It took Barack Obama eight days to demand Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in Egypt despite the US ally having not attacked protestors in Cairo. It took him 16 days to demand Moammar Gaddafi’s resignation in advance of the Libyan dictator’s planned assaults on civilian populations. It took 55 days and an estimated 850 deaths to get Obama to slap sanctions on Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad, and he’s still not quite ready to demand Assad’s resignation:
The Obama administration will slap sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces, officials said.
The officials said the Treasury Department will announce the sanctions on Wednesday, a day before President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world with prominent mentions of Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement of the sanctions.
The Obama administration had pinned hopes on Assad, seen until recent months as a pragmatist and potential reformer who could buck Iranian influence and help broker an eventual Arab peace deal with Israel. Obama returned an American ambassador to Damascus for the first time in years.
Assad’s increasingly brutal crackdown left U.S. officials little choice but to abandon the effort to woo Assad, and to stop exempting him from the same sort of sanctions already applied to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.
I guess the lesson here is that the Obama administration will give dictators more slack if they haven’t concluded peace treaties with Israel than if they have, and have honored the peace for 30 years. Objectively speaking, both Mubarak and Assad were dictators before the eruption of the Arab Spring, but Mubarak at least tried to keep a lid on radical Islamist terrorism and managed to get along grudgingly with the Israelis. Syria has supported Hamas and Hezbollah as both make open war against Israel, not to mention hijacking Lebanon and turning it into a vassal state.
Now, after two months, the Obama administration has finally realized that Assad is a brutal dictator and not a reformer. This is what they call “smart power.”
The White House seems to be taking care not to explicitly call for Assad’s ouster. While that’s wildly inconsistent with Obama’s position on Mubarak and Gaddafi, it’s probably a wiser approach. We still don’t know what we’re going to get from regime change in Egypt, and what kind of regime will follow in Libya if regime change occurs, but there are bad omens in both countries. In Syria, it will be tough to do worse than the Iranian puppet Assad, but not impossible.