There can be little doubt that the administration has made serious mistakes in Syria in regard to the protests there and Assad’s hyper violent response from day one. America’s newly appointed ambassador to Damascus arrived just weeks before the protests there erupted costing the Obama Administration much credibility and leverage.
When the Foreign Policy (FP) magazine website ran an April 14 above the fold link that read “Stop Whining About Syria and Do Something” (to the story http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/14/twisting_assads_arm) it revealed that some serious mistakes have been made by the White House.
In Libya the president’s hesitation to encourage the protesters or to pledge support to the armed rebels gave Gaddafi the opportunity to gain the upper hand in the conflict. The effect of this cannot be debated: civilians were killed by the Libyan army and the effect of the U.S. led air strikes was less in the end than it would have been had it come when Sarah Palin and others first called for it.
The Obama administration’s decision to wait until the Arab League and the U.N. gave the green light to begin air strikes against the Gaddafi regime will hurt the U.S. if any decision is made to intervene in Syria.
Obama’s outreach to Syria complicates this as well. A prime example of this was the appointment of Ambassador Robert Ford. Jim Zanotti’s “Hamas: Background and Issues for Congress” 67 page report issued by the Congressional Research Service on December 2, 2010 can be found be found on the U.S. State Department website. The report also stated “(t)he movement’s political leadership is currently headquartered in exile in Damascus, Syria.”
On December 29, just four weeks after the publication of the Congressional Research Service report, President Obama appointed Robert Ford to be the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since February 2005.
The Christian Science Monitor described the background to the appointment this way:
In June 2009, Obama announced that he was sending a new US ambassador to Damascus, but it was not until seven months later that he named Ford, a career diplomat, as the new head of mission. Even then, Ford’s departure was delayed because the Senate refused to confirm his appointment due to its opposition to returning an ambassador to Syria. Obama took advantage of the Senate recess last month to sign off on several diplomatic appointments, including Ford, allowing the new ambassador to take up his position.
The Senate had good reason to block the appointment. American mistakes in Syria can lead to disaster. Syria is much more strategically important to U.S. interests than Libya. Much more:
- Syria borders Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Israel. It is hard to imagine a more vitally positioned nation on the planet.
- Syria’s national policy for decades has been to undermine the Lebanese government and exert control over Beirut.
- Syria’s population is approximately 22.5 million compared to Libya’s less than 6.5 million.
- Syria has substantial minorities of Kurds and Armenians that are in danger.
- Syria has alliances strong with Iran and other rogue states.
- Emergency martial law has basically been in effect since 1963 and an emergency law bans demonstrations.
- The Syrian army has been used to slaughter thousands of civilians in the past.
Scattered demonstrations began in Syria as early as on January 26, 2011 and the first “Days of Rage” protests began in Damascus on February 4 and February 5.
On March 18 hundreds of protesters were injured and at least four were killed.
These mid-March protests have been described as “unprecedented” and the demonstrations are the most serious since 1982 when tens of thousands of civilians were slaughtered in the city of Hama.
And March looked calm compared to April. There were over fifty fatalities among civilians and soldiers on April 10 alone. On April 8 reports are that close to 40 civilians were killed.
The Obama administration must not continue to let the opportunity to encourage regime change in Damascus slip through its fingers. Much of the Middle East’s future stability hinges on the streets of Syrian cities and towns. Let’s hope that Team Obama sees that before it is too late.