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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Time for Assad to go

With word that his regime murdered dozens - if not hundreds - more this weekend, when will the world stop defending Bashar al-Assad?
Three weeks and hundreds of casualties into the Syrian uprising, longstanding concerns about whom and what will replace Assad are resurfacing. So too is the atavistic attachment to a regime that not only has killed thousands of its own citizens, but contributed to the deaths of dozens if not hundreds of U.S. troops and contractors in Iraq. Support for the regime goes beyond the standard “devil you know” rationale. To wit, one commentator in The National Interest recently opined that “Washington knows [Syrian President] Bashar well and it knows how rational and predictable he is in foreign affairs.” No doubt, Assad hasn’t killed millions like Stalin. But he has spent his first decade in power recklessly dedicated to undermining stability—and U.S. interests—in the Middle East.

Here’s the devil we know: Since 2006 alone, Assad’s Syria has exponentially increased the capabilities of the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, providing the organization with advanced anti-ship and highly accurate M-600 missiles, top of the line anti-tank weapons, and has allowed the organization to establish a SCUD base on Syrian soil. At the same time, Assad continues to meddle (and murder) in Lebanon, harbor and support Hamas, and subvert Iraq. Damascus remains a strategic ally of otherwise isolated Tehran. And in 2007, it was revealed that Assad’s Syria was progressing toward building a nuclear weapon. Given the pernicious effect of Assad’s policies on U.S. interests and the region, it’s difficult to imagine that a successor or replacement regime could be worse.


It perhaps goes without saying that the United States should not be in the business of regime removal in Syria. Yet it’s time to revise the assumption that Washington somehow has a vested interest in Bashar Assad’s political survival. As the brave Syrian people do the hard work and pay a high price to rid themselves of a corrupt, capricious, and brutal dictator, America should not be throwing him a lifeline.

Years ago when I was working in the Bush administration, I was tasked to write an options paper on Syria. Prior to putting pen to paper, I sought the sage counsel of the late Peter Rodman, who, in typical fashion quipped, “Kissinger tasked me to write the same paper in the early 1970s.” Today, 40 years and seven presidents later, the United States is still seeking an effective policy to contend with the Assad regime. Paralyzed by concerns of what comes next, the Obama administration—like the Bush administration before it—continues to cling to the status quo. Regrettably, if the Assad regime weathers this storm, hamstrung by ongoing fears of worst-case succession scenarios in Damascus, decades from now Bashar—or his own son Hafez—will remain a policy challenge for the United States.
I would say the Obama administration is completely blinded to Assad. What is its ambassador doing there? Why was he sent in the first place?

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At 1:10 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Easier said that done. Egypt was a family dictatorship and so was Tunisia's. Syria is run by a tribal dictatorship and the Alawites know if they fall, they can expect to get justifiably massacred. That is why the secret police and army is standing behind the regime. As long it backs it, it should survive.


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