As harsh crackdowns on protests continue in Syria, and as allegedly forced pro-Assad rallies have been orchestrated by the regime, some European countries have been pressing the Assad regime with additional sanctions. This has yet to prove effective in stopping Assad’s brutality and unfortunately squawking from war hawks continue to encourage U.S. military intervention in Syria.
But Tony Badran, in an impressive piece at Foreign Policy, argues that there is plenty the U.S. can do short of bombs and armies to stop Assad and save potentially thousands of more innocent Syrian lives from this particular Middle Eastern tyrant who doesn’t happen to be our client. He says essentially that diplomatic isolation has the potential to rid Assad’s regime of any power it has left and could even pave the way towards a peaceful transition led by the Syrian people.
Bringing [U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert] Ford home would be an obvious way to deprive Assad of the legitimacy that comes with relations with the world’s only superpower. It would send an unambiguous message that the United States is done dealing with the Syrian regime. That message would embolden the protesters and dishearten Assad. Perhaps most importantly, it would send a clear signal to the silent majority in Syria, which is watching apprehensively and wondering who will win.
…[international] consensus [against Assad] requires American leadership to coalesce. French, Qatari, and Turkish officials are operating on their own because they cannot be sure of Washington’s position.
Washington could then widen the coalition against Assad to include other key Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. Washington should make clear that it seeks Assad’s ouster as part of a broader strategy of countering Iranian influence in the region — something about which Riyadh remains deeply concerned. There are several signs that the Saudis will be receptive to this argument, not least of which is the relentlessly critical line Saudi-owned media have taken against Assad over the last three months.
The administration could then induce other regional allies to use the leverage they have on Syria to its advantage. To assuage their worsening financial distress, for instance, the Assads have been reaching out to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Iraq. Obama can lean on these Arab allies to refrain from assisting Assad’s regime and investing money in it, just as he works with the Europeans to choke off sources of revenue for Damascus. These measures could become a significant factor in the calculation of the Sunni business class still on the fence and might potentially accentuate rifts in the army, which is already showing signs of cracks and fatigue amid growing reports of defections.
Doug Bandow recently put it eloquently how dire the situation is when leading congressmen start arguing for War # 6. The prospect of war with Syria makes any of the above attempts at diplomatic pressure appear to have a cherry on top. But Obama plainly has refused to speak out strongly against Assad. The reason is similar to our continuing support of the rest of the Middle Eastern tyrannies: the U.S. will do everything in its power to prevent democracy in the region.