U.S. Silence On Syria Is Deafening

The script for weekends in Syria has become tragically predictable. So has the extent of global apathy.

In fact, the motto for last Friday’s protests was “Your Silence is Killing Us.” Organizers used the motto to encourage more Syrians to join the growing masses, tens of thousands who come out every week to publicly call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

And the violence in Syria just continues to grow. Monday, as Fox News.com reported: “Syrian troops kept up attacks on the restive city of Hama … a day after a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters killed at least 70 and drew harsh rebukes from the U.S. and Europe. Sunday was one of the bloodiest days since the uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule began in mid-March. Six Syrian rights groups said in a joint statement that 74 people were killed throughout the country, 55 of them from Hama and neighboring villages."

What conclusions can we draw from this tragic news? Clearly, this regime now knows the United States will do virtually nothing to stop its attacks on its own people.

The near global silence on Syria, of course, contrasts markedly with how the Arab League, U.N. Security Council, as well as NATO, came together on Libya out of urgent concern for Libyans threatened with certain death by Qaddafi’s forces.

While the Libya saga is far from resolved, most of the world has given Assad a free pass, though he has proven no less determined than Qaddafi to use brutal violence to clampdown on any opposition.

Once again it falls to Washington to project leadership. The White House must be more assertive. It must start with calling unequivocally for an end to the Assad family’s tyranny.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent statements that Assad “is not indispensable” or that his regime “has lost its legitimacy” are too mild.

The Assad regime lost its legitimacy months ago, starting with the detention of youngsters in Daraa in March, a grotesque incident of repression that ignited the weekly protests against the Assad regime.

Clinton should recall U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford to Washington now. His appointment by President Obama in January was premature. And, it was done hastily -- a presidential recess appointment to avoid congressional opposition to filling the post left vacant since the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

The recent assault on the U.S. Embassy in Syria, organized by the Assad regime, followed by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem’s threat to the American ambassador to not visit any cities outside Damascus, after he journeyed to besieged Hama several weeks ago, are provocations that should evoke stronger responses from Washington.

Now that Assad has added the U.S. to his regime’s targets, President Obama should state in the clearest possible way that it’s time for Assad to leave, and then assertively press other U.N. Security Council members to follow suit. When the council meets in emergency session later today, behind closed doors, the U.S. must directly tell Russia and China, as well as Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa -- the council members that so far have blocked any actions that this international collective silence is enabling the Assad regime killers.

Tragically, nearly 100 more citizens were needlessly gunned down over the weekend across Syria. The predictable weekly cycle in Syria continues. But global silence need not. The courageous Syrian protestors must hear that their efforts are not in vain, that there is concern for human rights and political reform in Syria, and that the Syrian people are not forgotten.

Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.