from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Syria: No "Bind," No "Quandary"

April 22, 2011

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"Escalating protests in Syria put Obama administration in a bind,” says a headline in the Washington Post. Why is that? “Escalating anti-government demonstrations in Syria have put the Obama administration in a quandary as it tries to protect a range of wider U.S. interests while supporting what it has called the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

This is a grave misreading of American interests in the region and in Syria. The United States has significant national-security interests in the demise of the Assad regime. As I wrote recently in National Review Online, Syria under Assad is “Iran’s only Arab ally, able and willing to trans-ship arms to Hezbollah and through Hezbollah control Lebanon and give Iran a border with Israel. The demise of Assad would mean a tremendous setback for the ayatollahs, and second only to the fall of the Islamic Republic would be a great gain for the United States in the Middle East. The sense throughout the Middle East that Iran has been growing in influence in the last decade, and that the “Arab Spring” brought it more opportunities, would be erased by the fall of Iran’s allies in Damascus.”

Assad’s Syria also remains the headquarters of Hamas and several other Palestinian terrorist groups. For those in the administration still focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it should be clear that the demise of the regime would weaken these violent and extremist Palestinian elements.

What’s more, Assad’s Syria made itself the funnel through which jihadis from around the globe entered Iraq to kill American servicemen and women during the Iraq war. From Pakistan or Libya, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, they would fly into Damascus International Airport and from there be shepherded into Iraq. So this regime is covered in American blood, a factor that our government should never forget.

And then we come to human rights. For those with strong stomachs, the most recent State Department human rights report on Syria describes Syria this way: “The security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, caused politically motivated disappearances, and tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees with impunity.” That’s pretty antiseptic, but the report then acknowledges that this regime is medieval: “Former prisoners, detainees, and reputable local human rights groups reported that methods of torture and abuse included electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; burning genitalia; forcing objects into the rectum; beatings while the victim is suspended from the ceiling and on the soles of the feet; alternately dousing victims with freezing water and beating them in extremely cold rooms; hyperextending the spine; bending the body into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts; using a backward-bending chair to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the spine; and stripping prisoners naked for public view.” According to that Washington Post story, some American officials have an "unwillingness...trade a known quantity in Assad for an unknown future." After reading this U.S. Government human rights report, how is that position sustainable?

U.S. interests, moral and practical, will be advanced by the fall of the bloody Assad dictatorship. It is long past time to end all the references to Assad as a potential reformer, especially with more than two hundred peaceful protesters now dead in the streets of Syria’s cities. We should side clearly with the people of Syria, who want an end to the Assad nightmare. The Obama Administration should be in no “bind” or “quandary” about Syria.

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