Yes, you read that title correctly. According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration is close to changing course on Syria and supporting the removal of Bashar Assad from power.
The decision has not yet been made — and this is likely a calculated leak meant to deliver a last warning to Assad — but this is nonetheless a huge change in policy. An official has told the AP: “we are getting close” to demanding the Syrian dictator’s resignation. Apparently the language is already being crafted, with the report stating: “The first step would be to say for the first time that President Bashar Assad has forfeited his legitimacy to rule.” This will be coupled with language supporting a transition towards democracy — a softer way of saying two words the Obama administration is so reluctant to utter: “regime change.”
Earlier this month, the French foreign minister publicly predicted Assad would fall if his regime continued its methods: “If the regime perseveres down this path, it will fall one day or another, but it will fall.” An advisor to President Sarkozy also said: “The crimes of the Syrian regime are on the same level as the crimes in Libya.”
The Israeli defense minister contradicted reports that Israel fears the fall of Assad, saying: “I don’t think Israel should be alarmed by the possibility of Assad being replaced,” and that he is “approaching the moment in which he will lose his authority … the more people are killed, the less chance Assad has to come out of it.” Israeli President Peres said in April: “I believe finally that a democratic system in Syria is our best bet for the future.”
This change may be partly due to Secretary of Defense Gates, who boldly said: “The Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate and in fact empowered a revolution. The Syrians might take a lesson from that.” Senator John Kerry, who has met with Assad, now says attempts to engage Assad must now come to an end. “The chance was lost and that’s the end of it,” he said.
Only this January, Ambassador Robert Ford arrived in Damascus hoping to initiate a new era in Syrian-American relations. As the uprising began and innocents were slaughtered in the streets, the U.S. was slow to react and offered only condemnations of human rights abuses without any substantive change in policy. Secretary of State Clinton even said on March 27: “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”
Now, the State Department spokesman is saying the “window is narrowing” and the condemnations on the Syrian regime have gotten harsher. The administration is also wisely pointing out the Iranian hand involved in the oppression. The White House has said it is working with the international community to respond to the violence. The U.S. has sanctioned three senior officials — which is a small but significant start — and is seeking access to a detained Al-Jazeera reporter covering the revolution.