Will Europe Break from Its Pro-Assad Course?

by Benjamin Weinthal

Berlin — Syrian president Bashar Assad’s ongoing destruction of the country’s pro-democracy movement has catapulted Europe into the spotlight, since the EU has unique financial leverage over Syria’s regime. The EU is Syria’s second-largest trade partner.

But the EU still adheres to the myth that Assad can be turned into a reformer with some doses of behavioral therapy. (One of the more alarming developments over the last few years has been the EU’s adoption of the U.S.’s foreign policy toward Syria, e.g.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton terming Assad a “reformer.”) According to the Guardian, “For all the talk of sanctions, the emphasis in Europe was still on offering Damascus an opportunity to change its behaviour.”

Last year, Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said during his visit with Assad that Syria is indispensable for a “constructive solution” in the Mideast. Westerwelle, like his counterparts in the EU, was largely fixated on Syria’s contribution to the Israel-Palestinian peace process, rather than the fulfillment of democracy in Syria itself. As to his reasons for not traveling with his gay partner to Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries last year, Westerwelle gave this explanation: “We want to encourage the idea of tolerance around the world but we don’t want to achieve the opposite either, by acting imprudently.” And the German Foreign Ministry’s main think-tank adviser ,Volker Perthes, described Assad in a March New York Times opinion piece as a “modernizer.” Syria’s democracy movement should not expect too much from Germany.

A resident of Dara’a summed up the absurdity of the EU and U.S. position succinctly: “Let Obama come and take Syria. Let Israel come and take Syria. Let the Jews come. Anything is better than Bashar Assad.”

The late Sidney Hook — arguably the greatest American social and political philosopher — defined freedom as a “fighting word” and believed that “man’s vocation should be the use of the arts of intelligence in behalf of human freedom.” Hook’s intellectual output contributed enormously to debunking Soviet-style totalitarian Communism, which was viewed by many delusional Western liberals and leftists to be the fulfillment of democracy. It’s part of why President Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It seems highly likely that had Hook lived to see the fight for democracy in totalitarian Syria — the Mideast bastion of former Soviet aid and current Iranian military patronage — he’d be penning essays and organizing conferences calling for support of the Syrian freedom movement. Hook never dithered or wavered over confronting fiercely anti-democratic regimes.

“If there is any ethical injunction valid for all periods, it is awareness in action,” commented the late Jeane J. Kirkpatrick on Hook’s philosophy. Sadly, the Obama administration and the EU posture toward Syria’s democrats is largely wallowing in non-action.

There is, however, a blueprint for the U.S. and Europe. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is filling Hook’s philosophy with contemporary content and meaning. She plans to introduce legislation to enhance the Syria Accountability and Liberation Act and implement U.S. sanctions, as well promote democracy in Syria.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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