The Post reports: “The Arab League approved on Saturday a sweeping package of measures censuring Syria, clearing the way for a significant escalation of international pressure against President Bashar al-Assad and deepening the isolation of his increasingly embattled government. The 22-member regional body said it would suspend Syria’s membership, impose sanctions and seek U.N. help unless the Syrian government stops using violence to suppress the country’s eight-month-old uprising. At least 3,500 civilians have died in the crackdown, according to the United Nations.”
It seems Syria’s Arab neighbors are planning ahead: “The unexpectedly severe measures suggested that Arab states are already starting to plan for a post-Assad era. That will in turn increase pressure on other powers that have so far refrained from taking action against Syria, notably Russia, China and Turkey, opening the door to the kind of international consensus on Syria that the United States has been seeking to build, analysts said.”
Yes, for all of our attempts at “reset” and “engagement,” China and Russia have until now obstructed tougher measures, as Assad’s killing spree goes unchecked.
True to form, Syria retaliated against the Arab League’s action with violence. Reuters reports: “Crowds armed with sticks and knives attacked the Saudi embassy in Damascus and the French and Turkish consulates in the city of Latakia on Saturday after the Arab League suspended Syria, residents said.”
While the Arab League’s action comes belatedly, after thousands of Syrians have been slaughtered or tortured or simply disappeared, it is nevertheless welcome news. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mails me, “More pressure on Syria is a good thing, no matter who applies it. Of course, many of these regimes are just as repressive as Syria. They have simply not been faced (yet) with the same domestic pressures.”
This, he remarks, is noteworthy as well in terms of Iran. “What I find remarkable here is that the Arabs have finally mustered up the courage to challenge Iran’s proxy in the region. Perhaps this is a response to the plot against the Saudi ambassador. Perhaps it’s a response to the IAEA report. Either way, challenging the legitimacy of Syria is a significant challenge to Iran. This is bold for the Arab League.”
Now the Arab League by itself, of course, will not topple Assad. As Schanzer observes, the dictator’s ouster “won’t happen unless the Obama Administration finally steps up and assumes leadership. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon.” In last night’s foreign policy debate, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich took the Obama administration to task for not doing more and acting sooner to undermine the regime, which is aligned with Iran.
This development should serve as a lesson for the administration. Iran’s neighbors are nervous, increasingly willing to step up to check the mullahs’ influence in the region. We should be harnessing that enmity to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Tehran, and as may be necessary, sooner rather than later to secure cooperation if and when military action against Iran is needed.