from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Abandoning Syria

March 29, 2012

Blog Post

More on:

United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions


With 9,000 Syrians dead and the Assad regime increasingly isolated and under political, moral, military assault, it appears that the Obama Administration has made its choice: it is abandoning efforts to force the end of that regime.

The plan developed by Kofi Annan is a life-saving development for Assad, as it guarantees months of diplomatic wrangling while Assad methodically murders his way to victory. Town after town, neighborhood after neighborhood may be bombed and reduced to rubble, the death toll may double or triple, but there will be endless meetings in nice hotels in Europe and the Middle East. We can see that future right now, in stories like this: "Syria accepted a cease-fire drawn up by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan on Tuesday, but the diplomatic breakthrough was swiftly overshadowed by intense clashes between government soldiers and rebels that sent bullets flying into Lebanon." A few more months of this is all that Assad needs.

Persuasive evidence that the Obama Administration is heading this way can be found in the most recent column by David Ignatius, who faithfully reflects White House views and wrote that "I credit the Obama administration for resisting the growing chorus of calls to arm the Syrian rebels — and for continuing to seek Moscow’s help...." If the White House were on the verge of changing that defeatist stance Ignatius’s private briefings would not lead to such lines; the briefers would be scolding the Russians and saying the time had come to push back against the Assad military machine.

"It’s a moment for realpolitik," Ignatius wrote, and I suppose that is what Obama Administration officials call their policy. If realpolitik means watching Assad kill more protesters and level more apartment houses, I suppose that’s right. The usual criticism of realpolitik is that it lacks a moral dimension, and that is certainly true here. But a policy that would maintain Russian influence in Syria, back away from dealing Iran a gigantic blow by bringing down its only Arab ally, and fail to end the regime that is Hezbollah’s armorer is hardly one that deserves to be described as "realist."