The Washington Post Editorial
THE ARAB LEAGUE has become the latest international actor to be humiliated by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. On Nov. 2 the organization of 22 states announced that it had obtained Mr. Assad’s commitment to a series of steps to end the violence in his country, including withdrawing tanks and troops from cities, releasing political prisoners, admitting Arab observers and foreign journalists, and opening a dialogue with the opposition. As we, among others, predicted, none of this has happened.
In fact Mr. Assad has once again escalated attacks on the civilian population. On Thursday, 30 people were reported killed across the country, including an infant and five other children. On Friday. 20 more people died, according to news reports. Human Rights Watch reported Friday that since the Arab League deal, at least 104 people had been killed in the city of Homs alone, including a dozen who were tortured to death. No tanks or troops have been withdrawn; no journalists have been admitted to Syria; no prisoners have been released.
At an emergency meeting Saturday in Cairo, the Arab League will consider its response. Human rights groups and Western governments are pushing it to take steps, such as suspending Syria’s membership or referring Damascus to the United Nations Security Council for sanctions. But even such modest steps will be opposed by countries such as Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan and Algeria. It’s hard to bet against the league’s well-earned reputation for fecklessness.
Even if there is a pleasant surprise from Cairo, the question will remain: What can be done to stop the slaughter? According to the United Nations, more than 3,500 people have now died in Syria; the country is sliding toward a civil war that could kill many thousands, and destabilize the region around it — which includes Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Israel.
The United States and its allies, no less than the Arab League, have yet to formulate a convincing answer. But we were encouraged by the congressional testimony Wednesday of Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman. Mr. Feltman started by correctly describing “the mafia-like Assad clique that has hijacked the Syrian state.” He, also correctly, observed that Mr. Assad’s “deliberate and bloody strategy” is “channelling peaceful protest into armed insurrection,” and urged the opposition to remain peaceful.
While saying that “Syria is not Libya,” Mr. Feltman laid out a U.S. policy aimed at protecting Syrian civilians, removing Mr. Assad from power and promoting a transition to democracy. To accomplish this, he said the United States would push for international observers, who could deter violence; seek more economic sanctions, with the aim of “financially strangling” the regime; and support the opposition in its efforts to develop a platform attractive across Syrian society.
This was, at least, a clear and forceful U.S. statement, which included the following words: “We will work with the Syrian people and our international partners to do what we must to ensure that Assad and his regime are prevented from murdering Syrian citizens and tearing the Syrian state apart.” If promoting sanctions and international observers isn’t sufficient to fulfill that pledge, the Obama administration will be obliged to undertake stronger measures.