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Damascus Volcano Hastens the Defeat of Assad and Realpolitik

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The rebels' ability to strike at the heart of the Syrian regime's feared security apparatus, to battle its troops in Damascus and take control of border crossings, in a coordinated, well-planned and executed campaign, shows that Assad is doomed.

The 'Damascus Volcano' has not only left the regime reeling, but it is highlighting the self-defeating futility of two aspects of realpolitik - callous, cynical power-politics from Russia (and to an extent, Beijing) and the defeatism of the West. Only a dose of pragmatic idealism can now prevent the volcano sparking an inferno in Syria and beyond.

The immediate risk is that the audacity of the rebels will provoke an escalation in brutality from regime lieutenants who calculate that defeat will bring them the fate of Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, or Slobodan Milošević. Given that they are now bewildered, desperate and murderous in equal measure, possess chemical weapons and are led by a man whose father slaughtered 20,000 in 1982, the stakes could not be higher, most importantly of all for civilians.

Moscow's calculation that the mere provision of a diplomatic shield would prevent Western intervention and gift Assad both the time and military resources necessary to crush dissent has proven to be as misguided as Soviet leaders' attempts to contain popular uprisings in the late 20th century.

The old realist calculus that power buys influence is being undermined, for had they truly countenanced political reform and transition to a post-Assad era, Russia's chances of securing its strategic military and economic interests in Syria would have been far higher. Those leading the post-Assad Syria won't forget who supplied the shells and tanks which killed so many of their comrades-in-arms and civilians.

Neither will the West's refusal to countenance any form of military assistance have gone unnoticed by the rebels. The West sacrificed Syrian civilians' human rights to liberty, life and limb on the altar of realpolitik, claiming variously that military intervention would not work because of the great potency of Syria's military, and that UN Security Council endorsement is the ultimate arbiter of legality and morality.

The rebel's advances have shown that the best diplomatic and military minds from Whitehall to Washington were incompetent at best, or disingenuous at worst in overstating the tenacity of the Assad regime. Given that the rancid, brittle underbelly of this dictatorship is now exposed for all to see, we now have one final chance to use our superior military power to help the rebels secure victory.

As for the UN, its well-meaning efforts are a case study in how impotence flows from the sum of the parts of the dis-united nations which comprise the international non-community. Despite this, it is the UN which, in a best case scenario, could steer Syria towards a peaceful future and away from the oblivion of sectarian conflict. The ghosts of previous interventions such as Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and non-interventions such Darfur and Rwanda, must be laid to rest.

The pro-and anti-Assad UN Security Council members must now swallow their pride and unite around a UN-sanctioned plan which would: deter Assad from any Hama-style atrocity or the use of WMDs; authorise military force to assist the rebels in hastening the regime's demise (following an ultimatum to the regime); and promise not a UN talking-shop, but an action-oriented conference attended by all regional and UNSC powers, to establish a temporary UN 'mandate' over Syria, enforced by UN-authorised troops (preferably including the troops of nearby nations).

Good-willed people of the world must pressurise their governments to countenance such measures so that we defeat the defeatism and curtail the cynicism that has been on display as our leaders have deferred to the worst aspects of realism in international affairs.