U.S. should toughen stance in Syria
The Kansas City Star
In the face of the ongoing massacre of civilians in Syria, the Barack Obama administration has offered words without the desired results. In recent days, the words have become more pointed, but the White House should excercise more U.S. leadership in dealing with the crisis.
For the last two months, the administration has deferred to Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary general now deputized as an envoy. So far, Annan’s achievement is brokering a cease-fire that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad simply ignores. The latest evidence came with the massacre of 108 people in the town of Houla.
Most of the victims were women and children. A U.N. spokesman said about 20 were killed by artillery, but many were killed at close range, by stabbing or gunshots. Some had their throats slit and their eyes stabbed.
At the U.N. in New York earlier this week, the diplomatic effort progressed to the point where the Security Council felt justified in condemning the Syrian regime — but only after the laughably fastidious Russians rejected an earlier statement that more directly blamed the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government denied responsibility for the Houla killings, and instead blamed them on a terrorist attack. The Syrians, apparently, have their own versions of Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi spokesman who insisted Saddam Hussein’s forces were prevailing right up to the day the regime fell.
With Annan’s mission degenerating, Washington’s latest plan is to have Russian strongman Vladimir Putin persuade Assad to resign. Putin and President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet next month, and Obama plans to inveigh on his counterpart to sell Assad on the idea.
It’s a stretch. Russia has a measure of influence in Syria, but it’s wishful thinking to believe Putin has enough heft to convince Assad to leave — especially given that the success of the Syrian rebels is hardly assured. The turmoil has been going on for 15 months, an estimated 13,000 people have died and Assad seems determined to go on killing. He knows that as things stand, time is on his side.
Obama needs to lead a coalition with a goal of changing that calculation, using any one of several options, including creating safe zones for endangered civilians, helping arm the opposition — or supplying heavier weapons to groups after evaluation by the CIA.
The situation is admittedly much more complex than in Libya, where the opposition was less divided and was already in control of a substantial portion of the country’s territory. But standing by and deferring to others only increases the risk of a wider conflict that ultimately engulfs Syria’s neighbors, including Jordan and Iraq.
Obama has said one of America’s core interests is “preventing mass atrocities and genocide.” Now it is time for our president to exert leadership with that goal in mind.