As irresistible as it is to tweak him for such a lame gesture, especially given his paralysis after protests broke out in Iran two years ago, I’m not sure what else we want him to do here.
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators. This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now. We regret the loss of life and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims, and with the Syrian people in this challenging time.
The Syrian Government’s moves yesterday to repeal Syria’s decades-old Emergency Law and allow for peaceful demonstrations were not serious given the continued violent repression against protesters today. Over the course of two months since protests in Syria began, the United States has repeatedly encouraged President Assad and the Syrian Government to implement meaningful reforms, but they refuse to respect the rights of the Syrian people or be responsive to their aspirations. The Syrian people have called for the freedoms that all individuals around the world should enjoy: freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the ability to freely choose their leaders. President Assad and the Syrian authorities have repeatedly rejected their calls and chosen the path of repression. They have placed their personal interests ahead of the interests of the Syrian people, resorting to the use of force and outrageous human rights abuses to compound the already oppressive security measures in place before these demonstrations erupted. Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria’s citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies. We call on President Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own people.
We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups. The United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Syria and around the world.
He’s right about the violence being “outrageous.” By one count, 75 people were shot dead today, bringing the total killed over the past month to above 250. Why the sudden one-day massacre after small but steady murders over the course of weeks? Because, you see, Assad is running out of options:
The president presented his decision to lift Syria’s state of emergency as a final offer to the demonstrators. It was a concession, he said, that removed the last pretext for legitimate protest; anyone who took to the streets after his magnanimous gesture was a bandit or a rebel.
Yet tens of thousands were prepared to defy the president once more, even though they were well aware that the security forces had been given license to use unfettered force.
“It’s unclear what more Assad can do to mollify the protesters,” writes Time, suggesting that he’s concluded the time for mollifying is over and the time for slaughtering has begun. So why shouldn’t we follow Tim Pawlenty’s example and demand Security Council action, at least, to rein in Assad even symbolically? Your answer lies in this short but penetrating piece by Robert Kaplan about what might happen in the region if Assad topples over and a “greater Syria” starts to congeal. At a minimum, it’ll further destabilize Lebanon and possibly Jordan and Iraq; in the worst-case scenario, Israel might face a radical Sunni front, which would be to Iran’s (short-term) benefit even though it would suffer immediately from the loss of its ally Assad. In fact, re-read this post from last week about how Israel, despite its antipathy to the Assad clan, is in no hurry to see Bashar go for fear of what will succeed him. There’s a reason why Obama’s statement quoted above, despite its indignation, never quite gets around to calling for Assad’s ouster. Things can get worse. (That’s one of the fears about the Libyan rebels, no?) As idiotic as it seems for The One to demand a transition away from a U.S. ally in Cairo two months ago while demanding little of a U.S. enemy in Damascus now, there’s a Machiavellian method to the madness to the latter, at least.