Obama's Syria dilemma

Ali Jarekji/Reuters
But his people love him.

P.J. Crowley, President Obama's former State Department spokesman who has become a critical outside voice since resigning earlier this year, called out his old boss over Syria on his Twitter feed this morning.

"It's odd that Obama thinks RepWeiner should resign, but not Assad. Sending lewd tweets violates public service, but not killing people?"

Leaving US politics aside, the Obama administration's stance toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be getting increasingly uncomfortable. Evidence is mounting of atrocities being carried out across that country. Obama publicly said longtime US ally Hosni Mubarak had to leave power on Feb. 1, eight days after the Egyptian uprising began. It took the president 18 days from the start of the Libyan uprising to say the same about long-time US antagonist Muammar Qaddafi.

Yet we're more than three months into a Syrian uprising that has been nearly as bloody as Libya's conflict, with at least 1,300 deaths so far, and the US position has remained nuanced.

Obama has repeatedly condemned Assad's use of violence, and directly sanctioned the Syrian leader and some of those closest to him. But so far he's avoided "must go" rhetoric. The closest he's come to it was a speech in the middle of May when Obama said, "President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition [to democracy] or get out of the way."

The US is no friend to Assad, who is pals with Iran, a supporter of Hezbollah, and an enemy of Israel's. But there is great fear about the post-Assad environment in Syria, not unreasonably. Regime support is far stronger than it was in Libya, and there are sectarian issues at play.

But the gulf between public American speech on Syria and Egypt and Libya is growing more glaring, as evidence of atrocities pile up. A "must go" moment probably wouldn't do much aside from mollify some of the president's critics (it's hard to see it having any effect on Assad's intentions) but it's probably coming soon.

Monitor reporter Scott Peterson is on the Syria-Turkey border, where refugees have poured across in recent days. His story from yesterday paints a very grim picture.

Mr. Fidou was part of a military unit ordered to fire on protesters in the city of Homs, who refused and then deserted, taking part in antiregime protests in the northwest town of Jisr al-Shughur. As he escaped the violence there last week, he says he witnessed soldiers shooting at each other, an Army divided further by orders to kill demonstrators.

... 7,000 Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey in the past week, fleeing before a Syrian military advance to avenge the deaths of 120 police and security forces in Jisr al-Shughur. The town fell with little resistance, and refugees and Turks living along the border say the offensive has spread to a string of villages around the town.

“The cows were killed, the harvest was burnt,” says a young Turkish man who gave only his first name of Ali, who has traveled with a video camera to the contested areas in recent days and witnessed the onslaught. In one house with “blood all over the walls we couldn’t breathe” because of the stench of bodies of three men, eight women, and three boys. Syrian military helicopters spotted Ali’s group, and one member was killed – struck in the head by rounds from the helicopter – as they ran for seven hours trying to hide. He witnessed first the tanks firing upon the houses, “then the Army troops were coming and were burning everything.”

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