Obama Suggests Regime Change in Syria, Cites Yemen as Model

“President Barack Obama told G8 leaders meeting at Camp David that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave power, and pointed to Yemen as a model of how political transition could work there,” Reuters reported on Saturday.

Just to remind people, after about a year of mass protests urging the U.S.-supported dictator of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign, Yemenis voted in February in a referendum on a U.S.-backed transition deal to formally depose Saleh and elect his deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who was the only name on the ballot.

The deal granted Saleh total immunity for the crimes he committed while on Washington’s dole and despite the sham, single-candidate “election,” the U.S. praised it as democracy. The Obama administration then dutifully restarted military and economic aid to the Yemeni regime, dramatically escalated the drone war in Yemen, which has bombs dropped in the country virtually every day, and sent in Special Ops to fight militants without even acknowledging that this was any of Congress’s or the American people’s business.

The Yemeni people see clearly how their popular revolution was hijacked in the name of “American interests,” and are now being systematically marginalized as Hadi maintains a terrible dictatorship and U.S. bombs continue to breed al-Qaeda loyalists. To boot, Obama signed an executive order last week which threatened sanctions or worse against anybody who challenged the Hadi government, even if you’re an American citizen.

What a model of success!

Leaving aside the perverse nature of how the Executive Branch of the United States essentially decides which thugs get to repress entire countries of people in the Middle East, such a plan would be disastrous in Syria. I’ve repeatedly gone through why intervention would (and already has) worsen the conflict. But Syria is different from Yemen in important ways. Washington was able to muscle through a mock political transition/regime change because they had already been propping up the previous government and had deep ties to the state security establishment and the tribal factions through Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration, no matter how badly it wants to impose regime change in Syria, doesn’t have those points of leverage. This would mean either that Russia needs to take the lead or that the U.S. and its allies need to use considerable force, i.e. war. And frankly, that has the potential to be an even worse humanitarian catastrophe than Iraq.

The Annan plan is hanging on by a thread (and is being hindered by foreign intervention on all sides). So far, there little evidence the Obama administration plans to move from providing lethal and non-lethal aid to the opposition to actually going to war in Syria. But talk like that which Reuters reported this weekend makes clear their intentions and the status quo means Syria will become an intractable proxy war.