TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - As dictators in Egypt and Tunisia fell from power following the fervor of the 2011 Arab Spring, peaceful protesters in Syria also demanded a change in leadership.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been in power since 2000. His father Hafez started the family reign after taking control of the country during a revolution in 1970.
"The Assad regime met these non-violent reform minded protests with ever escalating and absolutely ruthless brutality," said Dr. Leila Hudson, a professor in the University of Arizona's School of Middle Eastern and North African studies.
Since the protests started in 2011, Hudson said the escalation of brutality by Assad's government before the use of chemical weapons included arrests, tortures, and bombings.
"Bashar, by the sheer brutal head count has outstripped his father," Hudson said, "and it's going on in full view of the world."
The world was not watching as Syria slaughtered 40-thousand of its own during the Hama Massacre in 1982.
But that was before social media, cell phone cameras and the Internet.
"What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price," President Barack Obama said Saturday as he announced plans to seek congressional approval for a military strike.
U.S. airstrikes could even out the playing field between the opposition forces and Assad's regime, Hudson said. She added at this moment in history the stakes are much higher.
"And anyone else that is contemplating the development of weapons of mass destruction will be encouraged if there is no international or U.S. response," Hudson said, referring to other dictatorships in Iran and North Korea. "That is in effect a green light."
Whether Congress gives the president the green light for a military strike could play a role in determining Assad's fate.