The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Syria Update: Obama’s Caution on Intervention Criticized

by Newsteam Staff
May 30, 2012

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Talbiseh, near Homs, May 25, 2012 (Shaam News Network/Courtesy Reuters). Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Talbiseh, near Homs, May 25, 2012 (Shaam News Network/Courtesy Reuters).


Violence in Syria is back in the campaign spotlight as President Barack Obama faces tough criticism from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney over his handling of the escalating situation.

In the latest sign the conflict is spinning out of control, more than one hundred civilians in the central village of Houla have been allegedly executed by government forces (Reuters), many of them children. Romney, who has long been in favor of arming the Syrian rebels, called the attack “horrific” in a press release, saying President Obama has waited too long to move against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

“After nearly a year and a half of slaughter, it is far past time for the United States to begin to lead and put an end to the Assad regime,” Romney said. “President Obama can no longer ignore calls from congressional leaders in both parties to take more assertive steps. The Annan ‘peace’ plan—which President Obama still supports—has merely granted the Assad regime more time to execute its military onslaught. The United States should work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves.”

Obama pledged non-lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels last month and has repeatedly called for Assad to step down. In response to Romney’s statement, the White House rejected arming Syrian insurgents, saying it would lead to more “chaos and carnage,” according the Hill’s Defcon blog. Still, news reports from last week suggest that the United States has been involved in coordinating arms shipments to the opposition (WashPost).

In addition to Romney, Obama faces criticism from a number of conservative analysts, including CFR’s Elliott Abrams (NRO) and John Bolton (WSJ) who blame his caution on the election.

AFP says the Syrian massacre revives questions about the Obama doctrine, asking if intervention in Libya was warranted, why not Syria. Yet, Libya had significant international backing and Obama has said he would not unilaterally intervene. So far the international community, facing opposition from China and Russia, has deadlocked on action beyond the Annan plan.

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates on Democracy Promotion in the Arab World.

Suggested Other Reading:

In March, Kofi Annan, joint special envoy for the UN and the Arab League, drew up a six-point peace plan for Syria that was accepted by the government but has not resulted in a ceasefire as intended.

At Foreign Policy, James Traub says the time has come for the world to “stop hiding behind Kofi Annan’s skirts ” and accept that diplomacy has failed.

The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall explains how a diplomatic shift from the new Vladimir Putin government figure into the Syrian crisis.

At al-Jazeera, Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis researcher, says inaction from the rest of the world has emboldened the perpetrators of violence in Syria.

Contributing Editor Gayle S. Putrich and Senior Editor Toni Johnson

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