Hope dies last in Damascus

Last month, as Syrian security forces were shooting demonstrators in the streets, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a modest defense of President Bashar al-Assad, noting that "many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer." Clinton would probably like ...

Traub-James-foreign-policy-columnist17
Traub-James-foreign-policy-columnist17
James Traub
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and nonresident fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

Last month, as Syrian security forces were shooting demonstrators in the streets, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a modest defense of President Bashar al-Assad, noting that "many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer." Clinton would probably like to have that one back -- first, because she was shanghaing innocent legislators into defending a controversial White House policy, and second, because she was putting "Assad" and "reformer" in the same sentence.

But Clinton was hardly alone in ascribing the best of intentions to the Syrian dictator. Earlier this week, British Foreign Minister William Hague took note of several speeches in which Assad made vague and windy promises, and declared, "It is not too late for him to say he really is going to do those reforms." Not too late? Do we need any further clarity about Assad's designs?

Read more.

Last month, as Syrian security forces were shooting demonstrators in the streets, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a modest defense of President Bashar al-Assad, noting that "many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer." Clinton would probably like to have that one back — first, because she was shanghaing innocent legislators into defending a controversial White House policy, and second, because she was putting "Assad" and "reformer" in the same sentence.

But Clinton was hardly alone in ascribing the best of intentions to the Syrian dictator. Earlier this week, British Foreign Minister William Hague took note of several speeches in which Assad made vague and windy promises, and declared, "It is not too late for him to say he really is going to do those reforms." Not too late? Do we need any further clarity about Assad’s designs?

Read more.

James Traub is a columnist at Foreign Policy, nonresident fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, and author of the book What Was Liberalism? The Past, Present and Promise of A Noble Idea. Twitter: @jamestraub1

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