In a coordinated diplomatic offensive, President Obama called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, citing the deadly repression of popular protests that has gone on for five months in Syria. Quickly echoing Obama's call were Britain, France, Germany, Canada, and the European Union. Obama also ordered tough new sanctions, including a freeze on all Syrian assets and a ban against Americans doing business with the Syrian regime. At the same time, Obama said "the United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria," apparently taking military intervention off the table. Is this the right call?
Obama's engaged in dangerous "meddling": At best, Obama's call for Assad's departure is toothless interference in Syria's affairs, says Daniel Larison in The American Conservative. But while it's "fairly mild meddling right now," such apparently harmless statements paved the way for the once-equally-unthinkable military action in Libya. Besides, if we're not willing to put our guns where our mouth is — and I hope we're not — what's the point in issuing a demand we all know Assad will ignore?
"'Mostly harmless' gestures can pave the way for war"
No, this was the right move at the right time: If anything, Obama should have demanded Assad's ouster sooner, says the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. But because he waited to line up key allies, the coordinated shove did much more to "condemn and isolate the Assad regime and to nudge it toward the denouement it deserves." Add in the stinging U.S. sanctions, and Obama made the right, "responsible moves," given the limits of our reach in the region.
"Getting tough with Syria"
OK, but what next? It's hard to argue with Obama's call for the "bloodthirsty Syrian dictator" to quit, says Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. But while the sanctions mean "you can't call it pure theater," the mostly symbolic slap-down of Assad raises a lot of questions: Why now? What other Arab despots are in our sights? Will there be "mission creep" if Assad hangs on, or escalates the violence? As the Arab Spring turns to autumn, "we really need a plan."
"Where's the Syria plan?"