Every time I see the droopy, callow face of Bashar al-Assad — a man in possession of those two awkwardly coexisting qualities identified by Hanna Arendt, utter banality and a fantastic capacity for evil — I think of Christopher Hitchens’s spot-on description of the Syrian tyrant, which he deployed for both Assad and former Argentina dictator Jorge Videla: “Bony-thin and mediocre in appearance, with a scrubby moustache, he looks for all the world like a cretin impersonating a toothbrush.”

It’s near impossible to keep up with the toothbrush’s astonishing number of human rights violations, but Human Rights Watch has done the yeoman’s work of cataloging Syria’s brutal torture centers and the testimony of victims in a new 81-page report, “Torture Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture and Enforced Disappearances in Syria’s Underground Prisons since March 2011.” It makes for harrowing, stomach-churning reading — but none of it particularly surprising. Here, for example, is the testimony of a 31-year-old dissident tortured at Idlib Central Prison:

They forced me to undress. Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days.

Why would Western countries object to such barbarism? Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, can hazard a guess. In a meeting Tuesday with the speaker of Syria’s “People's Assembly,” Mohammad Jihad al-Laham, Jalili revealed that Assad is “currently paying the price for [his]resistance to the Zionist occupation.” One suspects that if Jalili herniated a disc, he would trace it to a Zionist-chiropractic plot.

So with the Muslim Brotherhood ascendant in Egypt (and its president Mohammed Morsi demanding the release of Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian-born fanatic behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), the simmering drone war in Pakistan and Yemen, instability in post-revolutionary Libya and the roiling civil war in Syria, one would expect that Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team would be working overtime to differentiate itself from President Obama and formulate an alternative vision for American power.

But as Eli Lake writes in his latest Newsweek blockbuster — just a week after his terrific and largely overlooked investigation of a squalid prison in Somali housing an unspecified number of suspected terrorists captured by the United States — the Romney foreign policy team is listless and inexperienced, frustrated by a lack of direction from the campaign. As Lake notes, and as is rather obvious when observing Romney on the stump, the only thing the campaign deems worthy of attention at the moment is the economy and jobs.

A sample:

“In October 2011, Romney gave what is still the campaign’s only big foreign policy speech, in which he promised to increase spending for the Navy, coordinate diplomacy in the Middle East under one senior diplomat, and restore missile defense spending cut by Obama.

But since that speech, Romney has mainly stuck to attacking Obama’s record on the economy, branching out at times to blast the president’s outreach to Russia, known as the “reset” policy, and his handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship. A major foreign policy speech that was initially planned for May or June, according to campaign advisers, has not yet materialized. Romney’s relative quiet on the foreign-policy front has fueled criticism that he lacks a clear vision.”

As always with Lake's reporting, make sure to read the whole thing.