Administration looks for stable enemy in Syria?

SOCHI. With President of Syria Bashar al-Assad.Image via Wikipedia
NY Times:

...

... with the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown intensifying on Friday, President Obama has not demanded that President Bashar al-Assad resign, and he has not considered military action. Instead, on Friday, the White House took a step that most experts agree will have a modest impact: announcing focused sanctions against three senior officials, including a brother and a cousin of Mr. Assad.

The divergent American responses illustrate the starkly different calculations the United States faces in these countries. For all the parallels to Libya, Mr. Assad is much less isolated internationally than the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. He commands a more capable army, which experts say is unlikely to turn on him, as the military in Egypt did on President Hosni Mubarak. And the ripple effects of Mr. Assad’s ouster would be both wider and more unpredictable than in the case of Colonel Qaddafi.

“Syria is important in a way that Libya is not,” said Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “There is no central U.S. interest engaged in Libya. But a greatly destabilized Syria has implications for Iraq, it has implications for Lebanon, it has implications for Israel.”

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Human rights groups are even more cautious. “If Obama were to call for Assad to go, I don’t think it would change things on the ground in any way, shape or form,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, which had supported military action in Libya. In this case, he said, sanctions were the right move.

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Notice that Cook does not mention Iran which would lose its main ally and its conduit to arm groups opposed to Israel. While Stork is correct about the effect of Obama's call for the resignation of Assad, the reason is that Qaddafi has called his bluff and Assad is not going to pay anymore attention to Obama than any of our other enemies at the moment. He knows that Obama has no stick he is willing to use, beyond the verbal.

Syria is the culmination of the muddle of Obama's Middle East response to hope and change in the Muslim world.
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