Voice

The kind of world Secretary Clinton wants to see

America's Secretary of State gave a stunning interview this week, in which she defended the Obama administration's foreign policy choices and claimed that soft power was working to reshape America's image in the world.  It was a deeply discouraging insight into the philosophy that guides the administration.  When challenged about the administration's responses to the Arab spring, Clinton said:

"This is exactly the kind of world that I want to see, where it's not just the United States and everybody is standing on the sidelines while we bear the cost, while we bear the sacrifice, while our men and women, you know, lay down their lives for universal values...look, we are, by all measurements, the strongest leader in the world, and we are leading."

Clinton is right that the United States has allowed responsibilities to accrue to us that many states benefit from, and that a more evenly distributed burden sharing arrangement would be preferable. But she seems not to understand that shoving the work off onto others and diffidently watching their struggles is not only failing to lead and disappointing the hopes of millions who consider us an ally and a champion of liberty, it is also ushering in a more dangerous international order, and one in which U.S. power will be diminished.

The soft power Clinton so adamantly believes is advancing America's cause in the world has always been hugely enhanced by the view that whatever our national failings, we stand for freedom and believe ourselves safest when other people also live in freedom. The Obama administration has squandered a fair amount of that capital by its wavering reaction to protest movements in the middle east and its unwavering commitment to exits rather than strategies in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.

When pressed on whether the administration should demand that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad step down, Clinton replied: "where we are is where we need to be, where it is a growing international chorus of condemnation...I am a big believer in results over rhetoric." But what are the results of our Syria policy? Is what is happening in Syria really the outcome we should want?

The Obama administration is more concerned about an amorphous "international chorus" than they are about the attitudes of the people working to overthrow repressive governments, and that is a major shift in American foreign policy. Secretary Clinton's claims notwithstanding, it is showing negative results. For if American soft power were working, wouldn't attitudes toward the United States be improving? Favorability ratings -- especially in the Middle East and South Asia -- have actually declined from where they were during the Bush administration. Wouldn't governments be more inclined to support our policies? Crucial test cases should be Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq -- all of which are less cooperative with the Obama administration than they were with the Bush administration.

The secretary of State unreflectively made the statement that it mattered more what Turkey and Saudi Arabia said about Syrian repression than the United States. "If other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it," was Clinton's justification for doing so little. That's quite a breathtaking world view for the chief diplomat of the world's most powerful country. We are unimportant in the global debate about freedom and governance, but Saudi Arabia and Turkey have standing.

On one issue Secretary Clinton was unmistakeably correct: "it's not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go." Yesterday, the White House finally issued a statement that Assad should go. And it appears to have exactly the impact Secretary Clinton anticipated: nothing. But doesn't that refute her assertions that soft power and the Obama administration's approach are working?

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Time to boot the Syrian envoy from Washington

The prevailing debate over whether or not the U.S. Senate should confirm Robert Ford as the U.S. ambassador to Syria raises many interesting points, as highlighted by the likes of Elliott Abrams, Mike Singh, and Senator Joseph Lieberman, among others. Elliott lays out some specific criteria that should be explored, specifically to what extent if confirmed Ambassador Ford would be able to continue his efforts to support the Syrian opposition. Senator Lieberman articulates why he now supports the Senate confirmation of Ambassador Ford, following Ford's courageous outreach to the residents of Hama. And Mike succinctly describes the diplomatic dynamics that Ford's presence or withdrawal would help shape, while coming down on the side of withdrawal.

But on a related point of diplomatic representation, there should be no debate: the Obama administration should immediately expel Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha. For maximum effect, the administration should urge allies such as the United Kingdom and France to do the same with the Syrian ambassadors to their respective countries.

This story from today's Wall Street Journal describes in exhaustive and chilling detail what has been reported anecdotally for the past few months: how the Syrian embassies in free countries have been targeting Syrian dissidents for surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and worse. And how this campaign has been coordinated with the Assad regime's heinous oppression of the protest movement within Syria. Ambassador Moustapha and his cohort have been among the most egregious offenders in the US.

Much of the debate over whether or not the United States should maintain an ambassador in Damascus, or call outright for Assad to step down, has centered on the value and efficacy of "symbolic" gestures such as calling an ambassador home or demanding that a dictator cede power. But in the case of Ambassador Moustapha and his thugs, the issue is as much substantive than symbolic - expelling him from the United States would remove one of the Assad regime's primary means for stifling dissent abroad. And it would also free the Syrian diaspora to be even more vigorous in its support for its fellow dissidents and protestors in Syria.

Mindful of this, the State Department has already confined Ambassador Moustapha to a 25-mile radius around Washington DC. But there is little to be lost, and much to be gained, from expelling him outright. Any of his staff members who are suspected of targeting Syrian dissidents should also be sent packing with him.

Of course, if the Obama administration expels Moustapha, then it is more likely than not that the Assad gangsters will reciprocate in kind by not accepting the appointment of Ambassador Ford in Damascus. So be it - especially since in that case the diplomatic burden will be on the Assad regime for rejecting him.

The Obama Administration has repeated incessantly its refrain that the Assad regime has lost its "legitimacy" to rule in Damascus. If so - and of course it is so - then Ambassador Moustapha has certainly lost his legitimacy to represent that odious regime in Washington.