Washington should step out smartly and call for his exit, withdraw its ambassador, choke off all remaining direct, indirect and, to the extent possible, third-party financial and commercial dealings with the Syrian regime and push to have Assad declared a criminal. If it’s good enough policy toward the Libyan dictator, it’s certainly good enough for his Syrian counterpart.
Unfortunately, the measures taken in Libya were not good enough for Qaddafi. At best they were ineffective and at worst they were counterproductive. Can Dov Zakheim really look at the Libyan mess and say “yes this is what we should do to Syria”?
Fortunately, Daniel Larison rips into Zakheim for trying to apply the same tactics that failed in Libya to the situation in Syria:
In retrospect, several of these were mistakes when applied to the Libyan crisis, and some are coming back to haunt the Western governments that pressed for them. Having Gaddafi declared a criminal by the ICC may be the biggest mistake of them all, as it has made it that much harder to reach a negotiated settlement now that armed intervention is underway. Indicting Assad will have the same effect. No one, least of all Zakheim, proposes that the U.S. and its allies repeat the error of intervening militarily. If Assad and his closest allies “have to go,” as Zakheim says, declaring him a criminal makes it that much less likely that he will voluntarily go under any circumstances. Choking off third-party financial and commercial dealings with the regime will harm the regime, but they will also have an adverse effect on the entire Syrian economy. The regime may be reduced to a pariah on par with North Korea or Burma, but the regime may remain in place and the people aren’t going to be better off as a result.
Clearly the Syrian regime is abusive and cares little about the Syrian people. The death toll is over 2000 now and it seems likely to continue its path. There is no reason to support the Assad regime as it continues to murder civilians across the country. But those – like Zakheim – who are strongly pushing the United States to do something are missing a fundamental point: the US cannot do anything that will help the situation. Any move by the US will inevitably be superficial response to pressure that will likely complicate the situation and, perhaps, make it even worse.
Push the ICC to indict Assad? Sanction the entire Syrian economy? Withdraw the ambassador? These are all useless ideas that will likely strengthen the resolve of the Syrian government to hold on to power. The best option for the US right now is to work closely with various countries to provide strong incentives for Assad to step down. Without the ability to force Assad out, isolating the Assad regime is synonymous with ensuring that there will be no change in the Syrian government. The only sticks we have to threaten Assad are largely symbolic or completely ineffective. These will not be enough to force real change in Syria.
We probably should have learned that from Libya. Whoops.
Photo from End Times News