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The “Reformer” Syrian President’s Answer to Obama’s Engagement Policy

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Posted on April 26 2011 12:30 pm

Less than one month ago – after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began launching his brutal attacks against his own people – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to him as a “reformer.” She was continuing President Obama’s  fruitless exercise of “engagement” with Iran’s best friend in the Middle East.

As one resident of the besieged city of Dara’a (the center of the Syrian opposition movement) said, while filming tanks entering the city:

These are the reforms of Bashar al-Assad. He is reforming Dara’a with the tanks of Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian government’s brutal crackdown against protesters has already killed nearly 400 people to date. The New York Times‘ lead front page article today described reports of

bodies strewn in the streets

President Bashar al-Assad appears to be following the brutal example of his father, whose regime in 1982 crushed a revolt and killed at least 10,000 people in the town of Hama. Yet in contrast to the Obama administration’s willingness to push our longtime ally Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak under the bus and to use military force in Libya to get rid of Col. Muammar Qaddafi, the Obama administration has done about as little to provide moral support for the Syrian dissidents as it has for the dissidents in Iran.

The Obama administration has issued a few bland statements, rebuking the Syrian government’s violence with adjectives like “unacceptable,” “deplorable,” and “outrageous.”

All that Obama himself could muster was a statement last Friday complaining:

Over the course of two months since protests in Syria began the United States has repeatedly encouraged President Assad and the Syrian government to implement meaningful reforms, but they refuse to respect the rights of the Syrian people or be responsive to their aspirations.

So much for trying to persuade the “reformer” through ”engagement.”

Obama’s statement went on to lament that Assad was,

putting his own personal interests ahead of the interests of the Syrian people, and resorting to the use of force and outrageous human rights abuses

Really? That’s all that the Presient of the United States could muster about an ongoing massacre? I guess President Obama is too busy going after those evil Republicans on the campaign trail to worry very much about the real evils being perpetrated in Syria.

The choice is not between entering a fourth war against a Muslim country, which would be a huge mistake, and doing virtually nothing. The choice is between calling out our real enemies with moral clarity versus pretending that we can “engage” with them in reasonable dialogue.

In Assad’s case, he has decided to throw in his lot with our biggest enemy in the region – the thugs ruling Iran. Syria has served as Iran’s conduit to arming the Hezbollah terrorists who now control neighboring Lebanon. By pretending we could engage rationally with both Syria and Iran, the Obama administration has given them the space to crack down on their own citizens protesting peacefully, and the time to further arm themselves and their terrorist surrogates.

Now, very late in the game, the Obama administration is reportedly discussing some limited new economic sanctions against Syria. At the United Nations, European and American officials have circulated a draft Security Council statement condemning the crackdown and calling on the government to respect human rights and freedom of expression. But Lebanon, which sits on the Security Council and led the charge against Qaddafi, is reportedly trying to slow things down at the Council with regard to Syria. Thus, according to Inner City Press, which spoke with a Permanent Representative of one of the countries that introduced the draft Security Council statement, it is being “watered down.”

Meanwhile, at the dysfunctional UN Human Rights Council that the Obama administration decided to join, the Organization of Islamic Conference (whose members dominate the Human Rights Council’s agenda) has blocked efforts to call a special session to discuss the crack-down in Syria and elsewhere n the Middle East.

What’s even worse, Syria is currently running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council and is likely to succeed. UN watchdog Anne Bayesfsky reports:

Seats are allocated to five regional groups, and just to make sure Syria’s ascendancy is unimpeded, the Asian group has only nominated the same number of states as they have seats. So barring any unexpected additions, Syria will join fellow U.N. human rights authorities like Saudi Arabia on the Council in May.

In addition to imposing our own economic sanctions along with our European allies if the UN Security Council does not act, there is one thing that the Obama administration could do right away to express moral clarity on what is going on in Syria. It should declare that if Syria is elected to the Human Rights Council, the United States will withdraw and cut off funding for this worthless body.

I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Joseph Klein is the author of a recent book entitled Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations and Radical Islam

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