Syria violence puts Obama in diplomatic, political tough spot
For Obama, the situation in Syria comes as the war in Afghanistan slogs along, the US tries to disengage from Iraq while escalating its military action in Libya, and the American public is weary of foreign entanglements with no apparent connection to national security.
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For too long, critics say, the United States – and Obama in particular – has treated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as if he were a genuine reformer, when in reality he was following in his father’s footsteps as an authoritarian despot quite willing to attack his own people if they pushed for greater political freedoms.
Friday was the worse day yet in some two months of protest, with at least 75 people killed by government forces, bringing the total to more than 200 – a number that could rise since many of the wounded have been prevented from reaching hospitals.
Saturday began with funeral mourners attacked as well, the number of those killed initially reported as a half dozen with the number rising throughout the day. There were also reports that children caught writing anti-Assad graffiti had been tortured.
In a statement late Friday, Obama "condemn[ed] in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators."
“President Assad and the Syrian authorities,” Obama said, “have placed their personal interests ahead of the interests of the Syrian people, resorting to the use of force and outrageous human rights abuses to compound the already oppressive security measures in place before these demonstrations erupted.”
In an indication of the complexity of the situation in a region already steeped in turmoil, Obama added: “Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies.”
“Assad has maintained stability,” Shlomo Brom of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University told the Washington Post. “He has kept the border with Israel quiet, and though he has harassed Israel by assisting Hezbollah and Hamas, he reacted cautiously to events such as the bombing of a Syrian nuclear facility that was attributed to Israel…. On the other hand, there is no sympathy for Assad and his links with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and any regime change in Syria will hurt this axis.”