Bashar al-Assad’s speech today, promising reforms and evincing paranoia, has done little to quell the three-month-old uprising against him and his regime. “Liar, liar,” opposition forces chanted in Lattakia.
Both inside and outside Syria, some think it’s too late for Assad. French foreign minister Alain Juppe says Assad has reached "a point of no return." Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak says that Assad is on his way out within six months. The Syrian president, Barak told the AP, “ended up using too much brutal force, too many graves have been dug and he lost practically his legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people… He probably will stay around for another quarter or two but that will not change his fate.”
This is something of an about-face for Barak, who as prime minister sought a peace treaty with the Assad regime. Even out of office, Barak was among the most vocal to claim that peace was attainable in exchange for Israel returning the Golan Heights. If Barak’s current assessment is correct, it’s fortunate he failed—Syria would have wound up with a piece of land while Israel would have been stuck with a promise, susceptible to a change in mood.
Perhaps an even more significant defection from the ‘let’s engage Damascus’ camp is former State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley. Last week, Crowley tweeted that “It's odd that #Obama thinks @RepWeiner should resign, but not #Assad. Sending lewd tweets violates public service, but not killing people?” Now Crowley follows up with an op-ed in the Washington Post, counseling Obama to declare Assad’s rule illegitimate, just like he did with Qaddafi. It is time, writes Crowley, “to get off the fence and on the right side of history.”
But don’t look for the administration to step up anytime soon, for it seems to think Assad is still capable of cleaning up his act. As Crowley’s former boss Hillary Clinton told a reporter in Africa, "Trying with the Syrian government to get them to stop is the best way to go forward."