The Enormous Gap Between American Rhetoric and Action on Syria


A careful study of the rhetoric emanating from the Obama Administration on the subject of Bashar al-Assad's brutalization of his people shows a distressing gap -- a yawning gap, a chasm, even -- between what the Administration says and what it does. What it does is not much. There are plenty of excellent reasons, of course, why the U.S. should not want to involve its own forces in the conflict, but there's a great deal the U.S. could do short of direct military intervention to help speed the downfall of the regime. The regime's end would have an obvious humanitarian impact, and it would also be of strategic use to the U.S. But American sanctions have been comparatively weak, and there is hardly any attempt to create safe zones, or to help Syrian opposition forces organize.

In my Bloomberg View column this week, I look at the U.S. campaign against Bashar, which is mainly waged through the deployment of very strong adjectives and adverbs. The words the Administration uses to describe Bashar's crimes are appropriate, but they long ago began to ring hollow:

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, became a point person in deploying the full might of the American thesaurus. On Nov. 28, Rice accused Assad of perpetrating "outrageous and now well-documented atrocities," and noted that the "patience" of the international community had "evaporated." On Feb. 7, she reported Assad was now "off the reservation."

On Feb. 9, Rice said the world was "horrified to watch the violence" in Syria. On Feb. 23, she said the Syrian government "has accelerated the killing of its people," and the violence "has continued unabated for nearly a year at a breathtaking scale." On April 2, she spoke of Assad's "massive intensification of violence." She also said she expected the Syrian government would implement a UN-negotiated cease-fire "without any conditions or codicils." (The word "codicil" is known to strike fear in the hearts of dictators.)

Rice later said "a moment of truth" was coming up "very soon." It is hard to imagine the Assad regime can take such punishment much longer.

You can read the rest of it here.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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