Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Assad Crosses The Line

Syrian troops stormed two towns near the Turkish border today, expanding an offensive which has left scores dead and increasingly forced the hand of the international community.

The United States has been in a tough position regarding the Arab Spring. On the one hand, its stated commitment to human rights and freedom mandates intervention in the brutal repressive tactics which many states are using. On the other hand, intervention can easily become interference, generating negative sentiment and wasting money that the government doesn't have the freedom to spend. For this reason, US pressure on Syria has been primarily rhetorical.

However, President Assad's ongoing campaign of targeting his own citizens has shifted the cost-benefit analysis. It is one thing for the US to pick and choose its battles. It is another to blatantly ignore ongoing violent repression. For this reason, the US has now begun to ratchet up pressure.

Yesterday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Syria to, in the words of Prime Minister Erdogan, send a "strong message" to Syria. The visit represents a confluence of interests between the US who needs to appear more active, and Turkey whose border stability is threatened by Syrian actions in Idlib province. Davutaglu's trip also comes on the heels of statements by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah this past Saturday that "there is no justification for the bloodshed" in Syria. The statements by both countries indicate the extent to which Syria is becoming a regional liability.

Given the increased regional pressure on Syria, at the behest or at least the tacit approval of the United States, the cost of US inaction is becoming increasingly higher. Reports are now surfacing that following a second UN Security Council resolution on Syria, the US may formally call for President Assad to step down. No doubt, this call will be a welcome development from a people who have faced the terror of being targeted by their own military. However, a more desperate Assad may also be a more dangerous Assad. The US must be clear about how it will handle the inevitable resistance the Syrian president will put up for calls to step down. It will need to walk the fine line between intervention and interference.

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