News / Middle East

US on Syria's Bashar Al-Assad - Better the Devil We Know?

In this screen capture from Syrian TV, Syria's President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus, June 20, 2011
In this screen capture from Syrian TV, Syria's President Bashar Assad delivers a speech in Damascus, June 20, 2011
Cecily Hilleary

This week’s attack on the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus was by no means the first, according to Ted Kattouf, President and CEO of the Washington-based nonprofit Amideast and former U.S. Ambassador to Syria (2001-2003).  Back in 1998, during his predecessor Ryan Clark Crocker’s tenure as Ambassador in Damascus, something similar happened.

Watch related video:

“At that time,” Kattouf says, “there were U.N. sanctions on Iraq, and Saddam had done something to violate the sanctions, and we launched a short-term operation in Iraq.”  Anti-U.S. mobs or “rent-a-thugs” as Kattouf quips, were unleashed against the U.S. mission. 
“Ambassador Crocker and his wife had to take cover in a safe room upstairs, while protest mobs ransacked the lower level of their residence,” he said.

This week’s attack on the American and French embassies were triggered by the visit of U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier to Hama Thursday and Friday in what has been billed as a show of solidarity with protesters, who have been targeted by government and security forces.

A man checks the damaged US embassy after pro-government protesters attacked the embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, July 11, 2011
A man checks the damaged US embassy after pro-government protesters attacked the embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, July 11, 2011

The attackers damaged not just buildings, but the relationship between the U.S. and Syria which, while hardly warm, has been at least accommodating in recent years.

Syria reacted angrily to Ford’s visit to Hama, accusing the U.S. of meddling in its affairs.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared Monday that the Syrian president had lost all legitimacy to remain in power.  "President Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him ... remaining in power," she said.

In an interview with the American CBS television network on Tuesday, President Obama echoed Clinton’s comments, saying  al-Assad was “losing legitimacy in the eyes of his people,” and had missed “opportunity after opportunity” for instituting genuine reform.

Rebukes, yes, say many analysts, but they were tame, stopping well short of calling for Assad to step down.

An image from footage uploaded on YouTube shows Syrian anti-government protesters flooding the streets of the central city of Hama, July 8, 2011, to demand the fall of the regime President Bashar al-Assad
An image from footage uploaded on YouTube shows Syrian anti-government protesters flooding the streets of the central city of Hama, July 8, 2011, to demand the fall of the regime President Bashar al-Assad

Rights groups estimate that since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, more than 1,400 people have been killed, mostly protesters, and more than 10,000 people remain in jail or missing altogether.

Washington was comparatively quick to intervene in Egypt and Libya - what are its options now in Syria?  Some observers are urging Washington to call on Assad to step down.  Others believe the Syrian president should be referred to the International Criminal Court, like Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi,  and indicted for crimes against humanity.

Theodore Kattouf, President and CEO of the Washington-based nonprofit Amideast and former US Ambassador to Syria (file photo)
Theodore Kattouf, President and CEO of the Washington-based nonprofit Amideast and former US Ambassador to Syria (file photo)

Kattouf believes Washington has several good reasons for not responding more harshly to the Syrian crackdown, "Washington does not want to take ownership of the Syrian revolution."

“We have our hands full elsewhere, thank you,” said Kattouf. "And oh, by the way, the Syrian people haven’t asked the U.S. to intervene.”

However, in Kattouf’s opinion, Washington worries about who would step in if Bashar al-Assad were to fall. Some analysts hint that the current unrest in Syria is driven by Sunni “terrorists” and suggest that if they were to come to power, Syrians would be no better off than they were under 30 years of Assad regimes. Further, the politics of Syria are so wrapped in Middle East politics that the removal of Assad could lead to a general destabilization of the entire region.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said this week that Syria has cooperated in mopping up the damage done to the U.S. embassy and Ambassador’s residence. "We have been able, working with the Syrians, to upgrade security, get some of the repairs made that needed to be made, particularly with regard to windows and cameras and those things," Nuland told reporters, adding that Syria's Foreign Ministry returned the American flag that had been stolen from the U.S. Embassy and replaced by a Syrian flag. 

Nuland also said that Syrian police have arrested six protesters who took part in the attack.  “Our number one priority is to restore the security and operational effectiveness of our embassy and to see the Government of Syria meet its Vienna Convention obligations,” said the spokeswoman.

As for Ambassador Ford, whose visit to Hama triggered the attack on the embassy, he says he will continue to travel the country to meet and greet Syrians. Meanwhile, Syrian forces continue to target protesters across the country.

Former Ambassador Kattouf does not believe that change will come to Syria any time soon. He points out that Al-Assad has been promising reform ever since he succeeded his father as president 11 years ago. “You have to ask yourself,” said Kattouf. “Why have they been shooting so many people in the streets if they’re willing to reform?”

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More