By John Stang
On Thursday, President Obama announced that it was time for Bashar al- Assad of Syria to step down as leader after an almost have month crackdown by the Assad government has killed almost 2,000 civilians protesting the government. Obama also called for sanctions against the regime, including asset freezes and a ban on U.S. businesses from trading with Syria. Of course, the president is not alone in this endeavor, Germany, France, and other European leaders have called for Assad to step down. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while not immediately calling for Assad to leave, has also issued a stark warning that Assad is at the final straw. Hints of military action have been foreshadowed by statements coming from the Turkish government.
While President Obama should have called for Assad’s to be ousted months ago, the politics of Libya made it hard. In Libya, the NATO coalition has continued to pursue a “No Fly Zone” by order of the U.N. Security Council to protect civilians. However, warnings of mission creep are starting to ring true with some bombings of Tripoli near where Moamar Gadhafi has lived. President Obama had to make a choice back in April, did he issue warnings to Syria and Libya, just take action in one country or the other, or try to take action in both nations. The last option was not possible due to an overstretched U.S. military and the first option just seemed hollow. So, he picked the second choice, go after one leader to show civilian atrocities are not acceptable. Libya was on everyone’s mind then, so which country to go after was clear.
Now, the U.S. is too tied down. Reports are mixed about the progress in Libya and it shifts everyday. Libya shows the limitations of U.S. and global military capabilities. Only a warning and sanctions are what Obama can present Assad. Unless Turkey takes action or the U.S. does a covert takeout of Assad, military options are dim. You could say that all the president did yesterday was point out the obvious, Assad has to leave. Since that is all he can do, the president will look weak and be open to political criticism. The international community took a gamble on intervening in Libya to stop one violent Arab despot, but now that gamble will have consequences because no further action can be taken and any threat made to Assad’s regime will be no more than a slap on the wrist.