It has finally happened. After thousands of anti-regime protestors have been killed and thousands more have been arrested and forced from their homes in less than one year, the Obama administration has called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
What accounts for the delay and the finalizing of the U.S. government’s wishy-washy position on Assad’s regime? Writes Inter Press Service Washington Bureau Chief, Jim Lobe:
- Until Thursday, however, they had declined to call explicitly for Assad to step down for a variety of reasons, including a combination of hopes that he would follow through on his many promises to carry out far-reaching reforms and of fears that his departure would set the stage for even greater bloodshed and possibly sectarian civil war.
Despite constant pressure from neo-conservatives and other pro-Israel hawks who have long had Assad in their gun sights due to his support for Hizbollah and Hamas and close ties to Iran, the administration also resisted taking a harder public line against Assad for fear that doing so would make it politically more difficult for other key powers, notably Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, to move against him while making it easier for Assad to depict the opposition as being manipulated by Washington.
“There was legitimate hesitation about getting too far out in front lest regime change in Syria be seen as a specifically U.S. project, which would not be helpful to oppositionists inside Syria,” said Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst teaching at Georgetown University.
But recent statements by the leaders of all three countries expressing exasperation with the continuing repression apparently encouraged Obama to take the leap.
In particular, Saudi King Abdullah’s angry appeal ten days ago for Assad to “stop the killing machine” – as well as his recall, along with those of several other Gulf leaders, of his ambassador in Damascus – and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comparison this week of Assad to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi were cited by senior administration officials as key indicators of a sufficient international consensus to warrant the administration’s latest move.
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