The Obama administration officially called for Syrian President Bashar al Assad to step down on Thursday, after months of violence against the Syrian people protesting for reforms which United Nations investigators say “may amount to crimes against humanity.” Administration officials gave no indications that any direct military intervention was imminent.
“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way,” President Barack Obama said in his statement. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
The policy approach behind Obama’s call for Assad to step down is founded on sanctions which require the immediate freeze of all Syrian government assets that fall in U.S. jurisdiction, and prohibit U.S. citizens from doing any business with the Syrian government. The new sanctions also ban the import of Syrian petroleum products from entering the United States, and ban Americans from doing business with Syrian petroleum companies.
Leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the European Union have also called for Assad’s ouster and are expected to follow in lock-step with U.S. sanctions, which will be significant since an estimated 90 percent of Syrian oil goes to Europe.
The Iranian regime has been pegged as Syria’s only remaining ally. “In regard to Syria we are confronted with two choices. The first is for us to place Syria in the mouth of a wolf named America and change conditions in a way that NATO would attack Syria,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. “That would mean we would have a tragedy added to our other tragedies in the world of Islam.”
“The second choice would be for us to contribute to the termination of the clashes in Syria,” Boroujerdi said. “The interests of the Muslim people command that we mobilize ourselves to support Syria as a center of Palestinian resistance.”
A senior Iranian cleric framed the situation similarly. “It is the duty of all Muslims to help stabilize Syria against the destructive plots of America and Israel,” said Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi.
Russia has also come under criticism for reportedly continuing their arms sales to Syria. But criticism of ongoing support from Iran and Russia is deeply misleading, since the justifications Washington has given publicly for continuing to support other Arab dictatorships who have violently cracked down on peaceful civilians run directly parallel with Iran’s and Russia’s.
U.S. support for the regime in Bahrain, despite massive human rights violations on peaceful protesters, has been assertive, with money and arms flow continuing unabated. Money, arms, diplomatic support, and America’s own bombs have been flowing steadily to the Yemen while Saleh’s regime brutally suppresses people urging reform. In Egypt, Mubarak maintained strong U.S. support, even while massive atrocities by security forces took place, until the very end, and the U.S. continues to support the military transition, despite continuing human rights violations. The U.S. supported Gadhafi prior to the Arab Spring, and their mandate to protect civilians was quickly swapped for bombing civilians and changing the Libyan regime. Allied with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. supports authoritarianism there, with familiar justifications. All while wars and occupations rage on in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Whatever prompted the Obama administration to call for an end to Assad’s regime, this condensed track record makes clear it wasn’t Assad’s harsh crackdown. Administration officials maintain Assad is “on his way out,” but when that might take place is unclear. Assad has reportedly told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that military operations against Syrian people have stopped, although Assad has previously made such comments, only to go right back to shelling cities and towns.
For now, another U.S.-led war in the Middle East is apparently off the table. But Assad’s response in the coming weeks will determine what is to come for the West’s response to his recent crimes and tyranny.