The United States diplomatic corps in the Arab world has generally been slow to recognize trends or to back away from brutal dictators who oppose the interests of both their own people and of America. The Obama administration has failed to speak out consistently and forcefully against the Assad regime’s despicable record of oppression and support for international terrorists. But for at least one day, Washington’s man in Damascus stepped up and did the right thing. As the forces of dictator Bashar al-Assad closed in on protesters in the city of Hama, both the French and the American ambassadors to Syria journeyed to that tortured place to show solidarity with protesters.
U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Ford and his French colleague Eric Chavallier arrived in Hama yesterday and stayed until Friday afternoon. The Syrian government reacted angrily, accusing the envoys of meeting with “saboteurs” and inciting protests. This will cause some to worry their association with Americans will taint Syrian dissidents, and the protests will now be seen as inspired by the West. But such arguments are absurd and are merely excuses for doing nothing while people are being slaughtered by a tyrant.
There are those, including not a few members of the Obama administration, who tend to see America’s role in the world as essentially malevolent. They believe any self-respecting freedom movement must disassociate itself from the West and the United States in particular if it wishes to succeed. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. While conspiracy theorists in the Arab and Muslim world focus their hate on the Great Satan in Washington, most ordinary people understand that America is a free country. Rather than standing aloof from their struggles for freedom, it is vital the United States associate itself with the people in the streets calling for an end to the brutal Assad regime and not line itself up with the dictators.
There are no guarantees the alternatives to the authoritarians in Syria or any other Arab country will be genuine liberals or believers in democracy. But the best way to influence such people to put away their hatred for the U.S. and its Israeli ally is to clearly align Americans with the forces fighting for freedom.
Though the Assad clan may try to taint protesters by painting them as pro-Americans or, even worse, Zionists, few in the streets of Hama or Damascus will believe it. They know for themselves just how bad their government really is. Let’s hope Ambassador Ford’s visit to Hama is just the first of many that will both inhibit the regime from perpetrating further massacres and give hope to dissidents who will now know they are not alone.