaders to act without fear of major censure or retribution.
A regime that has been known to bomb hospitals cannot be a member of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. A regime that tortures and tracks its dissidents at home and abroad through intelligence services must not regain access to Interpol’s databases.
The United States, France, and Britain stress that they are against normalizing Assad, but shy away from urging allies and international organizations not to do so. This issue should be high on—if not at the top of—their foreign-policy agenda, because the rehabilitation of Assad poses a direct threat to the post-World War II order—which already faces challenges on other fronts, such as the current Russia-Ukraine tensions. This issue is an easy one to take a stand on. Syria is not a nuclear power or the regional power it once was. Nor is it a major energy supplier. Standing firm against his rehabilitation does not cost much.