By Barry Rubin
Here’s an unavoidable question: Why is it that when a relatively moderate Middle East state is threatened by demonstrations—Egypt and Tunisia—the Obama Administration calls for their instant departure while when it is a radical, anti-American, terrorist-supporting state—Iran and Syria—it refuses to act at all.
However you explain that paradox it nonetheless, undeniably, exists. And it is totally contrary to the U.S. national interests. Some people think that this sabotage is deliberate; others, like myself, think it is being caused by incompetence, ignorance, and an ideology totally out of touch with reality.
But here’s what’s really important: If you can’t tell the difference between the deliberate destruction of U.S. interests and the inadvertent but systematic destruction of U.S. interests, doesn’t that show how serious the situation is?
And where are the protesters on American campuses? The outraged media—and there is some—demanding action? See the above paragraph.
The situation in Syria has turned into a bloodbath far worse than anything that happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Hundreds of demonstrators have been shot. Congress is starting to complain about administration inaction. And government officials have to resort to nonsense to justify inaction. They, too, probably have no idea what is on President Barack Obama’s mind. I could list his arguments here but won’t bother because they are all flimsy to say the least.
Here’s an example: When a member of Congress suggested withdrawing the U.S. ambassador from Damascus, Michael Posner of the State Department ridiculed the idea. The ambassador, he said, is “an individual who can reach out both to the Syrian government at the highest levels, but also to reach out to people who are on the receiving end of this violence,”
“People want to know that governments like the United States are there, meeting with them, aware of what they’re facing and trying to help them in a day-to-day way. He’s spending long hours helping families, meeting with victims, meeting with human rights advocates, meeting with journalists trying to mitigate what is a terrible situation. It’s right for us to have a senior diplomat whose role it is really to be our advocate in chief in Damascus and in Syria fighting for the very principles of human rights….”
That all sounds very nice. But I don’t believe one word of it. Are anti-government protesters freely filing in and out of the U.S. embassy in downtown Damascus or are armed government guards standing outside stopping anyone from approaching?
Is the ambassador “fighting” for human rights? How can he when the Syrian regime knows that the Obama Administration won’t do anything? This is a joke. And here’s the biggest lie: If the ambassador were withdrawn the deputy chief of mission would take over and the embassy would go on precisely as before.
And don’t give me the nonsense about the low-level U.S. responses like sanctions against a handful of individuals directly involved in repression. The Syrian regime knows that this, too, is a joke.
“The people want to topple the regime!” protesters shouted, echoing the cries heard during the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
But the U.S. and European governments don’t. And that’s a large part of the problem.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/ 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 http://www.gloria-center.org/. His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/.