America’s Syria Policy Emboldens Assad—and Iran

Bashar al-Assad’s security forces have brazenly slaughtered more than 10,000 Syrian civilians, and injured or detained tens of thousands more, since the anti-regime protests began in March 2011. Despite these facts, America’s policy towards Syria—a terror-sponsoring government that is Iran’s closest ally in the Arab World, a possessor of weapons of mass destruction, and a supporter of foreign fighters that killed American troops in Iraq—remains incoherent and ineffectual.

Indeed, President Obama still refuses to forcefully back up his August 2011 demand that Assad step down. Consider his high-profile speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last week: He rightly condemned Assad’s mass murders, but showed only enough resolve to announce more sanctions against Syrian officials and the formation of a new “Atrocities Prevention Board.” The fecklessness of the announcement surely was not lost on Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, who critically said in his introduction of the president, “So in this place we may ask: Have we learned anything from [the atrocities of the Holocaust]? If so, how is it that Assad is still in power?”

Meanwhile, Congress is still struggling to find its collective voice on Syria. Take last week’s debate over a non-binding resolution (S. Res. 435) by Senators Bob Casey (D, Penn.) and Marco Rubio (R, Fla.) that calls for democratic change in Syria.  During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s markup of the resolution, several Republican lawmakers argued for an amendment to remove language reaffirming “that it is the policy of the United States that the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people cannot be realized so long as Bashar al-Assad remains in power and that he must step aside.”

Although the committee rejected the proposed amendment and eventually passed the Casey-Rubio resolution in a 13-6 vote, it is shameful that any member of Congress would even countenance the notion that Assad’s departure may not be in America’s interest.

Jamie M. Fly has served as the Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) since its founding in 2009. He served in the Bush administration at the National Security Council (2008-2009) and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (2005-2008). Robert Zarate is a member of FPI and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies IISS in London, U.K.

The above article was published in weeklystandard.com on May 1st, 2012 (12:03 p.m.).

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