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Dr. Josef Olmert Headshot

U.S. and Syria: How to Intervene Correctly

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Bashar Assad still has many enthusiastic supporters in Damascus, so the news about his demise may be premature. That is if we believe that the crowds bursting into the American embassy compound in the Syrian capital did it spontaneously, out of outrage at U.S. policy toward Syria. There may be those who believe that and they are entitled to their naivete, but I am not one of them. This outburst of love to President Bashar al-Assad was as genuine as the results of presidential elections in Syria, which gave the dictator 99.97% of the vote. If at all, the well-orchestrated attack on the US as well as the French embassy indicate the desperate situation that Assad finds itself in after more than 4 months of popular uprising and almost 2000 fatalities.

From an American perspective it means that this time the Obama administration
can register a success. The fact that Assad is so angry about the visit of the U.S. ambassador in the city of Hamah proves that the Americans did it right this time. When ambassador Ford was in Hamah, virtually the entire population was in the streets, which just 30 years ago witnessed the terrible massacre committed by another Assad, father Hafiz, against the unarmed civilians of Hamah. The barrier of fear was destroyed in Hamah, and that is the clearest indication that the regime is in deep troubles, perhaps insurmountable.

What Ambassador Ford did was exactly what the Syrian opposition wanted the U.S. to do, and this is to send an unmistakable message to the Syrian people that the U.S.
means business when it condemns the Assad regime. In the eyes of the Syrian opposition, actually the vast majority of the Syrian population, the visit is a clear sign that the U.S. does not believe that the regime will survive the crisis. The hysterical, though typical reaction of the Assad government played fully into the hands of the opposition, as it is sure to deepen American hostility to Assad.

So, of course, is the case with France. The talk in the media and in diplomatic circles that the U.S. was actually opposed to a real change in Syria did a bad service to the cause of the Syrian Opposition. Let's remember Tunisia and Egypt, where early on, the tone of the U.S. messages was correctly interpreted by the Opposition there, as a clear indication of the American desire to see a regime change. The Syrian uprising gained a new lease of life and the regime will not be able to continue the well-orchestrated show in Damascus of a national dialogue with people who represent themselves but not the Syrian masses. Real change in Syria is the replacement of the current regime with a new government, which will have to also include the Muslim Brotherhood.

The next logical step for the State Department will be to directly engage in a dialogue with the real Syrian opposition, whether on Syrian ground, or in Turkey, or elsewhere, as well as to tighten the sanctions. Assad and his henchmen will not like it, but what can he really do? All the threats to instigate troubles in Lebanon or in Israel have been stated repeatedly and nothing happened, and is not likely to happen. The deeper the regime is engaged in his own domestic quagmire, the less likely it is to provoke an armed conflict with either the US or Israel, or even encourage the Hezbollah to do so in Lebanon. This is not the conventional wisdom, as so many Middle East experts espouse the opinion that the regime will opt to trigger a regional conflict as its last card. Assad and the dwindling ranks of his supporters inside and outside of Syria , would like the Israelis and Americans to believe it, but this psychological warfare is a sure loser. And when all this is happening, the comparison with Libya is unavoidable. There are many who criticize the Obama Administration for not applying the policy from Libya to Syria. They are wrong, and it should have been the other way around.

It may be that the Obama Administration conducted itself clumsily and slowly with regard to Syria, but military intervention has never been an option, and what is the policy now is the one realistic course of action open for the U.S., therefore the correct one.