Obama demands Regime Change in Syria

President Obama, along with the European Union, called on Thursday for Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to step down. At the same time, the US announced severe economic and financial sanctions against Syria, essentially cutting the Syrian banking system off from access to US banks, and forbidding American citizens and firms from doing business with the Syrian government. Plans are clearly being made to closely identify exactly which state-owned firms control Syria’s small petroleum industry, and to put those under sanctions.

In short, the North Atlantic world took a big step toward making Syria a pariah state, rather like North Korea. What stands in the way of Syria becoming quite that isolated is continued support for Damascus from some Lebanese factions and from Iran, China and Russia.

The strategy is to starve the regime of funds it needs to crack down on protesters, and to to help the reformists. The Baath regime in Syria has deployed snipers and tanks and other heavy weaponry against non-combatant protesters in many towns and cities. Human rights groups suggest that he has had over 2000 people killed for peaceably assembling. Unfortunately, sanctions are not a strategy that has been known to work very often, if at all. Baath Party officials will insulate themselves from the effects of the sanctions, and pass the pain on to the common people.

One reason the administration gave for the time it took to come to this point was that Washington felt a joint declaration of the US and European allies was necessary if further sanctions were to bite deeply for the regime. It has taken this long to hammer out a US-EU consensus on the need to sanction Syria for its brutal repression of protesters.

Presidential aspirant Michele Bachmann criticized Obama for not having imposed these sanctions weeks ago She says Obama is ‘leading from behind.’. But Bachmann is on record as opposing US participation in the NATO intervention in Libya. So who is leading from behind? And how would she know how long it takes to get the 28-member European Union on board with a new sanctions policy?

Aljazeera English reports on the ongoing protests and the attempt of the US to help them by weakening the Syrian state through sanctions.:

Joshua Landis analyzes the meaning of the constitutional changes allowing greater political pluralism, instituted by the Baath Party. He is skeptical about this step providing a soft landing for al-Asad, who is likely to cling to power as long as he can.

On Thursday night, troops of the regime fired on protesters in Homs, killing one man and wounding another.

Aljazeera English also reports on the persistence of the protests.

11 Responses

  1. “Unfortunately, sanctions are not a strategy that has been known to work very often, if at all. Baath Party officials will insulate themselves from the effects of the sanctions, and pass the pain on to the common people.”

    Does that imply sanctions are not the best policy? If not, what else? Military intervention by the international community? Providing logistic/monetary/other support to protesters? I understand the potentially important political role sanctions can play, but is there reason to believe that’s enough, or even productive?

  2. President Obama demands regime change in Syria! However, after negotiations with President Obama, Assad will still be Syria’s president AND Jordan’s AND Lebannon’s.

  3. To oppose the misguided and abysmally executed Libyan intervention while criticizing Obama for not being more diplomatically aggressive in Syria are not mutually exclusive positions. There are excellent reasons for criticizing the Libyan venture on purely military grounds (as well as other grounds, professor, a case you have made on this site); moreover, Obama’s coinage of “leading from behind” was, as is often the case with this president, a gratuitously self-inflicted rhetorical wound, as well as catnip to his political opponents.

    Obama is late in calling for this murderer to step aside; nevertheless, he deserves credit for doing it at all. Aside from humanitarian interests, there is also a purely American interest–decapitating this snake will choke off Iran’s bridge to Lebanon and who knows? Maybe one day Nasrallah’s minions will be tried for the murder of Hariri.

    • To oppose the misguided and abysmally executed Libyan intervention while criticizing Obama for not being more diplomatically aggressive in Syria are not mutually exclusive positions.

      That depends. What were the grounds on which Michelle Bachmann has criticized the Libya mission?

      Rep. Michele Bachmann, continuing her drumbeat of criticism of President Obama’s policies and priorities, ripped his rationale Wednesday for intervening in Libya, arguing that it isn’t justified by any compelling national interest.
      The Tea Party stalwart, riding a wave of national attention since aides said she may be on the cusp of a presidential run, also said she opposes giving military assistance to the rebels fighting Libya strongman Moammar Gadhafi, saying she believes al Qaida fighters have infiltrated their ranks.
      “I would not have gone in” to Libya, Bachmann said on NBC’s “Today” show.

      I think Prof. Cole landed a clean punch.

      • Well, Joe, based on the newspaper accounts of Bachmann’s rationale, its basis was (as is typical of politicians of every stripe) so enthymematic as to allow an audience to insert the rationale of their choosing. She speaks of “compelling national interest” but never fills the basket with particulars.

        Thus, everybody gets to choose what Bachmann’s “compelling national interest” really means. I choose military bungling plus, given U.S. mistakes in Somalia, et al, a general reluctance (not dogmatic, incidentally) to mount humanitarian interventions. Prof. Cole appears to assume another definition of “national interest” and then points out Bachmann’s hypocrisy. Most Americans probably choose a variety of reasons (too many wars, distrust of Obama’s internationalism, lack of confidence in the president, another complication in the middle of what is, for many, a real depression) but whatever their definitions, in polls, most agree with Bachmann.

        Professor Cole lands a clean punch but it’s against a target of his own choosing. Regarding the rest of Bachmann’s criticism, if you are advising Obama’s ’12 campaign to run on the slogan, “Leading from Behind,” I wish you good luck.

        Joe from Lowell, here’s the deal: if you can specify what “compelling national interests” Bachmann was talking about, in return, I’ll give you the several thousand missing premises in “Yes, We Can!”

        • Richard Miller,

          she opposes giving military assistance to the rebels fighting Libya strongman Moammar Gadhafi, saying she believes al Qaida fighters have infiltrated their ranks.

          So, no, this is not about military bungling. This is about opposition to the Free Libya Forces cause, and to the movement itself.

          I choose military bungling

          Military bungling has nothing to do with national interest. If an action is against our national interest, then you oppose doing it well just as strongly as you oppose doing it poorly.

          But spare yourself the effort of doing your part. Despite the outsized role it obviously plays in your opinion about the UN protective mission, your opinion about Barack Obama isn’t actually relevant to this discussion, or to the nonsensical nature of Bachmann’s criticism.

    • Great, the only movement to ever fight effectively for the poor Shia of Lebanon will be gone and the Shia will return to the bottom caste under a Hariri family owned by Saudi Arabia. Yeah, you just advocated putting what is soon to be Lebanon’s majority to the fate of the people of Bahrain – except that being neoliberals, the Hariris will keep the Shia much poorer.

  4. David Ignatius was on the Diane Rehm international hour this morning. He must have repeated three times that Syria is getting part of their money to fight off insurgency from Iran. Diane Rehm did not question is claims once. Rehm has been allowing the unsubstantiated claims about Iranto be repeated on her program for a solid eight years. No challenges. No verification to back up those claims.

    We know other MSM host have beend doing the same thing.

    Prof Cole what do Syrians feel towards Americans in general for supporing Assad and other dictators in the region for decades?

  5. With all due respect for your good work Juan,
    As long as we give tacit support for the Gulf Cooperation
    Council’s crackdown in Bahrain, and you know we do, What
    the hell business is it of ours what the hell Assad does?

    Jezuz I get tired of hearing these phony assed politicos
    posturing as if they are occupying some moral high ground
    on the planet.

    Besides, Assad Jr isn’t going anywhere until his middle
    class turn against him anyway and that’s not likely. We’re
    just in another god damned Middle East feud that profits
    us none whatsoever and this one with the worlds Shia.

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