Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton made the case that the President calling for Bashar al-Assad to step down from power in Syria would be ineffectual:
“It’s not going to be any news if the United States says, ‘Assad needs to go.’ Okay, fine, what’s next?” asked Clinton, who spoke before a room packed with service members, academics and journalists. “If Turkey says it, if [Saudi] King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it.”
Today, the President called on Bashar al-Assad to step down from power in Syria.
The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.
Um… OK, fine, what’s next? To borrow a phrase. By the way, Clinton parroted Obama today, saying “the transition to democracy in Syria has begun and it’s time for Assad to get out of the way.”
Maybe there’s an anticipation that there’s a wave of condemnation to come from other countries. In fact, the European Union is expected to follow suit soon. But the timing of this is odd, not only because Hillary Clinton said it would have no effect just a couple days ago, but also because Assad told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he has completed all military and police operations against protesters. This feels like closing the barn door after all the animals left.
Now, I’m not inclined to believe Assad, of course. Indeed, there are still thousands of refugees in a stadium in the port city of Latakia. The claim that the attacks are over could just be a way to placate Turkey, the most forceful of Syria’s critics and also a key trading partner.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan compared the situation in Syria with that in Libya, where rebels have been fighting forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi since February.
“We have done our best on Libya, but haven’t been able to generate any results. So it’s an international issue now. Gaddafi could not meet our expectations, and the outcome was obvious,” Erdogan said.
“Now the same situation is going on in Syria. I’ve sent my foreign minister, and personally got in touch many times, the last of them three days ago on the phone. In spite of all this, civilians are still getting killed.”
In addition to the call for Assad’s ouster, Obama signed an executive order that freezes the property and assets of the Syrian government subject to US jurisdiction, bans US firms from making new investments in or exporting services to Syria, and bans US imports of Syrian oil or petroleum products.
To the extent that the US can do something in Syria, short of military action, they are doing it. But two days ago Hillary Clinton asked “then what?” I’m asking the same thing.