Syria: Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s no-doc­trine doc­trine

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pres­i­dent Obama’s pen­chant to frame his ac­tions in lofty terms places him in a po­si­tion of hav­ing to ex­plain why his moral com­pass is so se­lec­tive. The con­trast­ing U.S. poli­cies to­ward Libya and Syria ex­pose Mr. Obama’s moral co­nun­drum.

Syrian dic­ta­tor Bashar As­sad’s regime is ev­ery bit as rep­re­hen­si­ble as Moam­mar Gad­hafi’s. The Syrian peo­ple are do­ing their best to make a bid for free­dom, just as the Libyan peo­ple did. Mr. As­sad has fought back with guns and tanks, killing hun­dreds, just like Col. Gad­hafi. The Syrian peo­ple took hope from NATO’s in­ter­ven­tion in Libya that maybe their cause would also merit for­eign sup­port. How­ever, the United States re­fuses to of­fer the Syrian peo­ple any­thing more than a few nat­ter­ing state­ments.

Mr. Obama has said there is no “Obama doc­trine” at play in Libya. De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said that con­di­tions in each coun­try must be judged on a case-by-case ba­sis. It’s im­por­tant to re­call that Mr. Obama did not im­me­di­ately seek United Na­tions au­tho­riza­tion to in­ter­vene in Libya but only moved af­ter the Arab League and Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil took the lead. These or­ga­ni­za­tions are un­likely to call for in­ter­ven­tion in Syria, so if Mr. Obama is wait­ing for their per­mis­sion to take ac­tion, he — and the Syrian dis­si­dents — will have a long wait.

The United States has more strate­gic in­ter­est in regime change in Syria than in Libya. Syria un­der Mr. As­sad is an Ira­nian client state, a chief en­abler of the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion Hezbol­lah, and the main transit route for for­eign in­sur­gents head­ing for Iraq. The As­sad regime is a charter mem­ber of the “Shi­ite Cres­cent” an­chored by Iran, even though the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion is Sunni.

Democ­racy in Syria would be a ma­jor step to­ward re­shap­ing the Mid­dle East and frus­trat­ing Iran’s plans for re­gional hege­mony.

Thus, the case for regime change in Damascus has a solid foun­da­tion in both strate­gic re­al­ism and hu­man-rights ide­al­ism.

It’s a fair ques­tion how many Syr­i­ans have to die be­fore in­ter­ven­tion be­comes le­git­i­mate, if not manda­tory. So far, around 400 Syrian civil­ians have been killed by As­sad’s se­cu­rity forces. One es­ti­mate was that 1,000 Libyans had died in fight­ing be­fore the United Na­tions acted.

The U.N.’s ra­tio­nale was to stop the fu­ture killings that world lead­ers feared would come by way of Col. Gad­hafi’s reprisals once he put down the re­bel­lion, es­ti­mated in the low thou­sands. The prece­dent in Syria is far worse. In Fe­bru­ary 1982, Hafez al-As­sad, fa­ther of the cur­rent strong­man, ruth­lessly put down a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing in what be­came known as the Hama Mas­sacre. Be­tween 10,000 and 40,000 civil­ians were killed by Syrian troops, ar­guably the largest Mideast mas­sacre in mod­ern times. Since As­sad the el­der got away with it, As­sad ju­nior may as­sume he can too.

Mr. Obama may not want to be hemmed in by a con­sis­tent ap­pli­ca­tion of prin­ci­ple that leads to pre­dictable poli­cies and ac­tions. If this is the case, the White House should ramp back its hu­man-rights rhetoric and ad­mit that its poli­cies are ad-hoc, re­ac­tive and un­pre­dictable. Call it a “no-doc­trine doc­trine,” or per­haps the Damascus Blindspot.

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