Despite the shooting of hundreds and perhaps thousands of unarmed demonstrators, the Obama administration has refused to call for Syria’s Bashar Assad to resign, as Obama and his team did with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces reacted much less violently to protesters. The Obama administration, especially Hillary Clinton, insisted that they see Assad as a “reformer,” an assumption they didn’t bother to extend to those actual US allies in the region. Today, Assad repaid the Obama administration for its, er, patience:
Witnesses say Syrian pro-government protesters have attacked the U.S. embassy compound in Damascus, causing damage.
The witnesses said the protesters smashed windows and raised a Syrian flag on the compound on Monday. They also wrote anti-US graffiti referring to the U.S. ambassador as a “dog,” the witnesses said.
Attacking embassies is a favorite tactic of Assad. In 2006, a pro-Assad mob stormed the Danish and Norwegian embassies to protest the publication of the Mohammed cartoons, doing a significant amount of damage. A few months ago, a Wikileaks release confirmed what everyone already knew, which is that the Assad regime planned and conducted the attack, and then pulled the mob out after their purposes were met.
Why target the US embassy? Assad needs to divert attention from the growing unrest in his country, and he needs an easy villain for the distraction. The Obama administration’s weak pressure on Assad to deliver “reform” gets an unmistakable answer at the same time. It’s a win-win for Assad, and another humiliation for Obama.
Over at the French embassy, the protests got even more serious:
A witness in Syria’s capital says security guards at the French Embassy have fired into the air to drive back protesters taking part in two-pronged demonstrations outside the French and American embassies in Damascus.
Obama had better act quickly to make clear to Assad that this kind of attack won’t be tolerated. The last thing Obama needs now is yet another parallel to the Carter administration in a sacking of a Middle East embassy by “students.” Unfortunately, the White House appears somewhat distracted by yet another effort to push the nominally-US-aligned Saleh out of power:
Saleh is in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, recovering from injuries sustained during a June 3 attack on his presidential compound in Sanaa, Yemen. John Brennan, Obama’s assistant for counterterrorism and homeland security, urged Saleh “to fulfill expeditiously his pledge to sign the GCC-brokered agreement for peaceful and constitutional political transition in Yemen,” an e-mailed statement from the White House said, referring to a proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Saleh probably needs to go, but his departure will be a blow to our efforts against al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, Assad is a real threat to the region, especially in Lebanon, thanks to his alliance with Iran and his funding, supply, and direction of Hezbollah. There seems to be a very misguided prioritization taking place in Obama’s foreign policy, where we have attached ourselves to our enemy and thrown one-time friends under the bus.