Those who believed in “Assad the Reformer” are being dragged kicking and screaming into reality

Several months into the brutal crackdown perpetrated by Bashar Assad’s regime, suppressing the Syrian people, during which human rights groups estimate as many as 1,600 people have been killed, the “Assad the Reformer” chorus may have finally been silenced.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier earned the wrath of the Syrian regime after touring the restive city of Hama, a hotbed of protest activity. Assad’s goon squad responded by organizing a “demonstration,” in which rioters forced their way into the U.S and French Embassies, injuring personnel and destroying property. Syria accused the United States of using its embassy personnel to violate Syrian sovereignty and foment protests.

Ironically, it is the Syrian embassy, which is violating the rules of accepted diplomatic behavior, as its personnel in the United States have been caught filming participants of anti-Syrian protests in American cities and using the information to threaten their families back in Syria. And these threats carry weight, when one considers the fate of Ibrahim Qashoush, a Syrian musician who wrote a popular protest song. He was found decapitated, floating in the middle of a river.

That, as EMET has repeatedly warned, is the reality of the Syrian regime that so many American officials and the Administration refuse to see.  The recent action against the U.S. Embassy has finally hardened the U.S. stance, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying, “Let me also add that if anyone, including President Assad, thinks that the United States is secretly hoping the regime will emerge from this turmoil to continue its brutality and repression, they are wrong. President Assad is not indispensible, and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power. Our goal is to see that the will of the Syrian people for a democratic transformation occurs.”

“Not indispensible” is an improvement over past rhetoric of Assad as “the reformer” and hope of the Syrian people. But it still remains a long way from “…must go,” the language which was applied to force the exit of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, where the body count never reached the bloody killings in Syria.

Changing opinion — and rhetoric — on Syria will require a conscious rejection by the Administration of their own policy and a rejection of their long-held, but mistaken, belief that Syria could be weaned from their Iranian ally, negotiate peace with Israel, and magically be transformed into a positive influence in the region. For our government to change course will requires an admission of error for a whole host of Administration officials, Federal departments and Washington policy gurus.

How likely is that? Not very, considering the popularity of Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha with reporters, pundits and even members of Congress on the D.C. cocktail party circuit.  His defenders are already prepared to assure us that the Syrian Ambassador believes in, “engagement and supports broad economic liberalization,” even as his embassy staff extends the range of the Syrian police state to spying on anti-government activists in our American cities.

Where is the Administration’s outrage as Syria murders its citizens in Hama, and spies on them here in Washington? How about outrage as Syria sacks our embassy in Damascus? When did the United States become like the old joke about the effectiveness of the unarmed English Bobbies? “Stop or we’ll say stop again!”

The American State Department’s version is, “Cease your brutality, or be prepared to listen to even more tough talk.” (“But don’t worry, it will not be too tough.”)

“Not indispensible” is just not good enough. It is time for America to say that Bashar Assad SHOULD go, and that the U.S. stands with the Syrian people. Not tentatively — not as encouragement to reach some kind of deal with a “reformed” Assad — but as American policy. Let Ambassador Ford return to Hama and stand with the protestors.  Such a move would improve U.S. standing in the world, and strengthen American diplomacy more than any amount of cocktail small-talk with the Syrian ambassador about the phantasm of “engagement and liberalization.”

About the Author

Kyle Shideler
Kyle Shideler is the Director of Research and Communications for the Endowment for Middle East Truth

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