Commentary Magazine


Annals of State Department Ad Hocery

In his interview of Secretary State Clinton last month, Jeffrey Goldberg had the following colloquy regarding Syria:

QUESTION: Would you be sad if [Assad’s] regime disappeared?

CLINTON: It depends upon what replaces it.

QUESTION: Nicely put.

It is not much of a standard (“it depends”), and it is not a standard applied consistently. In Egypt, the U.S. called for the removal of an ally without knowing what regime would replace it. In Libya, the U.S. started a kinetic military operation against the regime, without knowing who the rebels were. In Syria, the U.S. adopted something like the 2009 policy in Iran (remaining silent out of concern that overthrow of the regime would interrupt the American efforts to outstretch a hand to it).

There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

Yesterday the topic came up again at the State Department press conference:

QUESTION: The Secretary in an interview not so long ago . . . was asked would you be happy if Assad were gone, and she said it depends on what comes next. Do you – does she – does the State Department have any idea of what would come after?

MR. TONER: Well, I think what we would like to see is some sort of—you’re asking me to speculate wildly here.

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: . . . we’d like to see some sort of credible democratic process that attempts to address the aspirations of the Syrian people. We talked at the beginning of this issue or this situation, crisis, that we wanted to see Assad address the aspirations with a meaningful reform. As I said, that—as we’ve gone down this path of increased abuses of what appears to be targeting civilian populations and going after and rounding up innocent civilians, that becomes increasingly unlikely. And so that—as that—as we go down that path, those options for real reform decrease, and we—but we still need to see, at some point, the Syrian people’s aspirations addressed.

So no calls for removal of Assad, as in Egypt. No kinetic military action, as in Libya. No standing silent, as in Iran. In Syria, the U.S. would like some sort of credible democratic process, attempting to address the aspirations of the people, with meaningful reform, and as that becomes increasingly unlikely, we still need to see, at some point, the people’s aspirations addressed.

Nicely put, or rather put as nicely as a non-strategy can be put.