The Obama Administration, which has been tragically slow to condemn President Bashar al-Assad’s violent repression of peaceful demonstrators and call for his resignation, finally took action to do so yesterday. After muting its criticism of Assad’s serial mass murders of his own people for five months, the White House released a statement that ratcheted up sanctions on Syria’s dictatorship and called for Assad to step down.
Since protests erupted in March, the Assad regime has killed more than 1,800 Syrians and jailed more than 10,000 in a brutal crackdown against peaceful demonstrators. But the Obama Administration was slow to respond, paralyzed by wishful thinking about Assad’s supposed credentials as a “reformer,” and it maintained a naïve engagement strategy, seeking to pull the Syrian regime into peace negotiations with Israel.
In its unseemly rush to engage Damascus, the Obama Administration glossed over the fact that the Assad regime not only is a major state sponsor of terrorism, but also is Iran’s chief ally in the Middle East, has long interfered in Lebanon’s internal affairs, and was caught red-handed violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2007 after Israel destroyed an illegal nuclear facility designed to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.
This engagement policy with Syria failed miserably, just as the Administration’s engagement policy with Iran also failed to produce any tangible results. Both of these failures are rooted in the naïve assumptions that underpin the Obama Doctrine, which has undermined U.S. national security interests.
One of the counterproductive implications of the Obama Doctrine is that it leads the Administration to seek better relations with hostile regimes while neglecting to defend the interests of allies. For example, the ill-conceived diplomatic effort to engage Iran greatly discomforted Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other allies, while the effort to engage Syria undermined pro-Western forces in Lebanon, which Syria long has sought to dominate.
The Obama Administration’s timid Syria policy is especially grating when compared to its quick abandonment of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak when his regime relied on much less repressive tactics to confront opposition demonstrators earlier this year. Although the Obama Administration pressed for Mubarak to resign in a matter of weeks despite the fact that he was a longtime ally, it took five months for it to reach a similar conclusion about the Assad regime, a longtime foe.
A country that gains a reputation for quickly abandoning its allies while eagerly courting its enemies inevitably will find it has fewer friends and more enemies.
For more on U.S. policy on Syria, see: