As anticipated, the U.S. demanded today that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down for continuing his bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Germany, France, and Britain followed suit shortly thereafter. In a statement, President Obama declared that Assad's "calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people." Both the E.U. and the U.S. slapped new sanctions on the Syrian regime as well, with Obama signing an executive order freezing government assets in the U.S. and banning Syrian petroleum imports.
The words and actions seem tougher than they have been in the past. But given that previous rounds of sanctions, talk of Assad losing his "legitimacy," and a U.N. Security Council rebuke have yet to deter the Syrian regime from launching military offensives on restive cities, should we expect today's measures to meaningfully alter the trajectory of the five-month-old uprising? To be sure, today's announcements mark the first time that the U.S. and its European allies have explicitly called for Assad to relinquish power. And, as the AP noted last week, the call signals that the Obama administration has finally given up not only on Assad as a reformer but on its earlier effort to engage Syria diplomatically despite tensions arising from Syria's close ties to Iran and Shiite militants in Lebanon. The move also comes amid mounting international pressure on the Syrian regime. On Thursday, a U.N. investigative team announced that 50 Syrian officials may have committed crimes against humanity and recommended that the Security Council consider referring these regime figures to the International Criminal Court when the decision-making body meets today in New York. A Washington Post editorial yesterday claimed that America saying Assad must go will lend much-needed moral support to the Syrian protesters and "reaffirm that America's claim to a world leadership role is different from, say, China's--that it is based in part on values and not just on self-interest."