Obama’s Syria Bind

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Since Joe is lamenting the latest, terrible violence in Syria, I thought I’d update readers on what the White House is saying about any potential American action to support protesters in that corner of the revolting Arab world. Here’s an excerpt from White House press secretary Jay Carney’s gaggle aboard Air Force One today:

Q    On Syria — do you have anything to say on Syria today?  Lots of violence and –

MR. CARNEY:  As we have consistently throughout this period, we deplore the use of violence and we’re very concerned about what we’ve — the reports we’ve seen from Syria.  We are monitoring it very closely; call on the Syrian government to cease and desist from the use of violence against peaceful protestors; call on all sides to cease and desist from the use of violence; and also call on the Syrian government to follow through on its promises and take action towards the kind of concrete reform that they promised.

Q    Jay, even though the U.S. and other countries keep condemning what’s happening in Syria, the situation there just gets worse.  So is there any discussion in the administration about taking any further action, since the situation there is starting to look like it was in Libya when the U.S. took action?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I mean, I have no updates on that, except to say that every country is different and every situation is different.  And the circumstances that presented themselves in Libya were actually quite unique to Libya in terms of the imminent assault on a town with a sizeable population which Muammar Qaddafi had promised to show no mercy; the opportunity to prevent that kind of slaughter of civilians; the unified international consensus that action should be taken that was not just Western but included Arab League and other support; the request from the opposition there for the kind of assistance that was provided through — and has been provided through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

So those circumstances were quite unique.

Obviously, Obama has zero interest in intervening in Syria, not only because Libya is plenty for now–but also because messing around in Iran’s backyard is a very dangerous game. Nor is Obama eager to see Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s demise. The White House worries the result could be a) vicious Iraq-style sectarian violence or  b) a radical Islamist regime that causes even more problems for the U.S. than Assad, whom the Obama administration hoped to win over diplomatically before the Arab Spring erupted. (Hence Hillary Clintons’s absurd-seeming labeling of Assad as a “reformer.”)

Not that conservatives at home are showing much sympathy for this complicated plight. GOP Senator Jon Kyl is demanding that Obama “personally stand up and publicly condemn” Assad’s violent crackdown. And former Bush administration hand Elliot Abrams complains that Obama has been incoherent and equivocal, saying that Asssad’s fall “would mean a tremendous setback for the ayatollahs, and second only to the fall of the Islamic Republic would be a great gain for the United States in the Middle East.” The Obama team’s caution, Abrams argues, is “the detritus of its failed ‘outreach’ policy toward Assad… Whether from a human-rights perspective or a realpolitik view, that policy should now be replaced by a determined drive to bring down this regime.” For the moment, though, it doesn’t look Obama wants to wade any deeper into this particular Middle East crisis.

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