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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs