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Right Turn
Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 03/29/2011

Syrian ‘engagement’ is kaput, but what will replace it?

On Sunday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made this astounding observation about Syria on “Face the Nation”:

There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer. What’s been happening there the last few weeks is — is deeply concerning. But there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities, then police actions, which frankly have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.

Is she mad? Republican presidential contender Tim Pawlenty thinks as much. He told Hugh Hewitt on his radio program:

HEWITT: [What should we be doing regarding Syria?]

PAWLENTY: Bashar al-Assad is a dictator. His father killed thousands — tens of thousands of people. He is also a killer. And we have an individual there who many people in the United States have been duped into thinking is a reformer. Hillary Clinton came close to referencing him that on the Sunday talk shows.

I think the President should do the following: Number one, speak strongly and clearly to the people of Syria that we hope and believe and support their drive towards freedom and getting rid of Bashar al-Assad.

Number two, I would recall our ambassador. President Obama made the mistake of sending an ambassador to Syria, legitimizing that country and his regime in ways that I don’t think are appropriate. Recall the ambassador.

Number three, move to invoke further sanctions, both economically and otherwise.

Number four, make sure that people in Syria know where we stand, and that communicate that to the world, and pressure the EU and our allies to do it as well.

Our interests, by the way, in Syria, are at least as strong — if not stronger — than in Libya. Here you have a country enabled and accommodated people to go into Iraq and kill American soldiers. They house Hamas and allow them to exist in Syria as they continue to be a terrorist organization in Israel and elsewhere. And the list goes on and on about the problems that the Syria, and specifically Bashar al-Assad, has caused the region and the world and also the United States of America.

HEWITT: [The New York Times reported that the Obama administration believes Syria is a partner for peace — ]

PAWLENTY: It’s a crock. It’s a complete crock. And it shows the naivete of the Obama administration. And to have the Secretary of State on a Sunday morning talk show implying that he’s a reformer; to have his Administration essentially being embracing in any manner or degree Bashar al-Assad and Syria as a peace agent — or an agent for reform and stability in the region — is either ignorant or frighteningly misguided.

HEWITT: [Is it possible it’s just political?]

PAWLENTY: That may well be possible, and we don’t know. He should explain himself on this as well. I would hope he would take time [Monday night] to speak not just on Libya, but these issues as well. In Syria — in addition to what I described earlier … they won’t admit it, but it appears that Israel demolished a nuclear production facility that was inspired allegedly by North Korea, helping Syria get nuclear weapons. And, thankfully, Israel took it out.

Pawlenty is dead right, of course, demonstrating that he is the most forthright of the Republican presidential contenders so far on foreign policy issues. But what would possess Clinton to say something so entirely daft?

Well, recall that for two years the Obama administration has been trying to wean Syria from Iran and using a variety of figures, from Sen. John Kerry (D- Mass.) to recess-appointed Ambassador Robert Ford, to whisper in Assad al-Bashar’s ear. It has failed spectacularly. But the already overwhelmed Obama administration plainly has no alternative approach. Last night the president said this:

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

So where’s the Syria policy to accompany that fine sentiment? The State Department has not yet responded to my inquiry as to whether Ford will travel to Daraa or what responses, including a U.N. vote of condemnation, might be in the offing. I’ll report back any answer I receive.

By  |  11:30 AM ET, 03/29/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign, foreign policy

 
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