Syrian bru­tal­ity and White House weak­ness

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pres­i­dent Obama’s “lead from be­hind” strat­egy for deal­ing with the rolling cri­sis in the Mid­dle East has claimed more vic­tims. On June 11, Syrian dic­ta­tor Bashar As­sad’s forces shelled Jisr al-Shughour, burned its fields and rolled into the city cen­ter on tanks. The White House re­sponded with a state­ment that the Syrian gov­ern­ment had cre­ated a “hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis” and that un­less it gave “im­me­di­ate and un­fet­tered ac­cess” to the Red Cross, it would “once again be show­ing con­tempt for the dig­nity of the Syrian peo­ple.” The Damascus regime was un­moved.

Mr. Obama uses the word “dig­nity” in al­most ev­ery speech he gives, but it has no per­sua­sive power when it comes to dic­ta­tors whose ex­is­tence is an af­front to the con­cept. Mr. As­sad’s ap­proach to the leader of the most pow­er­ful coun­try in the world has been to ig­nore him.

In his May 19 Mid­dle East pol­icy speech, Mr. Obama de­liv­ered what was widely de­scribed as a “stern warn­ing” to Mr. As­sad:

“The Syrian peo­ple have shown their courage in de­mand­ing a tran­si­tion to democ­racy. Pres­i­dent As­sad now has a choice: He can lead that tran­si­tion or get out of the way.” Mr. As­sad re­jected Mr. Obama’s pro­posed di­chotomy and chose a third path, ramp­ing up the vi­o­lence and dar­ing Amer­ica to do any­thing about it.

Mr. As­sad’s thugs have killed more civil­ians than Libyan leader Moam­mar Gad­hafi did be­fore the United States be­gan its bomb­ing cam­paign against him, and com­par­isons to Libya are hard to avoid. Back on March 3, Mr. Obama said, “The vi­o­lence must stop; Moam­mar Gad­hafi has lost the le­git­i­macy to lead, and he must leave; those who per­pe­trate vi­o­lence against the Libyan peo­ple will be held ac­count­able; and the as­pi­ra­tions of the Libyan peo­ple for free­dom, democ­racy and dig­nity must be met.”

The same could be said about Syria. On March 19, as U.S. forces in­ter­vened, Mr. Obama couched the ac­tion as “part of a coali­tion that in­cludes close al­lies and part­ners who are pre­pared to meet their re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect the peo­ple of Libya and up­hold the man­date of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

This was the first and prob­a­bly last in­vo­ca­tion of the Re­spon­si­bil­ity to Pro­tect (R2P) doc­trine.

When asked on June 13 about the dif­fer­ence be­tween Mr. As­sad’s mur­der­ous ram­page and Col. Gad­hafi’s, White House spokesman Jay Car­ney said the cir­cum­stances were dif­fer­ent.

“There was a united call for ac­tion in Libya,” he ex­plained. “As you know, we had a United Na­tions man­date.”

There is no such man­date in Syria, which puts the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in the un­com­fort­able po­si­tion of de­fend­ing the im­plicit veto power he has given this group over the United States acting in its na­tional in­ter­est, or de­fend­ing the help­less peo­ple Mr. Obama has en­cour­aged to rise up against bru­tal regimes.

The cri­sis in Syria re­veals a White House strat­egy that is con­cep­tu­ally dis­con­nected and in­ef­fec­tive.

The les­son of the “Arab Spring” to Mid­dle East­ern au­to­crats is to send in the tanks and let Mr. Obama worry about dig­nity.

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