Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

US Hardens Tone Against Assad

Washington is responding to the violent crackdown on Syrian protests continues with ever harsher rhetoric.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

Escalating its rhetoric against Bashar Al-Assad, the White House declared July 12 that the Syrian president had "lost his legitimacy" but declined to call explicitly for his resignation or removal.

The statement, which echoed similar remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton July 11, followed what appeared to be orchestrated attacks by pro-Assad demonstrators on the U.S. and French embassy compounds in Damascus July 11.

The attacks, which were condemned "in the strongest terms" by the U.N. Security Council July 12, were apparently motivated by the visits two weeks ago of the U.S. and French ambassadors to Hama, which has become a major centre of anti-government protests that have roiled the country for nearly four months.

"President Assad has lost his legitimacy," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"… President Assad had an opportunity to lead this (democratic) transition, and we have always said he should lead or leave. He had that opportunity and he passed it up," Carney said, adding that the Syrian leader was "not indispensable".

The tougher rhetoric, as well as Ambassador Robert Ford's visit to Hama, comes amid growing pressure on the administration, notably from neo-conservative sectors and some liberal hawks, such as former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, to take stronger measures against the regime.

No one is calling for direct military action, particularly at a time when both the general public and even Republican members of Congress are showing distinct signs of war-weariness.

But the continuing cycle of protest and repression that has taken at least 1,400 lives since March is fuelling calls for such steps as recalling Ford to Washington, referring Assad to the International Criminal Court, and imposing sweeping sanctions to cripple the country's already struggling economy.

In terms of concrete action, the administration of President Barack Obama, working closely with the European Union (EU), has so far focused on censuring the regime's repression in multilateral forums, including the Security Council, and imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Assad himself, as well as other key individuals in his inner circle and the regime.

But this has been deemed far too weak by the critics, particularly neo-conservatives and other hawks, such as former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who have long accorded a high priority to regime change in Damascus due to its alliance with Iran and historic backing for Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas, among other issues.

"This is an easy call: We have a chance to eliminate one of America's worst enemies in the region – the linchpin of Iran's alliances and terrorist apparatus," wrote Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies(FDD), a group closely associated with Israel's right-wing Likud Party, in this week's edition of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard.

"We have a chance to traumatize Tehran: The world will look a lot more precarious to supreme leader Ali Khamenei and a lot more hopeful to the millions behind Iran's pro-democracy Green Movement if Bashar al-Assad goes down," he added, urging that, in addition to imposing tougher economic sanctions and enhancing the opposition's communications capacities, Washington do its utmost to persuade Turkey to turn decisively against the regime.

Analysts at the influential Washington Institute for Near East Policy(WINEP), a spin-off of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC), have also been calling for stronger measures, particularly in pressurising the Syrian economy.

"If the United States and its European allies really seek to force the Assad regime to lead a democratic transition and facilitate Assad's eventual exit form the political scene, they will need to target Syrian energy to deprive the regime of vital foreign exchange earnings and curtail economic bailouts from Arab Gulf monarchies that historically have prevented the regime from instituting genuine change," WINEP's Andrew Tabler told a Congressional human rights commission Tuesday.

Tabler, one of Washington's most widely quoted Syria specialists, called on Obama to press key companies in Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands to stop buying Syria's heavy crude oil and take other measures to ensure that Damascus can't sell its oil in order to separate Assad from the business elite that supports him.

"To help end the bloodshed, Washington will need to be equally ruthless" in applying such sanctions as Assad has been in applying his "iron-fist-in-velvet-glove approach" to the uprising against him, warned Tabler, who also claimed Tuesday that the administration was preparing such measures "behind the scenes" as part of a "quiet sea change" in its approach to Damascus.

But such an approach carries significant risks, according to Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma who publishes the widely read syriacomment.com blog.

"If we go down the road of augmenting sanctions in a serious way, that's a slippery slope toward military intervention, because sanctions alone can't overturn the regime," he told IPS. "We haven't seen a regime in the Middle East as tough as Assad's collapse because of poverty, and we've learned from recent experience that poverty and blowing out the middle class are not the way to build a successful democracy in any case."

Ironically, he said, the latest events have served the purposes of both capitals.

"For Washington, Ford's trip and the tougher-sounding rhetoric demonstrate that Obama is on the side of the Arab Spring and eases the pressure on him by the critics to recall (the ambassador). And by sending Ford into the eye of the storm in Hama, Clinton has made it easier for Assad to rally his supporters around the charge that the U.S. is leading the effort to destabilise Syria," he said, adding that the latest developments were unlikely to substantially change the balance of power within the country.

Ford's visit – and subsequent criticism of the regime – indeed won him plaudits from some of Washington's fiercest anti-Assad hawks here who urged the administration to do more of the same.

Elliott Abrams, who served as former President George W. Bush's senior Middle East aide, wrote on his blog at the Council on Foreign Relations site that the administration now faces a choice – whether to cite the attack on the U.S. embassy as a reason for recalling Ford or "to send him back to Hama and to ratchet up his public displays of disgust with the regime and its behaviour."

If the latter, wrote Abrams, "either he will become a symbol of resistance to tyranny (always a great role for any American envoy) or he will be expelled from Syria," thus dramatising "America's final break with Assad…. Either way we win."

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is a conservative Republican congressman who was voted into office as part of the “tea party” surge in 2011 and nominated by Donald Trump to be director of the CIA.


Although better known for his domestic platform promoting “limited” government, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has expressed strong sympathies for projecting U.S. military power abroad.


James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a retired U.S Marine Corps general and combat veteran who served as commander of U.S. Central Command during 2010-2013 before being removed by the Obama administration reportedly because of differences over Iran policy.


Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) was one of Congress’s staunchest foreign policy hawks and a “pro-Israel” hardliner.


A self-styled terrorism “expert” who claims that the killing of Osama bin Laden strengthened Al Qaeda, former right-wing Lebanese militia member Walid Phares wildly claims that the Obama administration gave the Muslim Brotherhood “the green light” to sideline secular Egyptians.


Weekly Standard editor and PNAC cofounder Bill Kristol is a longtime neoconservative activist and Washington political operative.


Kelly Ayotte was a Republican senator from New Hampshire who is close to right-wing and neoconservative factions.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

Spurred by anti-internationalist sentiment among conservative Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration, the US is headed for a new confrontation with the UN over who decides how much the US should pay for peacekeeping.


Print Friendly

Decent developments in the Trump administration indicate that the neoconservatives, at one point on the margins of Washington’s new power alignments, are now on the ascendent?


Print Friendly

As the end of Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president approaches, it seems that his version of an “America-first” foreign policy is in effect a military-first policy aimed at achieving global hegemony, which means it’s a potential doomsday machine.


Print Friendly

Hopeful that Donald Trump may actually be their kind of guy, neoconservatives are full of praise for the cruise-missile strike against Syria and are pressing for more.


Print Friendly

Steve Bannon’s removal from the NSC’s Principals Committee doesn’t mean that he’s gone from the White House or no longer exerts a powerful influence on Trump. His office is still located very close to the Oval Office, and there’s nothing to indicate that his dark and messianic worldview has changed.


Print Friendly

Promoting sanctions that could undermine the Iran nuclear deal, pushing security assistance for Israel, combatting BDS, and more.


Print Friendly

Contrary to some wishful thinking following the Trump administration’s decision to “put Iran on notice” and seemingly restore U.S.-Saudi ties, there are little signs of apprehension in Tehran.


RightWeb
share