I am appalled by the Syrian government’s use of violence and brutality against its own people. The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime. Once again, President Assad has shown that he is completely incapable and unwilling to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people. His use of torture, corruption and terror puts him on the wrong side of history and his people.
Through his own actions, Bashar al-Assad is ensuring that he and his regime will be left in the past, and that the courageous Syrian people who have demonstrated in the streets will determine its future. Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward. In the days ahead, the United States will continue to increase our pressure on the Syrian regime, and work with others around the world to isolate the Assad government and stand with the Syrian people.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
The Obama administration’s response to the uprising in Syria has been lacking. (AFP photo/Jim Watson)
While many might attribute the discrepancy in Washington's positions on the Arab Spring to a conflict between America's principles and its interests, one should not disregard the fading popular interest of the events in the Middle East among Americans.
Tunisia, a country with little strategic significance for the United States, saw a revolution that deposed President Zeineddine Ben Ali so swiftly that America and the world could barely catch a glimpse of what had happened.
Tunisia's events, however, alerted Americans and the world to a brewing revolution in an Arab country much more strategically important: Egypt. By the time Egyptians had taken to the streets, the world had already and correctly anticipated the contagious effect of the Arab Spring. From the very first hours of Egyptian protests on January 25, the world was watching.
For 18 days, the world—including America—was focused on Egypt. Primetime talk shows, whether MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on the left or Fox's Sean Hannity on the right, suspended their scheduled rundowns and started broadcasting live from Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Over the span of three weeks, Egypt's events also dominated the front pages of leading American dailies, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. So interested was America in Egypt's revolution that the popular comedian Stephen Colbert questioned on his show how a single news item could command the usually short attention span of most Americans.
The surge in popular interest, and sympathy with the Egyptian revolution, forced the hand of President Barack Obama, who found himself with little choice other than to search for post-Mubarak alternatives. He quickly found the military.
Washington asked Mubarak to leave immediately. "When we said now, we meant yesterday,” former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.
Mubarak stepped down on February 11.
Six days later, the flames of the Arab Spring reached Libya. Even though Moammar Qaddafi was—like Mubarak—just another Arab autocrat, he proved to be incomparably brutal and smashed protests with tanks, forcing his militarily ill-prepared opponents to respond in kind.
By the time Qaddafi's forces were preparing to invade the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, undoubtedly to go on a punitive killing spree, the Americans had lost interest in the Arab Spring. America helped launch the international military operation against Qaddafi's forces, but only after the whole world had OK’d the campaign. Coverage of the Libyan war still found its way to the front pages, but only intermittently.
By mid-March, the Syrians had started their revolt. The Arab Spring was now raging in four countries: Yemen, Syria, Libya and Bahrain, with scattered protests in Morocco, Jordan and Iraq.
The various revolutions then started competing for American attention. In newspapers, reports on one revolution would make it to the front page, with teasers about other revolutions inviting readers to look inside for more Arab Spring coverage. This bundle-style coverage persisted until about 10 days ago, when the Arab Spring suddenly vanished, almost completely, from newspapers and talk shows.
Before disappearing, news about the Syrian revolution would sometimes creep onto the front page, especially on Saturdays, to tell the story of the atrocities the regime had committed during the protests the day before. Often, Anthony Shadid of the New York Times and Liz Sly of the Washington Post would file features about Syria from Beirut.
Debra Amos of National Public Radio was allowed into Damascus and reported on the regime-sponsored dialogue sessions. But when the so-called dialogue failed, Amos fell silent.
In Washington, the Arab Spring has come to an end. Unlike in Egypt, America is not putting pressure on the Obama administration to take a position, let alone act, in favor of the people revolting against the brutal tyrants leading their countries, even in a place with as large a death toll as Syria.
To add insult to injury, even though Assad's supporters in Washington's think tank community have distanced themselves from him, at least for now, none of them seems willing to hold panel discussions, debates or lectures that could raise public awareness and turn the heat up on Assad.
So far, Assad and his regime have killed around 1,500 people out of a population of 22 million. If one applied the ratio of Syria's death toll to America, it would be the equivalent of 55,000 US citizens killed. That is 14 times that of 9/11. And yet reporting on Syrian deaths has vanished in the American media.
Americans have lost interest in the Arab Spring. This frees Obama of any need to intervene politically in Syria.
When Washington was about to let go of its longtime ally, Hosni Mubarak, the Obama administration argued that America stands for its principles, which should come before its interests. With Americans not watching Syria, it is back to its realist calculations. Principles, for now, are on the shelf.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
For the first time in film, we meet and hear the personal, inspiring and often gruelling accounts of young Syrians from inside the country who risk their lives facing down bullets on the streets to call for freedom while escaping the online police to upload footage of the protests for the world to see the regime's brutal crackdown.
We hear the stories of three key activists from inside Syria, all young people in their 20s.
They tell us the inside story of how they operate within the police state, the dangers they face and the dire consequences of being detained in a country where torture is rampant.
We examine what it is like to live with constant fear and what single event it was for each one that led them to break through the fear barrier and lead the unprecedented challenge to one of the region's most brutal regimes.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
There are few Arab leaders who have experienced firsthand the notorious viciousness of Syria's security agencies more than Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. During his long exile in Damascus while Saddam Hussein was in power, Maliki was repeatedly summoned to Branch 279 for "a cup of coffee,” something that seems to haunt him today and dictate his position on President Bashar al-Assad and the ongoing Syrian revolution.
In principle, Branch 279 deals with the "affairs" of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees in Syria. In reality, it keeps tabs on Iraqi and Palestinian militants and activists living in the country and tries to manipulate them according to its regional agenda.
So unforgiving this branch has been that in June it harassed elected Iraqi lawmaker Ali Shalah, a member of Maliki's State of the Law parliamentary bloc, who was on his way to cross the Syrian border into Lebanon. While passing through Syria, Shalah was summoned to Branch 279 and chastised for statements he had made against President Assad and his regime.
It was ironic that Branch 279 failed to realize that only two days prior to its summoning of the Iraqi MP, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem had visited Baghdad and met with Maliki. Leaks from the meeting had it that Mouallem reminded Maliki that Syria had hosted him and shielded him from the long arm of Saddam Hussein's intelligence agencies. Mouallem went on to beg Baghdad to supply Syria with oil, which has had shortages since the outbreak of the revolution in mid-March.
Two days later, Maliki gave the impression that he was throwing himself behind Assad, telling a Syrian delegation that "the security of the region is tied to Syria's stability" and that Iraq and Syria should increase economic and trade cooperation to the fullest.
Jumping on the opportunity to prove Maliki’s alignment with Syria and Iran, Al-Arabiya website reported, citing unnamed sources, that Iraq would announce its intention to ship 150,000 barrels of oil a day to Syria.
Shipping oil through Syrian territory to international markets is no big deal. Syria usually receives a fee for such a service. Al-Arabiya, however, suggested that Iraq was going to give this amount of oil to the Syrians for free. But why would Iraq give away six percent of its daily production of 2.3 million barrels, at an estimated worth of $15 million, to Syria?
Syria has a small amount of oil reserves and produces 400,000 barrels of heavy crude a day. Syria's daily domestic consumption is estimated at 300,000 barrels. But there is a caveat. Damascus refines only 240,000 barrels of its crude and ships the rest to be refined overseas, namely in Italy, Holland, Spain and France.
Ever since Europe slapped sanctions on officials in the Assad regime this spring, Syria was forced to announce a cut of around 40 percent of its oil production. This created a 60 to 80 thousand barrel a day shortage inside Syria.
And since Assad's remaining friends in China, Iran and Russia cannot refine Syrian crude, Damascus had to look for alternatives. So it went to Baghdad.
The oil crisis added to Assad's economic troubles, which include the weakening of the Syrian pound. Even though Syria's Central Bank Governor Adib Mayyaleh told the Syrian National News Agency on Tuesday that his bank's foreign currency reserves stand at $18 billion (a number the regime has been citing since March), the fact that Damascus went to Kuwait with a request for a loan of $115 million shows that Assad is in desperate need of even small amounts of money to run his killing machine.
In light of his crisis, some pro-Syrian websites reported that Iran's Ali Khamenei had announced Tehran’s plan to donate $5.8 billion to Damascus and ship 240,000 barrels of oil a day to Syria. The Syrian Oil Ministry denied the report, which sounds about right given Iran's desperate need for foreign currency and the difficulty it would have in giving away six percent of its oil production.
But while Maliki is sometimes depicted as an Assad ally, his behavior shows that he says something but does something else when dealing with his Syrian and Iranian neighbors. In fact, people close to the Iraqi prime minister have quoted him as saying, "I spent all my life fighting one [Iraq's] Baath. I will never support the other [Syria's] Baath."
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai
Monday, July 18, 2011
With a tightening of the belt, America's foreign policy undergoes drastic changes
President Barack Obama sent two of his top aides to Capitol Hill to inform leaders of Congress that Washington was about to launch a small scale air and sea military operation to stop the forces of Libyan Colonel Muammar Qadhafi from overrunning the city of Benghazi and probably executing punitive wholesale killings. "How much will it cost us?" was the first question Obama's assistants heard from the Congress crowd.
Bogged down in two major operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, America launched the war on Qadhafi halfheartedly and, within a week, handed over leadership to its NATO allies. America's bill came up to $700 million, a small number compared to the daily cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, currently at $450 million a day. Still, for the first time in a long time, America was now thinking of the cost of its military activity, a novelty in Washington's behavior since at least World War II.
In cash-strapped Washington, whose national debt hit $14.3 trillion and is expected to increase when government announces a raise in debt ceiling by August 2, every dollar counts. While the average American tax payer sympathizes with deaths in Libya or Syria and wishes these people well, Americans realize that, at the time their government is scraping the barrel for $2 trillion desperately needed to maintain and upgrade the nation's transportation infrastructure, only dollars spent domestically is money well spent. Foreign policy and its military bill come second.
The effects of America’s finances on its foreign policy were debated by Johns Hopkins professor Michael Mandelbaum. In his book The Frugal Superpower, Mandelbaum argued that America will find itself unable to foot its worldwide bill, which covers protecting sea lanes, international trade and energy sources. And since America's closest allies, especially those who benefit from Washington's role as a "world government," have never stepped up in the past to pick up the bill, America's power will be frugal.
According to Mandelbaum, America's certain fate was mainly due to Washington's entitlement overstretch, that is funding Social Security and Medicare, especially with the majority of baby-boomers hitting the retirement age in this decade. But entitlement spending, part of the non-discretionary expenditures in Washington's lingo, is now on the table according to President Obama, who has been engaged in talks with the Congressional Republican majority to find ways to fix the superpower's finances.
Initial reports had it that Obama and the Republicans had agreed to save $2 trillion over the coming decade by cutting on spending and probably finding new sources of governmental revenue, ostensibly by letting tax cuts on "private jet owners and hedge fund managers" expire by the end of this year. Amidst this rare bipartisan agreement, Obama said that Washington should draft a blueprint for saving $4 trillion, instead of the original $2 trillion. The way talks between the two parties are going suggests that such a goal has now come within reach.
At the heart of America's new financial plans is saving money on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where US troops are scheduled to complete their withdrawal by the end of this year. In Afghanistan, American boots on the ground might stay longer, but will certainly be out of there before 2013.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) "Since September 2001, lawmakers have provided almost $1.3 trillion in budget authority for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and related activities." The office said in its January 2011 report that "[a]ppropriations specifically designated for those purposes averaged about $100 billion a year from 2003 through 2006, rose to $171 billion in 2007 and $187 billion in 2008, and then declined to an average of $160 billion for 2009 and 2010.”
Yet America's official numbers for the cost of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is disputed. In a study from Brown University's Watson Institute, the cost of these wars was estimated at $4 trillion. Should military operations continue at the current rate in the coming decade, Washington would throw in another $2 trillion to fund its two wars.
The CBO thus presents a scenario in which "the number of military personnel deployed for war-related purposes would decline over a five-year period to an average of 180,000 in 2011, 130,000 in 2012, 100,000 in 2013, 65,000 in 2014, and 45,000 in 2015 and thereafter." Under this scenario, the CBO reported, military spending "over the 2012–2021 period would be $1.1 trillion less." The CBO added: "Debt-service costs would bring the cumulative savings relative to the baseline to about $1.4 trillion over the coming decade."
President Obama and Republican leaders are certainly aware of the CBO's and other military saving schemes, which are now dictating America's military operations around the world. The proverb "count the pennies and dollars will count themselves" seems to have become Washington's new creed. Until America is back to budget surpluses and prosperity, the United States will be an empire behaving within its means.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain – Washington based journalist, specializing in Middle Eastern politics.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Mustapha Qawas, the head of the Baath party in Saida, assaulted a woman identified as the owner of the Bashasha pharmacy and her staff on Sunday, and the whole incident was caught on tape.
It’s not clear if the pharmacy is pressing charges. But what’s clear is that Qawas and his “thugs” are way out of line: swearing, smashing things, physically assaulting and threatening harm.
The story begins off camera, when Qawas’ nephew allegedly went to the pharmacy to buy medicine, but didn’t have enough money to pay for it. The owner apparently turned the boy away.
The action starts at around 2:53 in the video when a group of men, led by Qawas, can be seen storming into the pharmacy.
Qawas aggressively questions the woman: “So you asked him if he was my nephew or not? (repeats)
When I tell you he’s my nephew, then he’s my nephew (apparently referring to a phone call they’d had after the boy was turned away from the pharmacy).
Woman: “I was asking him….”
Qawas: “I told you he was my nephew, so is he my nephew or not?” (He knocks over a display at the register)
“So is he my nephew or is he not?”
(The male pharmacist can be seen trying to shield the woman from Qawas who becomes increasingly aggressive.)
Qawas to the man: “Where are you putting your hand? … everyone go out… go out, take them out.”
“I call you and you say this to me. I can f*ck god.”
(3:35 -- swats something off the table)
“You want to call the police, you want to call anyone you want… I don’t care. When you talk to me you talk to me with respect.”
(As Qawas curses several family surnames, you can see the male pharmacist trying to shield the woman again)
Qawas to the man: “Remove your hand, remove your hand I’m telling you I will shoot you.”
(3:50 One of Qawas’ men grabs the pharmacist’s coat and pulls him across the counter.)
Qawas to the woman: “You don’t say a word.”
“The biggest judge in this country, I will f*ck him. When you talk to me, you talk to me with respect or I will fuck your god. Are you understanding me?”(Repeats several times) “I’m talking to you .”
Woman: “What do you want?”
Qawas: “I want you to tell me, did you understand? Did you understand me? Tell me, did you understand or no?”
(A man approaches the woman and Qawas and appears to want to hit her.)
Woman: “I understand.”
(Qawas walks away and pushes the computer monitor to the ground.)
Qawas: “Yalla, call the police. Call them and see what’s going to happen to you.”
(A domestic migrant worker can be seen going to comfort the owner around 4:30, and then she ends up fainting at 5:15)
A second exchange happens around 5:51 in the video. Qawas and his men return after the male pharmacist had apparently gone outside to apologize to customers.
Male pharmacist: “I was just apologizing to her. I swear I wasn’t telling her anything, I was just apologizing.”
Qawas and his men demand the pharmacist go outside with them.
Male pharmacist: “Why? What’s wrong? I promise I was just apologizing.”
Qawas: “C’mon, go out with respect (as in, ‘don’t let us drag you out the door’).”
Qawas: “I’m telling you. I’m Mustapha Qawwas. God talks to me with respect. You know police? You know the head of the cabinet? (Even they can’t do anything to me) I’m gonna break down this place. I’m gonna shoot both you and the police. I am waiting for you. My soldiers will be waiting. I am the head of the Baath Party. You know what I mean? I don’t even see god. (I’m not even afraid of god). If I hear anyone saying a word, in the name of god I’m going to break down this pharmacy.
At the beginning….(*difficult to understand*) But now it’s against everyone. Wait and see what I’ll do with you.”
“President Assad is not indispensable, and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power,” said America’s top diplomat. “Our goal is to see that the will of the Syrian people for a democratic transformation occurs. From our perspective, [President Assad] has lost legitimacy.” Clinton also urged America’s Western allies—presumably France, whose embassy was also attacked, and the UK, where the Foreign Office called in Syrian Ambassador Sami Khiyami—to voice their disgust at the attacks.
Why has it taken the West so long to adopt a less-than-opaque position on the Syrian regime’s four-month orgy of brutality? An attack on its embassies will do it, but the deaths of nearly 1,500 people, the vast majority of whom have been unarmed civilians simply demanding the rights these countries take for granted, were apparently simply not worth getting off the fence of international diplomacy for.
For four months, the West, and when we mean the West we mean the US, has chastised, cautioned and warned. It has told the Assad regime—one that has a history of brutal repression and political assassination—that it must listen to the demands of the protesters, that it must implement reform, and that it is out of step with the aspirations of the Arab people.
But while the protesters were being gunned down by security services and pro-government militias; while hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been rounded up and detained; and while whole families have been forced to flee, and have been harassed in some cases by murderous helicopter gunships, across their borders into neighboring Lebanon and Turkey in full view of the world’s press, it always kept the door open. Until now, that is, now that US and French property has been vandalized and these governments have to demonstrate to their own people that they will not take such an affront lying down.
But one thing is for sure. The flames of the Arab Awakening, which began with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, have been fanned by Arab determination. Like the Cedar Revolution in March 2005, it has been spontaneous, proud and brave. Unlike 2005, Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemenis, Bahrainis and, of course, Syrians, have paid with their lives during this bold bid for freedom, dignity and democracy. They have been part of a wholly homegrown affair, one in which the hand of Western influence has been too unsure, too hesitant to change the status quo, and too self-interested to have had, as President Assad keeps assuring anyone who will listen, a hand in the attempted overthrow of his regime.
But let’s not kid ourselves that the West is the only interested group. On Wednesday Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi met President Assad and voiced the Arab League’s refusal to endorse foreign intervention in Syria and its support for Assad’s proposed reforms.
Pro-democracy protesters in Syria might tell Arabi that they have no need for foreign intervention. They need the support of a world that must open its eyes more to the brutality that is being unleashed daily in the towns and cities of their country, and they need the Arab League to stop issuing bland statements of support for a process everyone knows means nothing and will go nowhere.
Not unlike the Arab League, really.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
A handout picture released by the Iraqi prime minister's office shows Iraqi Premier Nouri Al-Maliki (R) holding a joint press conference with Iran's First Vice President Mohammed Reza Rahimi (L) in Baghdad on 6 July 2011 as the neighboring countries pledged to strengthen ties and put the past behind them.
In a joint press conference between Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, and Iranian first vice president, Mohammed Reza Rahimi, the two men announced the signing of six agreements centered around taxation, cultural cooperation, science and technology, communications, medical treatment and pharmacological cooperation.
Iraq on Wednesday signed six agreements of cooperation with Iran during the visit of Iranian First Vice President Mohammed Reza Rahimi. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki disregarded the protocol by receiving his Iranian visitor – though not counterpart – at the Baghdad airport, perhaps with the intention of sending a message that he views Iran with favor.
The two men held a joint press conference. "The visit of the Iranian delegation is a new starting point in various fields that were discussed between the two delegations which are electricity, transportation, construction, oil and gas, culture, science, technology and communications," Maliki said.
Yet Maliki's statement did not reflect the nature of the six Memoranda of Understanding signed between the two sides, which were in the fields of "avoiding double taxation, cultural cooperation, science and technology, communications and two memorandums in medical treatment and pharmacological cooperation." Unlike how Maliki described it, there were no agreements covering construction or oil and gas.
Iraqi economic indicators show that Iran does not feature prominently as a trade partner. Iraqi exports to Iran are negligible, and so are Iraqi imports from its neighbor. The only significant trade is when Iraq buys Iranian electricity, which in May, Iraq's Electricity Minister Raad Shallal said would top 1000 megawatts. Shallal said that due to international sanctions on Iran, Iraqi debt to Tehran had reached $200 million. The minister also said that he fears an accumulation of Iraqi debt might force Iranians to interrupt their service.
Shallal's statement shows that even in the only area where Iraq might be forwarding significant amount of hard currency, which is much needed in Iran, there have been international obstacles that might bring such trade to a halt.
Whether it is about "cultural cooperation" or "medical treatment," the six MOUs signed on Wednesday seem to have little financial – and therefore political – significance beyond the photo-op.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
For non Arabic speakers: The first man talking to the camera was a member attending the Sunday July 3 presumably "opposition" conference held at the Samiramis hotel in Damascus. This scam Assad-sponsored "opposition" meeting was commended by Washington and other world capitals. In the mean time, another member expresses his true anti-Assad opinion on TV, only to be assaulted by everyone in the room, including the first speaker. The so-called opposition then started shouting "God, Syria and Bashar" Assad.
Talk about how authentic the Damascus "opposition" conference is, and how genuine Assad is in allowing his opponents to gather in Damascus as a prelude to later "negotiations" between the opposition and Assad.
Opposition conferences inside Syria are a scam that Assad is hoping to use to end the threat to his staying as Syria's autocrat posed by the Syrian Revolution which broke out on March 15 and continues until today..
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Syrian opposition activists at this week’s conference in Damascus, which the US backed, but which many of the most prominent dissidents did not attend. (AFP photo/Louai Beshara)
Earlier this week, a group of Syrian dissidents were allowed to hold a meeting at the Semiramis Hotel in Damascus. The US Department of State made a point to praise the conference as a “move in the right direction,” and flaunted it as an example of why the US needs an ambassador in Syria. In fact, the Obama administration is playing right into Bashar al-Assad’s hands.
Over the last two weeks, this column has noted the curious role US Ambassador Robert Ford was playing in his discussions with certain Syrian dissidents who were involved in the Semiramis conference. During a press briefing on Monday, after the meeting had taken place, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland hailed the event, and revealed that “some of the folks participating in these meetings or some of them are clearly contacts of the Embassy.” The following day, Nuland further hyped up Ford’s activities, explaining that he had been “in close contact” with some of the participants, as well as with Assad’s “closest advisors” (most likely meaning Bouthaina Shaaban), whom he urged to allow the meeting to take place.
In fact, Assad hardly needed convincing—the conference was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for him. Prior to Ford’s mediation, Shaaban had reached out weeks ago to the two leading organizers of the conference—Michel Kilo and Lou’ay Hussein—in hopes of recruiting them for the regime’s sham “national dialogue.” The effort was not very successful, as most opposition figures inside and outside of Syria refused to openly negotiate with the regime so long as its brutal crackdown continued.
Having no intention of stopping the crackdown, Assad sought to bring pressure to bear on the most vulnerable opposition figures (those living inside Syria who have been imprisoned before but have not gone into hiding). He found in the US ambassador, who has been eagerly declaring his support for a "real dialogue" with the authorities, an unlikely partner. The full details of Ford’s role might have to await the next Wikileaks scandal, but one gets the picture from Nuland’s description, and it’s hard to escape the impression that he was effectively advancing Assad’s goals.
Ford did not get quite the turnout he had hoped. In the end, a majority of well-known intellectuals and activists, including such names as Suhair Atassi and Yassin Hajj Saleh, declined to participate. Some who initially agreed to participate, like Aref Dalila, later changed their minds. Others who might have participated, like Walid Bunni, were reportedly vetoed by the authorities. The result of this winnowing process was a group of under 200 over-aged, overall irrelevant (even if respectable), and highly vulnerable dissidents.
The fact that this group of people has no influence over the protest movement was neither an overlooked detail nor an accident—Assad has no intention of negotiating with the people leading his subjects to mutiny. All he aimed to do was to put on the appearance of a divided opposition, critical to the regime’s efforts to portray itself as the only alternative to chaos. On the day
of the conference, the government announced that it was inviting members of the opposition to talks on July 10—a transparent ruse aimed at showing the world that it was willing to dialogue with “peaceful” opponents, even as its violent campaign continued. Ford’s actions did little other than to provide US cover for this crude propaganda.
As predicted by Bunni, Assad exploited the conference “as a cover-up for the arrests, brutal killings and torture that are taking place on a daily basis,” a view held by many in Syria. Those with real organizational involvement in the protest movement, the Local Coordination Committees, openly denounced the meeting for being held “under the banner of the regime” and giving it legitimacy.
The Obama administration’s refusal to declare Assad illegitimate is one thing. But to have the US ambassador effectively shore up the Syrian dictator's agitprop and practically facilitate his maneuvers is another thing entirely.
Believing that Assad must “lead the transition,” the Obama administration is now helping confer legitimacy on his farcical “reform” process. It has encountered some difficulty explaining why Ambassador Ford pressed for the convening of this conference, despite the unfavorable reaction of the uprising leaders. The explanation given by Nuland—that the conference allowed the opposition to make its demands known—was a particularly poor one. Thousands of Syrians braving death on a daily basis to call for the downfall of the regime could not be any clearer.
Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay