Of the multiple rebellions now going on across the Arab world, the one with most potential to damage American interests is in Egypt, with Yemen perhaps a close second. The revolt with the most potential to advance American interests is taking place in Syria. Strangely, the Obama administration has taken a negative attitude toward that uprising, apparently on the inexplicable ground that it considers Assad a “reformer.”
Syria under Assad is an implacable foe of the U.S., the Iranian mullahs’ principal Arab ally, a major supporter of Hezbollah, and an importer of nuclear technology from North Korea. If Assad is a reformer, Mubarak was a veritable Mother Teresa. Yet Mubarak, one of America’s allies in the region, had to go.
Demonstrations against Assad’s rule have broken out across Syria. Security forces have fired on protesters in a number of cities, and more than 60 demonstrators reportedly have been killed. Assad is pursuing a carrot-and-stick approach; his entire cabinet resigned earlier today, apparently to placate critics, while, in addition to violently breaking up demonstrations, the regime has arrested a number of lawyers who represented dissidents. Some time in the next 24 hours, Assad will deliver a televised address.
Earlier today, Assad’s supporters mounted a big rally in Damascus. It looked like a pretty impressive show of support:
Trying to influence this sort of internal conflict is obviously a tricky business. Still, one would think that at a bare minimum, the administration would refrain from lending its support to one of the country’s virulent Middle Eastern enemies.
UPDATE: Tim Pawlenty shares my puzzlement over the administration’s policy toward Syria. He said this morning on Joe Scarborough’s television show:
“This president, I thought, was belated and timid in [regard to Libya],” Pawlenty said, adding that reaction to strife in each country in the Middle East should be different. “You can’t just make a blanket statement about what we’re going to do; they each have different backgrounds, cultures, histories, contexts.
“Take for example Syria — you got [President] Bashar Assad . . . this is an individual who many in the United States mistakenly were duped into believing was a reformer — a change agent — he is a terrorist, he is a killer,” he said. “If I was the president of the United States, I wouldn’t recognize and legitimize Syria and this [Syrian] administration — one of the most sinister in the world — by sending an ambassador to Syria, as President Obama did.
“I would start by recalling the ambassador, I would denounce Syria publicly, and I would speak to the Syrian people about how the United States stands with their hopes and dreams,” Pawlenty said.