By Barry Rubin
At the moment in history when people are not just rebelling in the Middle East but when the opposition movements in Iran and Syria are at a high point, the fact that the U.S. government is standing by and not only doing nothing but virtually saying nothing.
No, it is even worse. For Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually praised Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad. She said that “members of Congress” who have gone to Damascus (notably Senator John Kerry who should henceforth be known as an apologist for an oppressive anti-American dictator), have found Bashar al-Asad to be a “reformer.”
Can anyone tell us what reforms he has made? This is a dictator who is Iran’s chief ally; who has actively encouraged and helped terrorists in Iraq to kill Americans; who has tried to launch his own secret nuclear weapons program (stopped only by an Israeli bombing attack); who is chief backer of Hamas in killing Israelis; and who has reimposed Syrian control over Lebanon by using terrorism against Lebanese moderates.
And so, the secretary of state of the United States has praised a dictator who is murdering unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Syria. Mubarak, a U.S. ally and far less oppressive than Syria or Iran, was bad; but Asad, an enemy of the United States and a far more repressive dictator is good?
Note that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took a much tougher stance on criticizing Syria. I suggested that he was contradicting administration policy in doing so. Unfortunately, that assessment was correct. But good for Gates in taking a good stance. Presumably, he won’t be around much longer. Note that he also correctly said that intervention in Libya wasn’t a vital U.S. interest, again contradicting Clinton and the White House.
Let’s be clear here: Administration officials are (deliberately?) misinterpreting what’s they’re being asked to do. The issue is not a Libyan-style military intervention but rather daily statements and covert aid if appropriate.
NOBODY IS ASKING THE UNITED STATES TO SEND MILITARY FORCES TO SYRIA OR IRAN. We are only asking that U.S. policy give support to oppositionists trying to overthrow repressive dictatorships that are America’s worst enemies in the Middle East and–arguably–in the world.
Is that clear enough?
Remember covert operations? It’s something the United States used to do during the Cold War, sometimes with great effectiveness. Doing something like that on the side of people who want freedom seems a good idea. But won’t the regimes denounce the opposition as American agents? The fear of this seems to be one factor paralyzing the Obama Administration.
Guess what? They’ll do it anyway! Every day and with every means at their disposal.
Yes, I know some claim that in his Iranian NewYear’s message, President Obama did support Iranian oppositionists one time. But my reading of that statement is that it did the exact opposite, skirting the issues to avoid offending the Iranian regime too much.
It is time for the U.S. government to speak up. By making it publicly clear that the United States will not even end the engagement with Syria and start bashing it publicly, it is signalling the Syrian government that it can shoot down as many demonstrators it wants and torture people with no international consequences.
This is against U.S. interests, against democracy and freedom, and against common sense. If President Obama can say that “Mubarak must go” and “Qadhafi must go” why can’t he at least say: “Ahmadinejad must go” and “Asad must go.”
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.