Sarah Stern and Kyle Shideler
“There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”
-Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on “Face the Nation,” March 27, 2011
Bashar Assad was walking in downtown Damascus, coming from having signed a peace treaty with the Israelis, and on his way to announce new constitutional reforms and the beginnings of democracy to a crowd of activists. He arrived at the corner of an intersection, when on the opposite side of the street he spotted a unicorn, a fairy, and a leprechaun. At the same time, they all noticed a freedom-loving dissident who was complaining that 61 of his colleagues had been killed by the state’s police forces when they gathered for a peaceful protest. Of the four, the unicorn, the fairy, the leprechaun and Mr. Assad, who do you think invited the dissident into their palace, to consider his legitimate grievances?
None of them, because unicorns, fairies, leprechauns and a reformed Assad are all figments of an overworked imagination –As everyone knows except for those who write speeches for the State Department.
Since 1963, the harsh and brutal Syrian regime, has relied on broadly written “Security” provisions in Syria’s Penal Code to restrict freedom of speech and to arbitrarily detain, arrest, torture and even murder activists under the charge of “issuing calls that weaken national sentiment” or “spreading false or exaggerated information.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the despotic regime of Bashar Assad, prior to the latest government crackdown, had already arrested 92 prominent political and human rights activists. In prosecuting these activists, the government utilizes a special Supreme State Security Court, a special court that appears to be exempt from the rules of criminal jurisprudence that would be part of any ordinary criminal justice system.
But these facts did not prevent our Secretary of State from saying the words that started this article just a few days ago. Sadly, these sorts of words have been echoed, in one form or another, by countless State Department bureaucrats, “learned” pundits and journalists, and “esteemed” think-thank fellows for decades. As Commentary Magazine’s Jonathan Tobin pointed out, imagining Syrian reform is a long-running Washington obsession:
From President Jimmy Carter’s discovery that Hafez Assad was a “moderate” to the Obama administration’s constant wooing of Bashar with envoys like George Mitchell and Senator John Kerry (who succeeded the recently defeated Arlen Specter in the role of Syria’s best friend in the Senate), the illusion of a Syrian desire for peace has dominated our attitude towards the country.
Even as the New York Times reported on March 26 that 61 protestors had been murdered by Assad’s political hit squads, U.S. Administration officials were busy complaining to that very newspaper concerns about what effect the Syrian protesters would have on the “peace process.”
Meanwhile, protests reached a boiling point as security forces waged war on demonstrators in the Syrian city of Deraa and engaged in a chilling campaign of suppression and torture, that is the hallmark of the Assad regime. But these tactics, which once inspired fear, now only inflame the demonstrators, with outbreaks spreading to other cities, with no sign of stopping. Neither the resignation of the Syrian parliament last Tuesday, nor imported thugs from Tehran, nor Assad’s recent speech blaming foreign “conspirators” for the uprisings, is likely to put a damper on continued protests.
Of all the Arab regimes facing the risk of revolution, it is Syria where “regime change” would be most in American interest. Unlike Egypt, where the powerful Muslim Brotherhood waits in the wings to bring Shariah to Cairo, ally with Iran, and overturn peace with Israel, there is little be to lost from a Syria without Assad. Unlike Libya, where ominous hints of rebel ties with Al Qaeda keep many thoughtful people up at night, there is almost no foreseeable scenario where a new regime replacing Assad would be more problematic than what currently exists. Syria already supports the killing of American soldiers by facilitating the transfer of jihadists across their borders into Iraq. It already finances and supports Palestinian terrorists from Hamas to the PFLP and every group in-between. It tortures its own citizens, incites instability in neighboring states, assassinates foreign leaders, and ships a never-ending stream of missiles to Hezbollah. It continues its nuclear weapons program in cooperation with North Korea, and remains closely allied with Iran. If demonstrators were to come to power and put an end to even one of those behaviors, we would be better off than we are now.
What could possibly cause our foreign policy establishment and the present administration to demand that Mubarak and Qaddafi go, but to maintain only the most muted criticism of Assad in Syria and his partners-in-crime in Iran? If the administration took a cynical approach, a wait-and-see attitude, to “The Arab Spring” in every country, then it could be defended on the grounds of pragmatism, and “the devil you know” theory. On the other hand, were it to champion every protest, no matter the concerns about the players involved, it might be put down to democratic idealism. In fact, completely random choices might have occasionally furthered American interests and opposed our enemies. Even a blind squirrel would have found a nut by now.
But instead, their approach puts America firmly on a path that will most likely further the revolutionary Islamist axis led by Iran, and includes Syria, Hezbollah, and the global Muslim Brotherhood. It is to be expected from a policy forged by the advice of the “experts” who have spent so many decades calling for more pressure on Israel, more concessions to Syria and Iran, and more dialogue with the Islamists that seek to destroy us. Even as a truly momentous occasion in the region slips away from them, they can do nothing but lament the opportunity lost to make another offer to Assad, “the reformer”.
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