In Syria, There’s Little America Can Do

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a conference in Washington DC, May 11, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a conference in Washington DC, May 11, 2010 (State Department)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had “lost legitimacy” after angry mobs attacked the American and French embassies in Damascus on Sunday and Monday. “President Assad is not indispensable,” Clinton added, “and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power.”

That may be true but short of invasion, there is very little the United States can do stop Assad’s brutalities or remove him from power.

Some American foreign policy analysts disagree. Writing for The Weekly Standard, Reuel Marc Gerecht suggests that there is actually a lot his country can do to hasten Assad’s demise:

using the presidential bully pulpit against the Assad regime, deploying the American ambassador in Damascus as a shield and voice for the opposition, organizing the Western diplomatic community in Damascus to do whatever it can to aid the opposition, offering substantial technical support to the Turks to extend a Wi-Fi-ed broadband as far over the Syrian border as possible, and working with Paris to implement energy sanctions that might severely impair the Assad regime.

The most important thing the Obama Administration can do though is encourage Turkey to stand firm against Syria — which it would rather not even if Ankara seems to have given up hope in Assad’s willingness to reform.

Washington can do everything on Gerecht’s list and still accomplish nothing. The simple fact it that it has very little leverage over Assad. The United States may have nothing invested in him remaining in power; Assad has absolutely nothing invested in maintaining amicable relations with the Americans. Why would he succumb to Western pressure? It’s not as though Syria depends on the West in any meaningful way.

Rather, Assad will fight to the bitter end because he has no alternative. Ultimately, the faux concessions he has offered the protesters in his country may herald his fall from power but he could just as well manage to suppress the uprising and survive to fight another decade. In any event, unless the United States assassinate him, they won’t shape the outcome.

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