The American ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday was ambiguous about whether or not the United States would consider using military force to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad from office.
Susan Rice, during an appearance on NBC News’ Morning Joe, said that the United States “don’t need to intensify the military situation” in Syria where anti-government militias now battle forces that are loyal to President Assad after protests against his regime were brutally suppressed for months.
“The best answer to this is not more arms,” she said. “It’s not airstrikes against a very complex and capable air defense system.”
Republican legislators, notably Senator John McCain, have urged airstrikes as Arab countries and NATO conducted in Libya last year to tilt the balance of the war on the ground in the rebels’ favor. “Americans should lead in this,” he argued on Wednesday.
Although Rice criticized China and Russia for blocking a Security Council resolution that would have called on Assad to step down, pointing out that it did not even include sanctions, she insisted that the Syrian president “inevitably” would go. “The question is how long will it take and under what circumstances.”
What we’re trying to do is mount as much pressure, diplomatically, politically, economically, as possible to accomplish that sooner rather than later. Peacefully, if possible.
Yet, she said, “Nobody’s talking about military orchestrated regime change.” What nonpeaceful means, if it proves impossible to remove Assad otherwise, are the United States then contemplating? the Russians must be wondering.
Rice acknowledged that Moscow sees a “pattern” developing of Western nations intervening in other countries under the guise of humanitarian concerns or what she herself deems a “responsibility to protect” on the part of the international community only to topple dictators whom, in Syria’s case, are Russian allies.
Just last week, in an article that was published in Moskovskiye Novosti, Russian leader Vladimir Putin decried the use of “soft power” and the abrogation of state sovereignty and warned that it would leave “a moral and legal void in the practice of international relations.”
Because humanitarian interventions are conducted on an almost arbitrary basis, moreover, wrote Putin, they risk aggravating a dangerous situation in a region where democracy versus dictatorship is hardly the only dividing line.
Rice seemed to share none of his concerns and spoke of the “Arab Spring” only in terms of democracy and freedom spreading across the Middle East.
As for the Russians, “they are determined to stand by their last best ally in the region,” she said. “They’re not prepared yet to read the writing on the wall.” Her words can hardly have changed their minds.