What's a Great Power to do?
Syrian mobs loyal to President Bashar Assad attacked the U.S. and French embassies earlier today in Damascus, at the urging of pro-regime radio, with the evident collusion of Syrian police, and by the calculated strategy of Assad himself. This same tool was used by his father, the late President Hafez Assad.
The casus belli was the recent, principled visit by both ambassadors to Hama, amid a brutal crackdown against brave democracy demonstrators, nearly 30 years after Assad Senior slaughtered upwards of 10,000 civilians in the same city.
Assad takes advantage of the fact that the West has few remaining sticks left against him, short of a costly and complicated invasion scenario. We also have an abiding self-interest in the continuation of his late father's despotic dynasty or at least in an orderly and legitimate transition toward democracy - as do the Israelis. To some extent, Assad has called the West's bluff. With all the emphasis on democratic change around the Middle East and Africa these days, the United States has no option but to at least talk the talk. But when it comes to Syria, U.S. policymakers are loath to do much more than protest and punish -- regime change, especially with Iran covering the exits on both sides, is not something we're willing to contemplate.
The strike on the French Embassy also serves as a reminder to all, within Syria and across Europe and the Atlantic, that Syrian grievances extend beyond the perceived sins of America, and that Assad's best claim to power is the self-fulfilling and contradictory ethos of Syrian exceptionalism, regional domination, and international isolation. But, as they like to say in Washington, "make no mistake"-- the Assads have always been ruthless, and the West has always tried to look the other way. The non-lethal attacks on embassies are neither the first nor the last straw. But a fellow can still wish, can't he?