As Reuters headlines indicate, dozens die and thousands flee a Syrian tank assault in Hama. At least 45 civilians were killed the first week in August, a sharp escalation in President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to crush the political opposition that has already claimed over 2000 people.
So violent have been Assad’s assaults that even the U.N. Security Council condemned the use of force – its first substantive response to five months of unrest.
Assad has given his security forces a virtual blank check, the same Assad Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “a reformer.” As a diplomat in Syria noted, “The Security apparatus thinks it can wrap this uprising up by relying on the security option and killing as many Syrians as it thinks it will take.”
After the bloodshed made international headlines, the White House finally responded by noting “Syria would be a better place without President Assad.”
In an effort to understand and placate Syrian opposition groups, Secretary Clinton invited them to a meeting in Washington. Most of those invited, however, have links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Missing from the invitations are Kurdish leaders, Sunni liberals, Assyrians and Christian spokesmen. According to various reports the State Department made a deal with Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood representatives either to share power with Assad to stabilize the government, or replace him if this effort fails.
One organization, the Syrian Democracy Council (SDC), an opposition group composed of diverse ethnic and religious organizations, including Alawis, Aramaic Christians, Druze and Assyrians was conspicuously — and no coincidentally — omitted from the invitation list.
From the standpoint of Foggy Bottom it is far better to promote stability even if this means aligning oneself with the goals of presumptive enemies. This, however, is a dangerous game that not only holds U.S. interests hostage to the Muslim Brotherhood, but also suggests that the withdrawal of American forces from the region affords the U.S. very few policy options.
It would seem far more desirable to back the democratic influences — the political organizations that require cultivation and support — despite their relative weakness at this moment. It is these religious and secular groups that represent the real hope for the future and the counterweight to the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.
At the very least Secretary Clinton should hear the SDC argument. Leaving this body out of the Syrian conversation is an insult to what America purports to care about. Assad should see that his opponents are not merely those complicit in stabilizing a murderous regime, but those with genuine democratic impulses and who represent a significant portion of the Syrian people.
The killing in Syria will not end because of these State Department sponsored talks. Nonetheless a message should be delivered that the U.S. stands behind the one organization that represents democracy in a regime that invariably opposes this political view.
It is telling that the Obama administration stated unequivocally that President Mubarak of Egypt, ostensibly an ally of the United States, had to vacate his position, yet no such comment has been made about President Assad, a person whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the United States.
Why is what is good for the goose not good for the gander? Only President Obama can answer that question.