In his much hyped Mideast speech earlier today, President Obama made no bones about the fact that near-term US interests sometimes run afoul of the cause of pro-democracy protesters in the Middle East. Most saw this as a nod to Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt et al, but perhaps less appreciated was the US position on Syria.
Despite being a popular bogeyman regime for US officials, the Assad government in Syria has also been quietly supported as a “stabilizing” influence, with officials extremely concerned of what might happen if the nation saw actually free elections.
But with protesters in the streets and Assad increasingly unable to control them, Obama made the unusual move of saying that he must follow through with promised reforms or leave office.
Wheher anythings comes of this remains to be seen, but as with the revolution in Egypt US officials seem to be late in the game in realizing that a once cherished dictator can no longer tamp down inconvenient calls for free elections. Though the public distancing from Bashar Assad will be much easier than the one from Hosni Mubarak, it is no less dramatic a shift in US policy.
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