FOR MORE THAN five months, Syrians have been stepping out of their homes and mosques with unfathomable bravery in a quest for freedom and human rights.
Bashar al-Assad, the inheritor of a regime that has stifled this Arab country for four decades, has responded by killing thousands of his citizens and torturing and imprisoning many more. Yet, knowing the risks, Syrians refuse to cower.
President Obama and the leaders of Canada, France, Britain and Germany on Thursday called for Mr. Assad to step down. It’s damaging that it took Mr. Obama so long to make this call; odd that even now he wouldn’t speak the words (the White House issued a written statement and put Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton before the cameras); and unfortunate that two days before he issued the the statement, Ms. Clinton said, “It’s not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go.”
But the Obama statement is news, and welcome news at that. The administration coordinated its call for Mr. Assad’s departure with allies. It paired the statement with a ratcheting-up of sanctions that will increase financial pressure on the Assad regime. Most of all, Thursday’s statements by Mr. Obama and fellow leaders will spur the Syrian opposition to intensify its planning for a post-Assad era and will assure ordinary Syrians that they have the world’s moral support.
Does Mr. Obama’s say-so guarantee that Mr. Assad is doomed? Of course not. We’ve seen in Libya that even with military action, which isn’t contemplated in Syria, the longevity of discredited regimes is impossible to predict. Ultimately, much depends on how long soldiers and security agents remain willing to shoot at their fellow citizens. In Egypt, that willingness lasted barely a week. In Burma, it has endured for years. Outsiders aren’t very good at predicting the breaking point.
But Mr. Obama’s statement declared that the breaking point will come. “It is clear that President Assad believes that he can silence the voices of his people by resorting to the repressive tactics of the past,” the statement said. “But he is wrong.” We think the U.S. president is correct in his assessment, and the newly strengthened U.S. position — clear language, strong sanctions, allied coordination — can only hasten the day.