The reception that the U.S. and French ambassadors in Hama received also disarms critics of “meddling” in Syria’s internal affairs. They often argue that such interference is not desired by the opposition, as that would delegitimize them. By the same token, if the regime felt that U.S. support for the opposition undermined their cause, they would welcome it. The positive reaction stands in sharp contrast to how the Syrian protesters have burned the flags of Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah for their support of the Assad regime. These implications are exactly why the attacks on the embassies were hatched. The regime cannot allow the West to believe that supporting the opposition is a viable option, as it would represent a mortal threat to its survival.
Clinton also said that Assad “has lost legitimacy.” This sounds obvious, but it’s a significant statement. The U.S. originally said that Assad was “losing” legitimacy. President Obama then said that Assad must oversee a democratic transition or “get out of the way.” Last month, Clinton said that his legitimacy was “if not gone, nearly run out.” Now, finally, the U.S. is saying it is “lost.” That seemingly minor change in language represents a major shift in policy, even if the politically toxic words of “regime change” are not used.
And it’s about time. The Assad regime is a card-carrying member of the “hate America” team. It has sponsored terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda. It has helped kill U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in Iraq. It’s tied to Iran’s hip, and is a primary backer of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups. It pursues weapons of mass destruction and spreads the ideology of radical Islam even if its governance is secular. What else does it have to do to be treated as an enemy regime worthy of replacement?
The chances that Islamists take over Syria following Assad’s downfall are not as high as often thought, and neutrality does nothing to undermine such anti-American elements. The best strategy is to get involved, assisting the democratic aspirations of an oppressed people and wrecking decades of anti-American propaganda in the process. In so doing, the West helps remove a stalwart enemy and foster a more hospitable environment to our interests, especially if a robust effort is put towards assisting secular liberals.
The revolution in Syria is an opportunity to dramatically alter the balance of power in the Middle East in our favor. We better not miss it.
ALSO READ BARRY RUBIN’S “U.S. Policy on Syria Changes For the Better, Sort Of.”