The first and easiest avenue for Washington to pursue would be to recall Robert Ford, whom Obama appointed as his ambassador to Damascus despite congressional objections. Bringing Ford home would be an obvious way to deprive Assad of the legitimacy that comes with relations with the world's only superpower. It would send an unambiguous message that the United States is done dealing with the Syrian regime. That message would embolden the protesters and dishearten Assad. Perhaps most importantly, it would send a clear signal to the silent majority in Syria, which is watching apprehensively and wondering who will win.
In addition to severing diplomatic ties, Obama should finally come out and declare Assad's rule illegitimate. The president's current reluctance to make such a declaration is incomprehensible, especially when other allies, such as France and Israel, have already done so. Yet the administration persists in its fanciful call for Assad to "lead the transition."
The Arab media is already rife with perceptions that America is soft on Assad, an impression his regime surely wishes to foster. That is why Assad's advisor, Bouthaina Shaaban, recently expressed to the New York Times her belief that the international community will fall back in line once the regime has restored control. Obama could lay this notion to rest by washing America's hands of Assad once and for all.
Assad's brutality has already cost him critical relations with three countries that have been instrumental in his efforts to rehabilitate himself in the world: France, Qatar, and Turkey.
In 2004 and 2005, France was Washington's principal partner in the effort to isolate the Assad regime in the wake of its alleged murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The French then shifted gears and tried to engage Assad, but to no avail. Now they are spearheading the European effort to impose sanctions and other restrictions on Assad and his cronies, and are leading the way at the U.N. Security Council in seeking a resolution targeting the Assad regime.
Qatar likewise invested in Assad and even played a role in Paris's opening to Damascus, while counterbalancing Saudi Arabia's sometimes fraught relations with the Syrian regime. Today, the Doha-based satellite channel Al Jazeera has been a powerful tool in exposing Assad's crimes, while providing a platform to Syrian dissidents and human rights activists. In late March, the influential Doha-based Egyptian preacher Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi publicly expressed his support for the Syrian revolution, declaring "the revolution train has reached a station it was bound to reach: the station of Syria." The Syrian media retaliated by unleashing its venom on Doha and its assets.
Turkey, meanwhile, has not only criticized Assad's brutality, but is also playing a direct role in setting in motion a transition in Syria. To that end, it allowed a conference of Syrian opposition leaders to be held on Turkish soil, much to Assad's ire. For that, it too came under attack from the Syrian regime's media. In recent days, as the Assad regime's assault on towns in northwestern Syria has sent thousands of refugees across the border into Turkey, Ankara has escalated its rhetoric and expressed support for efforts to pressure Assad at the Security Council.
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