Jay Solomon reports in the Wall Street Journal:
Human-rights activists and leaders on Capitol Hill are increasingly criticizing the West’s tepid response to the Syrian uprising, saying it squanders a vital chance to weaken President Bashar al-Assad and his alliance with Iran. . . . “The administration still seems like it’s seeking to engage Assad,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a leading Syrian democracy activist based in Washington. “I don’t see the point at this stage, as Assad has shown his true colors by engaging in such violence.” Syrian democracy activists are calling for U.N. action as well as sanctions targeting the top members of Assad’s government. . . .
[Democratic and Republican lawmakers] said Mr. Assad has been in power for more than a decade and hasn’t introduced any meaningful political changes. They were unlikely to be swayed by his Monday appointment of a new governor to rule the troubled Daraa province. Lawmakers also said they couldn’t imagine a regime in Damascus any more hostile to Western interests than Assad’s.
“Assad is not a reformer,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “Anyone who thinks so is at best fooling themselves, and at worst, serving as a useful idiot to a murderous dictator and a proud sponsor of terrorism.”
That last reference is, of course, to our secretary of state, who proclaimed Assad a “reformer.” In fairness, when the statement was roundly panned Clinton began to talk tougher. Unfortunately, she ineptly tried to cover her tracks.
Glenn Kessler of the The Post gave Clinton three Pinocchios for her comment, noting her attempt to wiggle away from her “provocative” statement:
Lawmakers and columnists quickly condemned her remarks. So two days later Clinton tried to deflect the criticism by telling reporters she was only referencing “the opinions” of lawmakers who had met with Assad and that she was not speaking for the administration. But then she added: “We’re also going to continue to urge that the promise of reform, which has been made over and over again and which you reported on just a few months ago – I’m a reformer, I’m going to reform, and I’ve talked to members of Congress and others about that, that we hear from the highest levels of leadership in Syria – will actually be turned into reality.”
Kessler found even that excuse unpersuasive. He determined that it simply isn’t the case, as Clinton claimed, that “‘many of the members of both parties’ who had gone to Syria ‘in recent months’ had decided Assad was a reformer.” He concludes:
The State Department’s refusal to identify these lawmakers is also suspicious, especially after Clinton backtracked and sought to pin the blame for the sentiments she expressed on others. So we are left with a public record that suggests Clinton was exaggerating or inventing the chorus of support on the GOP side.
In fact, Clinton’s remarks gave a highly misleading impression — that there was general consensus by experts on Syria in both parties that Assad was a reformer, even though Clinton’s own State Department reports label him otherwise.
Kessler doesn’t suggest, as Ackerman, did that Clinton is fooling herself or being a useful idiot. Instead, he notes: “Throughout the Middle East uprisings, Clinton has had trouble calibrating her comments to the mood of the moment, such as when she pronounced the Mubarak regime to be ‘stable’ and ‘looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.’ Days later, Mubarak was gone.”
Well, I suppose we can allow that Clinton simply isn’t very good at analyzing world events and framing a U.S. response. Unfortunately, that’s sort of the job description for the position she occupies.