Bin Laden’s death may be the story of the year (or decade) but the world still turns. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown continues with hardly a word from the administration. If Obama treated Assad more like Qaddafi, and treated the Hamas leadership in Damascus more like he treated Bin Laden, he actually might do more to enable a lasting Middle East peace than he does by embracing the fiction of diplomacy when Arab states prefer to fulfill demands by terror. That’s an opportunity Obama will never create, but it doesn’t follow that he should not hold Assad to account. A bit over a week ago, an American diplomat stationed in Damascus was detained and roughed up by masked Syrian security forces.
I happen to know this diplomat, and consider him perhaps the most talented diplomat and linguist in the Foreign Service. It took the State Department days to react, and when they did, they merely filed a formal protest with the Syrian Ambassador to the United States. That’s not nearly good enough. Obama sent Robert Ford, a talented diplomat and an honorable man, to Damascus over Congressional objections as a recess appointment in order to catalyze engagement and encourage Syrian moderation. It certainly hasn’t work. Syrian behavior has worsened, and the harassment of an American diplomat should be the last straw. Responsible states deserve U.S. ambassadors, but Syria is not a responsible state. Keep the embassy open with a skeleton staff, but let’s not legitimize Assad.