Is it just me, or does Mad Dog Gadhafi suffer from a major league PR problem? I can’t fully understand why we have joined forces with a group of rebels — most likely al Qaeda in training — in Libya to overthrow Mad Dog while Bashar al-Assad is getting a free pass to shock and awe the citizens of Syria.
And do we care more about these exercises in nation building — or the royal wedding?
Maybe the different takes on Libya and Syria have everything to do with image. Here’s from the NYT:
For years, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has nourished a reputation as a youthful and forward-looking leader in a region full of aging autocrats, a man who might yet reform the repressive police state he inherited from his father, given time and opportunity.
His country’s worsening crisis — a bloody battle between the police and protesters that is being closely watched around the world — would seem to be a chance to stave off the violence with restraint or even bold reforms, a path his father never took. But as the death toll mounts, and the ominous disappearances of dissident figures increase, his time appears to be running out. International pressure is growing, and so is the outrage his violent crackdown has inspired.
Mr. Assad could still succeed in quelling the unrest, diplomats and analysts say. But to do so he would have to realize the hopes once placed in him when he inherited power from his father 11 years ago and confront his own family, which controls Syria’s thuggish security apparatus and appears to be pushing hard for a continued crackdown. At least 120 people have been killed since Friday, the bloodiest day of the five-week-old uprising.
In the past day or two, mixed signals have emerged about which path he will take. On the one hand, Mr. Assad has hinted at a willingness to enact greater reforms than those announced last week, when he officially lifted Syria’s draconian emergency powers law. But there have been dark warnings of harsher repression as well. In Syria’s notoriously opaque political environment, it is impossible to tell which way the president is leaning.
“This is the moment of truth for Bashar al-Assad,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a visiting professor at Columbia University who has written extensively on Syria. “He has potentially the ability to impose reforms on his own Baath Party, but has he the will to do so?”
The consequences of his decision could be momentous, perhaps more so than in any of the other revolts yet seen in the Middle East. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Syria is home to a checkerboard of defensive religious and ethnic minorities, and many fear that the end of the Assad family’s 40-year dynasty could unleash brutal revenge killings and struggles for power. The chaos could easily spill over Syria’s borders, to neighboring Lebanon and beyond.
Uh. Enlightened despot on the one hand. Mad Dog on the other. Hmm. And looks like we could be stepping into some deep doo-doo in Syria. Better to try to slip Mad Dog a poison turbin.
Maybe the editorial writers at the Washington Post can add some perspective in “Shameful U.S. inaction on Syria’s massacres“:
FOR THE PAST five weeks, growing numbers of Syrians have been gathering in cities and towns across the country to demand political freedom — and the security forces of dictator Bashar al-Assad have been responding by opening fire on them. According to Syrian human rights groups, more than 220 people had been killed by Friday. And Friday may have been the worst day yet: According to Western news organizations, which mostly have had to gather information from outside the country, at least 75 people were gunned down in places that included the suburbs of Damascus, the city of Homs and a village near the southern town of Daraa, where the protests began.
Massacres on this scale usually prompt a strong response from Western democracies, as they should. Ambassadors are withdrawn; resolutions are introduced at the U.N. Security Council; international investigations are mounted and sanctions applied. In Syria’s case, none of this has happened. The Obama administration has denounced the violence — a presidential statement called Friday’s acts of repression “outrageous” — but otherwise remained passive. Even the ambassador it dispatched to Damascus during a congressional recess last year remains on post.
The administration has sat on its hands despite the fact that the Assad regime is one of the most implacable U.S. adversaries in the Middle East. It is Iran’s closest ally; it supplies Iranian weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip for use against Israel. Since 2003 it has helped thousands of jihadists from across the Arab world travel to Iraq to attack American soldiers. It sought to build a secret nuclear reactor with the help of North Korea and destabilized the pro-Western government of neighboring Lebanon by sponsoring a series of assassinations.
Like people across the Middle East, the protesters in Syria say that they are seeking the establishment of a democratic system. A statement issued by organizers of the protests Friday called for an end to torture and killings by security forces; the release of all political prisoners; an investigation into the deaths of those killed so far; and reform of the constitution, including a limit on presidential terms. The mass demonstrations on Good Friday were called to show that the cause is neither Islamic nor sectarian.
Yet the Obama administration has effectively sided with the regime against the protesters. Rather than repudiate Mr. Assad and take tangible steps to weaken his regime, it has proposed, with increasing implausibility, that his government “implement meaningful reforms,” as the president’s latest statement put it. As The Post’s Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson reported Friday, the administration, which made the “engagement” of Syria a key part of its Middle East policy, still clings to the belief that Mr. Assad could be part of a Middle East peace process; and it would rather not trade “a known quantity in Assad for an unknown future.”
I don’t know. It seems to this pajama-clad citizen journalist that we are either for supporting freedom — or at least the hope of freedom — in the Middle East, or we ain’t. And if we are, then Prez O is going to have to step up and provide some leadership. Otherwise, our foreign policy is like a tennis ball heading back and forth over the net with no point ever being gained.
Anyway, I did my own public opinion and interest poll on all of this early this a.m. when I was chasing the belt on the treadmill and watching the bank of TVs that display seven or eight stations.
Every time something came on about our nation building debacles — yes, even including Afghanistan where the Taliban apparently dug a tunnel under the check points of NATO guards who were as watchful as a gaggle of air traffic controllers and sprung 450 some prisoners — I switched the channel to catch news of the really important story: the wedding this Friday of Kate and William.
Hey, let’s face it. Kate and William appear to be a charming young couple who have a shot at saving the crown jewels and everything else of the British monocracy. Image matters. And something tells me that Gadhafi, Assad and Hamid Karzai could get together to play Texas hold ’em on Friday in broad daylight on a street in Jerusalem and nobody would pay any attention.
So much for nation building — at least for this week.
By the way, Kiran Chetry, the host of American Morning on CNN, is in London all week for the nuptals. She is hot — and not a bad reader of the news, either. I guess she didn’t succeed on Fox News because she isn’t blond. Go figure.
And late breaking: It appears that Jimmy Carter is heading to North Korea for a three-day visit this week.
Let’s hope we’re not at war there until after the royal wedding.