The Wall Street Journal has a stunning report on Bashar al-Assad’s use of embassies around the world to perpetuate his reign of terror:
Syria is taking its war against President Bashar al-Assad’s political opponents global, using diplomats in Washington, London and elsewhere to track and intimidate expatriates who speak out against the Damascus regime, according to Syrian dissidents and U.S. officials.
Syrian embassy staffers are tracking and photographing antiregime protesters and sending reports back home, Syrian activists and U.S. officials say. Syrian diplomats, including the ambassador to the U.S., have fanned out to Arab diaspora communities to brand dissidents “traitors” and warn them against conspiring with “Zionists.”
The Journal found half-a-dozen Syrian-Americans who “say that as a result of their activities in the U.S., family members have been interrogated, threatened or arrested in Syria. The Obama administration says it has ‘credible’ evidence that the Assad regime is targeting relatives of Syrian-Americans who have participated in peaceful U.S. protests.”
Zuhdi Jasser, a Syrian American and founder of Save Syria Now!, tells me, “I am thrilled that our media, and in some ways, though certainly not enough, our government are finally having an epiphany about the fear of the mukhabarat [intelligence services] that our Syrian families live with day in and day out since many of our families escaped the ‘prison’ which is Syrian citizenship.” He explains, “Pretty much every Syrian that I have known in my 43 years acknowledges in some way or other (either as courageous victims, useful idiots, or out and out regime accomplices on American soil) the overwhelming, sophisticated, and suffocating operation of Syrian intelligence services in the United States and Europe. They have long used American social and familial networks to extract information about any potential threat to Assad’s regime.”
What has the administration done about protecting its own citizens and those already in peril in Syria? Well the FBI has investigated. But all we’ve done, as far as I can tell, is — you guessed it — taken “very seriously” these reports, according to a State Department flunky.
While the U.S. does nothing, Iran is lending a helping hand to Assad:
U.S. and European officials said intelligence shows Syria’s closest strategic ally, Iran, has been assisting Damascus in its crackdown against opponents both at home and abroad. The officials said many of the tactics used by Mr. Assad’s security forces mirror those utilized by Tehran in 2009 to stamp out a public revolt against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rule following a disputed election.
In recent months, Tehran has sent to Mr. Assad’s government scrambling devices used to disrupt satellite-phone communications among activists inside Syria and overseas, according to U.S. and European officials. Iran has also dispatched advisers to Damascus to tutor Syria on how to use social-networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to track communications among opposition figures. . . .
“Iran seems to have provided Syria with the playbook on how to combat dissent,” said a senior European official. Iran has repeatedly denied assisting in Syria’s crackdown.
Aside from the message this sends to the entire Middle East and to dissidents fighting regimes there and around the world, this suggest a shocking dereliction of responsibility to protect our own citizens here at home. As Jasser puts it, “Well, the fact that our government and media allowed this to happen and had little concern in the past over 40 years of Assad tyranny is just one more piece of evidence that the American freedoms that we so love are often taken for granted and dismissed with little muscular protection for real freedom activists around the world. ” He scoffs at the idea of simply limiting the Syrian ambassador’s scope of travel: “Get Mr. Mustapha — the Ambassador of Death — and his fellow thugs at the Syrian embassy off of our soil immediately and bring back Ambassador Ford and his staff. Enough is enough.”
Aside from the impact on our own citizens, American quietude is inexplicable from a diplomatic standpoint. Tony Badran, a Syria expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, e-mailed me: “The administration’s reasoning had been not to rock this boat in order not to jeopardize Ambassador Ford’s freedom of movement in Syria. However, as was rather obvious, the Syrian regime ended up restricting Ford’s movement anyway.” Badran explains, “Prior to heading back to Damascus following his appearance before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Ford had insisted that he would continue to move around Syria, to bear witness and show US solidarity with the protesters. It would appear now that this mission is no longer possible.” He adds, “ If indeed his ability to do his job has been severely curtailed, then the argument for publicly expressing a US break with Assad by expelling his ambassador and recalling ours will return.”
Consider the level of self-delusion at play here. The administration is going to keep mum about a brutal regime abusing its diplomatic privileges so we can keep an open line of communication to a regime . . . to do what exactly? Even if — and it doesn’t appear to be the case — Ford was accomplishing something useful, what excuse is there for allowing Syria to continue its activities and to endanger innocents?
This is the logical result of a policy that denies the nature of the evil regime we are dealing with. We sacrifice our own interests, our own citizens and other pro-democracy advocates for nothing. In the end, we lose respect, influence and our moral standing.