May 20, 2011
Obama to Assad: Lead reform or get out of the way
President Obama spent part of his Mideast speech warning Syrian President Bashar Assad the had two choices; lead the reform effort or get out of the way.
The Times of India:
“The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. And President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition or get out of the way,” Obama said in a major foreign policy speech on the recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa.The Syrian government, he demanded, must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests.
“They must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. They must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition,” he said.
“Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad,” Obama said.
“So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stands for the rights of protesters abroad yet represses its own people at home,” he said.
As weak as it may sound, this represents a profound shift in US policy. Gone is the fantasy that Assad is the best hope for reform in Syria, as Hillary Clinton implied a few weeks ago. It’s a long way from invoking the R2P doctrine but it gives Assad something to think about.
The problem is, reform in Syria would mean a revolution. Religious, economic, cultural, and political factors make any “reform” in the normal sense impossible. For Assad, there must be total control, or he is dead. For that reason, Assad will continue to stifle protests while hoping other news around the world distracts us from his crackdown.