Please see also here.
This dispatch concerns Syria. It is a follow-up to previous dispatches about Syria.
* Jeff Jacoby: “If the U.S. has good reason to support the popular revolt in Libya – and Obama argued Monday night that there is ‘an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him’ – it has considerably more reason to do so in Syria. If it made sense to speed the departure of Egypt’s Mubarak, accelerating the fall of Syria’s Assad should be an even higher priority. If North Africa was improved when the people of Tunisia threw off their dictator, the entire Arab world would be a healthier place if a Syrian uprising toppled Assad.”
* Charles Krauthammer: “Few things said by the Obama administration in its two years can match this one [Hillary Clinton’s description this week of Assad as a “reformer”] for moral bankruptcy and strategic incomprehensibility… If John Kerry wants to make a fool of himself by continuing to insist that Assad is an agent of change, well, it’s a free country. But Clinton speaks for the nation.”
* Tom Gross: Assad is no reformer. “Murderer” would be a more appropriate term. Yesterday at least another 10 Syrian civilians were killed by plainclothes snipers taking aim at them from rooftops. According to the BBC, other Syrian civilians were beaten to death by regime security forces in two Syrian mosques yesterday. Assad’s police state, which has one of the highest numbers of political prisoners in the world, and by the State Department’s own admission uses “electrical shocks, pulls out fingernails, burns genitalia, and forces objects into the rectum” of political prisoners, has gunned down hundreds of civilians in the last month. But CNN this week called Assad “attractive”.
* Jeff Jacoby: “Why has there been no White House denunciation of the murder of protesters by Syrian security forces? Why haven’t U.S. officials publicly exhorted the Security Council and the Arab League to take as strong a stand against Assad as they did against Gaddafi? Why hasn’t Obama ordered the new U.S. ambassador to Syria to demonstrate American solidarity with the demonstrators by traveling to Daraa, where dozens of them have been killed, and demanding an international investigation?”
* Claudia Rosett: “Long ago and far away, when the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos fell in the Philippines, the dictator’s wife, Imelda (pictured above), became an object of global ridicule for her extravagant wardrobe – especially her shoes. She had 2,700 pairs. When the Marcoses fled Manila for refuge in Hawaii in 1986, Imelda left her shoes. They ended up on display in Malacanang Palace, symbols of the excess with which dictators live the high life while beggaring their people. Which brings us to Syria, where today’s first lady, Asma al-Assad, has also become famous for her shoes. Asma and her shoes turned up in 2009 in a Huffington Post spread on ‘Our favorite Asma looks.’ The shoes were demurely hinted at in last month’s Vogue profile on ‘Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert’ – along with her simple necklace of Chanel agates, and her Louboutin silk handbag.”
* Michael Singh: “One of the key departures Obama made [from Bush] was in his approach toward Syria. Rather than continuing to pressure the regime, he returned to the policy of engaging Syria practiced by past administrations. After two years, this approach has not only been unsuccessful, it was flawed in its conception. There is little reason to believe that Assad is truly interested in a Syrian-Israeli peace; Syria’s state of war with Israel provides his justification for permanent ‘emergency laws,’ and the relations with Iran and Hizbullah which he would need to sacrifice to make a deal profit his regime greatly. A more creative approach is needed, which should include reinvigorated economic and political pressure using sanctions and support for Syrian democracy activists.”
1. Assad is no reformer
2. Maybe Clinton wants to read her own state department’s annual report on Syria?
3. “Electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; burning genitalia”
4. Praising the Syrian dictator is nothing new for British officials
5. Thanks to Syria, Hizbullah has 1,000 military facilities in southern Lebanon
6. Video: Protesters in Syria chanting “No to Hizbullah, no to Iran!”
7. “Syria’s Reformer?” (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, April 1, 2011)
8. “Shaking the house that Assad built” (By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, March 30, 2011)
9. “What should Asma wear to the revolution?” (By Claudia Rosett, Pajamas Media, March 31)
10. “A White House divided on Syria” (By Michael Singh, Foreign Policy, March 31, 2011)
ASSAD IS NO REFORMER
By Tom Gross
Of all the uprisings sweeping the Arab world so far this year, the most surprising is that in Syria. In spite of the foolish remarks made by American, British and French officials over the last two years praising the Assad family, Syria is one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships (and also one of the most racist, denying millions of Syrian Kurds citizenship, as I have noted in past dispatches).
According to Al Jazeera and other media, hundreds of Syrian civilians have now been shot dead in cold blood in the past month. Yesterday, at least another 10 peaceful protestors were killed by plainclothes snipers taking aim at them from rooftops.
An Arabic-language page on Facebook titled “Syrian Revolution Against Bashar al-Assad” has well over 100,000 supporters. Yet, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again gave Assad her seal of approval last week, calling him a “reformer.” A murderer would be a more appropriate description.
MAYBE CLINTON WANTS TO READ HER OWN STATE DEPARTMENT’S ANNUAL REPORT ON SYRIA?
In defending Assad, Hillary Clinton has put herself in the same camp as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who this week called Assad his “brother” and a “humanist.” (Chavez has also come to the defense of Gaddafi.)
Clinton might want to take a look at the findings of her own state department’s most recent annual report on human rights in Syria. It says the Syrian government and members of its security forces “committed numerous serious human rights abuses, and the human rights situation worsened.” It speaks of “arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life” and “enforced disappearances” and the vanishing of “an estimated 17,000 persons.”
“ELECTRICAL SHOCKS; PULLING OUT FINGERNAILS; BURNING GENITALIA”
The 2009 State Department report describes the methods of torture inflicted on the inmates of Syria’s prisons. Among them: “electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; burning genitalia; forcing objects into the rectum; beating, sometimes while the victim was suspended from the ceiling; other times on the soles of the feet.”
Syria’s emergency law has now lasted for 48 brutal years. And unlike Libya of recent years, Syria is actively and currently working against Western interests: building nuclear reactors, supporting Hizbullah and Hamas, helping Iran, choking Lebanon, and so on.
PRAISING THE SYRIAN DICTATOR IS NOTHING NEW FOR BRITISH OFFICIALS
Three years ago, at a lunch I attended in London, William Hague, who is now Britain’s Foreign Secretary (minister), went out of his way to praise Bashar al-Assad. (This is the same Britain that Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, a tireless campaigner for a two state solution, can’t visit for fear of being arrested on trumped-up “war crimes” charges.)
A year earlier Hague had criticized Israel for using “disproportionate force” as rockets were raining down on Israel from Lebanon. But in the past month, I haven’t heard Hague say Syria has used “disproportionate force.”
Indeed this might be a good time for the British government to acknowledge Israeli restraint. In recent weeks Israel has been the victim of a series of attacks, including bombings, stabbings and dozens of rockets fired at towns and villages throughout southern Israel. In the face of this onslaught, however, the Israeli government has shown considerable restraint, keen to avoid damaging peace prospects. Perhaps it is time for the British and other governments to show Israel a measure of sympathy.
THANKS TO SYRIA, HIZBULLAH HAS 1,000 MILITARY FACILITIES IN SOUTHERN LEBANON
Two days ago the Israeli authorities published maps showing over 1,000 Hizbullah military installations (including 550 underground bunkers) in southern Lebanon, hundreds of which were in built-up civilian areas, including inside schools.
Most of these weapons have been supplied with the aid of Syria and Iran.
Thanks to Syria and Iran, Hizbullah now has over 40,000 rockets and missiles, including several hundred long-range missiles that can hit Tel Aviv.
PROTESTERS IN SYRIA CHANTING “NO TO HIZBULLAH, NO TO IRAN!”
I attach four articles below. The writers of all four (Charles Krauthammer, Jeff Jacoby, Claudia Rosett and Michael Singh) are longtime subscribers to this list.
[All notes above by Tom Gross]
* See also: “Harvard, too, teams up with the dictator’s wife” (March 9, 2011)
“FEW CAN MATCH THIS REMARK FOR MORAL BANKRUPTCY”
By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
April 1, 2011
Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.
– Hillary Clinton on Bashar al-Assad, March 27
Few things said by this administration in its two years can match this one for moral bankruptcy and strategic incomprehensibility.
First, it’s demonstrably false. It was hoped that President Assad would be a reformer when he inherited his father’s dictatorship a decade ago. Being a London-educated eye doctor, he received the full Yuri Andropov treatment – the assumption that having been exposed to Western ways, he’d been Westernized. Wrong. Assad has run the same iron-fisted Alawite police state as did his father.
Bashar made promises of reform during the short-lived Arab Spring of 2005. The promises were broken. During the current brutally suppressed protests, his spokeswoman made renewed promises of reform. Then Wednesday, appearing before parliament, Assad was shockingly defiant. He offered no concessions. None.
Second, it’s morally reprehensible. Here are people demonstrating against a dictatorship that repeatedly uses live fire on its own people, a regime that in 1982 killed 20,000 in Hama and then paved the dead over. Here are insanely courageous people demanding reform – and the U.S. secretary of state tells the world that the thug ordering the shooting of innocents already is a reformer, thus effectively endorsing the Baath party line – “We are all reformers,” Assad told parliament – and undermining the demonstrators’ cause.
Third, it’s strategically incomprehensible. Sometimes you cover for a repressive ally because you need it for U.S. national security. Hence our muted words about Bahrain. Hence our slow response on Egypt. But there are rare times when strategic interest and moral imperative coincide completely. Syria is one such – a monstrous police state whose regime consistently works to thwart U.S. interests in the region.
During the worst days of the Iraq War, this regime funneled terrorists into Iraq to fight U.S. troops and Iraqi allies. It is dripping with Lebanese blood as well, being behind the murder of independent journalists and democrats, including former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. This year, it helped topple the pro-Western government of Hariri’s son, Saad, and put Lebanon under the thumb of the virulently anti-Western Hizbullah. Syria is a partner in nuclear proliferation with North Korea. It is Iran’s agent and closest Arab ally, granting it an outlet on the Mediterranean. Those two Iranian warships that went through the Suez Canal in February docked at the Syrian port of Latakia, a long-sought Iranian penetration of the Mediterranean.
Yet here was the secretary of state covering for the Syrian dictator against his own opposition. And it doesn’t help that Clinton tried to walk it back two days later by saying she was simply quoting others. Rubbish. Of the myriad opinions of Assad, she chose to cite precisely one: reformer. That’s an endorsement, no matter how much she later pretends otherwise.
And it’s not just the words; it’s the policy behind them. This delicacy toward Assad is dismayingly reminiscent of President Obama’s response to the 2009 Iranian uprising during which he was scandalously reluctant to support the demonstrators, while repeatedly reaffirming the legitimacy of the brutal theocracy suppressing them.
Why? Because Obama wanted to remain “engaged” with the mullahs – so that he could talk them out of their nuclear weapons. We know how that went.
The same conceit animates his Syria policy – keep good relations with the regime so that Obama can sweet-talk it out of its alliance with Iran and sponsorship of Hizbullah.
Another abject failure. Syria has contemptuously rejected Obama’s blandishments – obsequious visits from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry and the return of the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since the killing of Hariri. Assad’s response? An even tighter and more ostentatious alliance with Hizbullah and Iran.
Our ambassador in Damascus should demand to meet the demonstrators and visit the wounded. If refused, he should be recalled to Washington. And rather than “deplore the crackdown,” as did Clinton in her walk-back, we should be denouncing it in forceful language and every available forum, including the U.N. Security Council.
No one is asking for a Libya-style rescue. Just simple truth-telling. If Kerry wants to make a fool of himself by continuing to insist that Assad is an agent of change, well, it’s a free country. But Clinton speaks for the nation.
“SO WHY DOESN’T WASHINGTON SAY SO?”
Shaking the house that Assad built
By Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
March 30, 2011
If the United States has good reason to support the popular revolt in Libya – and President Obama argued Monday night that there is “an important strategic interest in preventing [Moammar] Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him” – it has considerably more reason to do so in Syria. If it made sense to speed the departure of Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, accelerating the fall of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad should be an even higher priority. If North Africa was improved when the people of Tunisia threw off their dictator, the entire Arab world would be a healthier place if a Syrian uprising toppled Assad.
So why doesn’t Washington say so?
Of all the waves of protest to wash over the Middle East in recent months, none has come as a greater surprise – and none should be more welcome – than the turbulence in Syria. Forty years under the fearsome rule of the Assad clan were supposed to have crushed the Syrians’ will to resist. Though Bashar’s brutality has not yet exceeded that of his father – in 1982 Hafez al-Assad annihilated some 25,000 civilians in the city of Hama, then literally paved over their remains – his own reign has nevertheless been a horror-show of repression, torture, assassination, disappearances, and the near-total denial of civil and political liberties.
The result of all this was said to be a population too intimidated to make trouble. “Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt,” explained an article in Foreign Affairs this month, “the regime and its loyal forces have been able to deter all but the most resolute and fearless oppositional activists.” Consequently, the current upwelling of protest would “largely pass Syria by.”
That essay, “The Sturdy House That Assad Built,” appeared on March 7. Yet in the weeks since, thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets – from Daraa in the south to the Latakia on the Mediterranean, and even in Damascus and Aleppo – to cry out for freedom and reform. The dictator’s troops have killed scores of protesters – more than 150, according to some accounts. In the town of Sanamin, witnesses told Al Jazeera of seeing 20 peaceful demonstrators gunned down in under 15 minutes.
Far from stifling dissent, however, the regime’s thuggishness has only aroused more of it. On Facebook, an Arabic-language page titled “Syrian Revolution Against Bashar al-Assad” has drawn nearly 100,000 supporters. Yesterday, the Syrian cabinet resigned. The House That Assad Built may not be so sturdy after all.
At a moment like this, the Obama administration should be taking every reasonable step to encourage the Syrian uprising and undermine the regime. In his remarks on Libya the other night, the president cheered “the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa,” and promised (in words reminiscent of his predecessor) that “wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.”
If Obama is serious, why has there been no White House denunciation of the murder of protesters by Syrian security forces? Why haven’t U.S. officials publicly exhorted the Security Council and the Arab League to take as strong a stand against Assad as they did against Gaddafi? Why hasn’t the president ordered Ambassador Robert Ford, the new U.S. envoy to Syria, to demonstrate American solidarity with the demonstrators by traveling to Daraa, where dozens of them have been killed, and demanding an international investigation?
Bashar al-Assad can accurately be called many things, but “reformer” is not one of them.
Rather than intensify the pressure on a regime that is every bit as odious as Gaddafi’s, and that arguably has more American blood on its hands that any other government in the Arab world, the Obama administration is bending over backward to reassure Assad. On the Sunday talk shows, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually gave Assad her seal of approval. “Members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer,” she said. Reformer! Her characterization would be hilarious if it weren’t so sickeningly perverse.
Assad is no reformer. He is a totalitarian criminal and an enemy of the United States, and his downfall should be an explicit American aim. Surely we owe the tens of thousands of Syrians bravely confronting their vicious government at least the same encouragement we gave Mubarak’s opponents in Egypt. All Americans, from the White House down, should be cheering as Syria’s people shake the House That Assad Built. Nothing could be more salutary than to see that awful, bloodstained dungeon come tumbling down at last.
LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY
What should Asma al-Assad wear to the Syrian Revolution?
By Claudia Rosett
March 31, 2011
Long ago and far away, when the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos fell in the Philippines, the dictator’s wife, Imelda, became an object of global ridicule for her extravagant wardrobe – especially her shoes. She had 2,700 pairs of shoes . When the Marcoses fled Manila for refuge in Hawaii, in February of 1986, Imelda left her shoes. They ended up on display in Malacanang Palace, symbols of the excess with which dictators live the high life while beggaring their people.
Back then, I was working for a newspaper out of Hong Kong, and during a trip to Manila I paid a visit to the Imelda shoe display. It was indeed staggering for its profligacy, but what also made an impression was Imelda’s gaudy taste. An ex-beauty queen, she went for the frothy, flashy, and overdone. A lot of it was the kind of stuff that wouldn’t have passed muster in the salons of the world’s intellectual and cultured jet set. One of the trophy exhibits in the collection was a pair of light-up disco heels. Critics perusing the collection did not spend time praising her taste. They focused on the ruinous rule behind the extravagance.
Which brings us to Syria, where today’s first lady, Asma al-Assad, has also become famous for her shoes. Her style, however, is very different from Imelda’s. Asma is cosmopolitan, born and schooled in London, a study in understated yet costly elegance. She’s young, she’s slender and for her footwear she favors shoes by French designer Christian Louboutin. Asma and her shoes turned up in 2009 in a Huffington Post spread on “Our favorite Asma looks.” The shoes were demurely hinted at in last month’s Vogue profile on “Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert” – along with her simple necklace of Chanel agates, and her Louboutin silk handbag.
Plus, in at least four languages she’s capable of producing an endless stream of multicultural psychobabble about art, culture, politics, society, and her dedication to cultivating a sustainable future for Syrian youth. Look around on YouTube, and you can see her speaking in Paris , switching between English and French to discuss the role of the museum in the city; or tastefully dressed down for an outing in Syria among the common folk. On March 18, as Tom Gross revealed, she was the patroness and keynote speaker at a conference in Damascus of the Harvard Arab Alumni Association . And it would appear she has anonymous fans so devoted that they maintain and neatly update a Facebook page  for her, where someone has taken the trouble to ensure that the current carnage in Syria does not intrude on the posts – dedicated exclusively in recent days to such matters as water projects and honoring the mothers of Syria (though reality does seem to seeping in by way of some of the comments).
But please – given a choice between Imelda Marcos and Asma al-Assad, I’d take Imelda any day. Bad as it was, the Marcos dictatorship was a puny affair compared to the 40-year totalitarian depravities of Syria’s terror-sponsoring Assads. Asma al-Assad has chosen a form of excess that is all the more awful for masquerading as taste and class. It’s not simply the cost of those luxuriously simple outfits – though in Syria’s vat of repression and corruption, it’s worth asking where she thinks the money comes from for her Vogue lifestyle and well-clad patronage of all those common folk who live with none of the freedoms that would allow them to help themselves.
The real excess here is that of the Big Lie. This is the devil’s deal of providing a chic face for a regime of terror – the Syrian regime dolled up with fashion shoots, lectures in Paris, and a Facebook page. With her many languages, London education, continental travels, and modern tastes, does she ever go online to sift through the human rights reports on the atrocities and disappearances that are routine under her husband’s regime? Does she find it odd that in hallmark totalitarian style, Syrians are obliged to live among endless statues and pictures of her husband and his father? Did she find it peculiar that in 2007 her husband was “reelected” with an official 98% of the vote? Has she worked out a philosophy in which even the classiest of first ladies must sometimes put up with having a husband who butchers fellow citizens so that he and his family may continue enjoying his palace? As Syrians prepare for a Day of Rage on Friday, has Asma picked out just the right chunky Chanel necklace and pair of Louboutins for the occasion? What does a fashion-plate of the totalitarian world wear to the revolution?
 Of shoes: www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,961002,00.html
 In Paris: www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7bSsvnykG8&feature=related
 Harvard Arab Alumni Association: http://www.harvardarabalumni.org/ via www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches/archives/001176.html
 Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Asma-al-Assad/27123810587?sk=wall
“IT WAS ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS THAT PAUL SAW THE LIGHT AND CHANGED HIS WAYS”
A White House divided on Syria
By Michael Singh
Foreign Policy magazine
March 31, 2011
More so than the conflicts in Tunisia, Libya, and Bahrain, and perhaps even more than the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the recent violence in Syria has posed a challenge to the Obama administration’s strategy in the Middle East. The conflicting impulses within the administration can be seen in recent statements made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; days ago, she described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer”; in London on March 29, she issued a “strong condemnation of the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrators.” Which view of Assad prevails, and how the United States responds to events in Syria, will go a long way toward determining how deeply U.S. policy in the Middle East is altered by the recent turmoil there.
One of the key departures President Obama made from his predecessor’s policy in the Middle East was in his approach toward Syria. Rather than continuing to heap pressure on the Syrian regime, the Obama Administration returned to the policy of engaging Syria practiced by past administrations. The reasons behind this shift were manifold: the pressure policy was perceived as not working and engagement with hostile regimes broadly was seen as holding diplomatic promise.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Syria was seen as key to making progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace. Damascus not only hosted the headquarters of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and therefore in theory held leverage over these groups, but its own negotiations with Israel were essential to achieving the “comprehensive peace” that the administration sought.
After two years, this approach to Syria has borne no fruit. Syria has not increased its compliance with the IAEA investigation into its clandestine nuclear activities, decreased its cooperation with Iran and Hizbullah, or reduced its interference in Lebanon or increased its cooperation with the Hariri Tribunal. On the domestic front, far from being a reformer, Assad oversees a regime rated worse for political rights than was Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. And there has been no progress on the Syrian-Israeli track, nor has Syria played a role in the frozen Israeli-Palestinian talks (though granted, those talks have faltered for reasons quite independent of Syrian policies).
But the current US policy toward Syria has not only been unsuccessful in its outcomes -- it was flawed in its conception. US interests and values demand that we support freedom and sovereignty for Palestinians; those same values, however, preclude us from trading the liberty of the Syrian and Lebanese people for Palestinian statehood. Likewise, there is little reason to believe that Bashar al-Assad is truly interested in a Syrian-Israeli peace; Syria’s state of war with Israel provides his justification for permanent “emergency laws,” and the relations with Iran and Hizbullah which he would need to sacrifice to make a deal profit his regime greatly. We may foresee a peace dividend, but Assad uses a different accounting.
There are signs that some within the Obama administration recognize the need to change course on Syria. An unnamed U.S. official told the New York Times on March 26 that “Whatever credibility the [Syrian] government had, they shot it today -- literally... it’s definitely in our interest to pursue an agreement, but you can’t do it with a government that has no credibility with its population.” Some will argue that the problem is not Assad, but his father’s “old guard” which surrounds him. But Assad’s own statements and policies belie such wishful thinking.
Courting Assad in pursuit of regional goals while neglecting what happens inside Syria is not realpolitik; it may satisfy the politik by smoothing bilateral relations, but it falls short on the real by underemphasizing the impact of political and economic stagnation in the region for US interests. A more creative, less one-dimensional, and more promising approach is needed, which should include reinvigorated economic and political pressure using sanctions and support for Syrian democracy activists. The Assad regime is economically vulnerable -- it lacks its neighbors’ natural resources, and there are signs that previous rounds of economic pressure were beginning to stress the regime. It is also politically vulnerable, with a restive population, the urge for reform sweeping the region, and the loss of a Western ally in France, whose foreign minister Alain Juppe recently signaled a major change in French policy toward Syria. In his speech Monday night regarding Libya, President Obama said that “wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.” He can follow through on this pledge by galvanizing an international coalition to exert pressure on the Assad regime.
One can’t help but see shades of St. Paul in the Obama Administration’s struggle to decide on its approach toward Assad. It was on the road to Damascus that Paul saw the light and changed his ways; perhaps it will be on the diplomatic road to Damascus that President Obama realizes the need to reorient US policy toward Syria and the region beyond.