By: Amb.Marc Ginsberg
Today was the 10th week of successive Friday “Days of Rage” in Syria since a mid-March popular revolt began against the Assad family dynasty. Yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton declared that the legitimacy of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “has nearly run out.”
Hmmm. I’m having a hard time deciphering what “nearly” means in relation to the escalating violence in Syria. Does this represent little more than “foreign policy by torture statistics?” Should we surmise that as more and more evidence of further killings and incidents of torture trickle out from Syria after today’s latest Friday violence the Obama administration may finally free itself from its own self-imposed policy shackles and get on the right side of history?
How much more evidence of mayhem and gross violations of human rights does the Secretary of State need from inside Syria to state for the sake of America’s own credibility that the Assad regime’s legitimacy has finally “RUN OUT”?
I guess in keeping with prior dubious “lifeline” statements tossed to Assad from the Obama administration (e.g. “reform or get out of the way…,” etc.) there seems to be a very odd statistical correlation between the amount of rope Mrs. Clinton leaves dangling for Assad and the number of deaths and torture victims reported by international human rights organizations. By my count he isn’t even hanging by a thread.
The tell-tale ambiguity of our policy and Mrs. Clinton’s evident hesitation defies reason even if the U.S. has no real leverage to influence Assad. Do we actually believe that Assad is going to be beholden to the U.S. for rhetorically keeping our proverbial “bus in the garage?” And if we’re earning any brownie points from the Saudis or Israelis by not crossing that road, are the points really worth it at this point given the deteriorating events and escalating violence inside Syria?
Before today’s latest reports of mayhem throughout Syria, human rights organizations estimated that over 1,200 innocent Syrians have been murdered on the streets of Syria’s cities at the hands of Syria’s dreaded Mukhabarat secret police aided by Iranian agents well versed in their trade. The number of Syrians tortured, imprisoned, or otherwise unaccounted for is now in the thousands. Syria is using the full force of its military to confront the extraordinary bravery of Syrian protesters. By all accounts Assad, like his utterly ruthless father before him, is clearly determined to break the back and will of the protest movement no matter what the cost in lives and the final ounce of dignity left in the regime.
Not that it really matters to the Assad regime what Mrs. Clinton or for that matter anyone else in the Obama administration opines. Assad has, by all accounts, rendered himself utterly tone-deaf to the entreaties of the international community as the violence has escalated. He knows Russia, China and Iran remain in his corner, and although he has crossed the proverbial Rubicon in the use of force against his own people, Assad also knows that, unlike in Libya, no NATO or any potential “coalition of the willing” will take any overt action against his regime other than impose largely symbolic economic sanctions. So despite economic isolation and growing international outcry, Assad knows he’s safe because, by our statements, we have signaled to him that he is “too big to fail.” We could do cartwheels in downtown Damascus demanding his ouster and it wouldn’t matter one iota.
The sustained assault against Syria’s democratic protesters has accelerated in recent days to the point that the government-orchestrated violence and repression equals anything that we feared Col. Gaddafi was planning to do against the hapless people of Benghazi until NATO intervened. If his regime is to fall, it surely won’t be because of outside intervention, much less from international protest or economic hardship. It will fall because the outrage and sacrifice of the Syrian people has forced him and his clique out of town.
It is hard to know how long this “battle to the death” will continue between Assad’s regime and the protest movement. But one thing is for certain — as a long-time observer of Syrian politics, the notion that the Assad regime’s continued longevity is the lesser of two evils is fast becoming a mirage.
Fears of post-regime sectarian strife and the potential regionalization of Syria’s implosion can no longer be excuses to hide behind or paralyze contingency planning. Rather, the better foreign policy is for the U.S. to prepare for a potential post-Assad regime by quietly reaching out to the Syrian opposition organizing in Turkey to offer non-military and moral support to the movement, as well as assessing how to contain the potential fall of Assad with Syria’s neighbors: Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Iraq, as well as with our European allies and other members of the Arab League.
If Assad is able to hold on, well then we know this “devil.” Unfolding events in Syria, however, suggest that it is time to get to better know the “devil” we don’t know.
* Former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco