Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Reform Just a Watchword in This Administration

Yet Turkey, the U.S., and others still seem to hope Assad will come around

Print Email
Latakia, Syria, being shelled yesterday.(Reuters/NYT)

Turkey, Syria’s neighbor and prime conduit to the West, issued its strongest condemnation of President Assad’s deadly, months-long crackdown yesterday. But Turkey’s foreign minister pointedly failed to call on Assad to step down, saying only, “This is our final word to the Syrian authorities: Our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally. If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken.” Nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken … except what those steps would be. Witness brave reporter Anthony Shadid struggle with newsroom conventions, writing that these words “were the latest addition to a semantic exercise in diplomatic ambiguity.”

In fact, though, it is likely not mere semantics; rather, elements of Prime Minister Erdogan’s government probably still believe Assad is a reformer. A U.S. diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks revealed that, several years ago, such was the Turkish administration’s thinking: “the Turkish Embassy in Damascus views Assad as trying to reform Syria, especially economically, against an older generation of Baathists,” it reported. “The Embassy views Assad’s control as fragile; too delicate, added [an adviser], to enable him to engage in political reform.” Sucks to be him, I guess.

And yet isn’t this what the United States thinks, too—that there is yet the possibility of refom? Isn’t that why the Obama administration sent Ambassador Robert Ford back even after the regime threatened its embassy and laid waste to Hama, where Ford had visited? (Here is an incredible report from that sorry city.) Isn’t that why President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron yet again called on Assad over the weekend to end the violence but not necessarily to step down? This as Syria sent its navy to shell—shell—its main port city? Thousands of civilians have been reported killed, thousands more disappeared; the United Nations says privately that military officers have ordered the execution of soldiers who disobey orders to fire on civilians.

In the HBO series The Wire, a corrupt mayor running for re-election repeatedly swears, “Reform is not just a watchword in my administration.” Yesterday, Syria confiscated the cellphones and ID cards of thousands of residents of that port city, Latakia, and forced them into a stadium, for God only imagines what purpose. Syria is not even pretending to reform anymore. So why do we still go along with the conceit?

Turkey Warns Syria to Stop Crackdown [NYT]
Turkish PM Erdogan’s Visit to Syria [WikiLeaks]
Hama’s Ghosts [New Yorker News Desk]
Obama, Other Leaders Again Tell Syria to End ‘Brutal Campaign’ [LAT]
U.N. Report Cites Reports of Syrian Army Killing Defectors [Turtle Bay]
Related: Mad Men [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: U.S. Re-Upping Syrian Ambassador

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

George One says:

I’ve always said the Arab nations’ worst enemies are their own leaders.

not to worry…as the killing continues, they will issue a SUPER DUPER strong condemnation to replace the one they released every month for the last 4 months…


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Reform Just a Watchword in This Administration

Yet Turkey, the U.S., and others still seem to hope Assad will come around

More on Tablet:

A Tale of Three Twitter Feeds: Hamas Tweets in Arabic, English, and Hebrew

By Aaron Magid — Analysis of the social-media messaging of Hamas’ military wing reveals distinct voices for the West, the Arab Middle East, and Israel