As Syria suffers from a third month of violent crackdown by the authorities, the gap between President Assad’s 40-year regime and the U.S. government continues to grow. Today, Assad delivered his first address in two months, calling civilian dissidents “saboteurs”; meanwhile, in the face of such obstinacy, the Obama Administration is scrambling for ways to alleviate the strife in Syria. A new idea on the table: charge President Assad with war crimes.
The New York Times reports that administration officials are investigating the possibility of seeking international legal action against Assad and/or his security forces. It is possible that the administration is also looking into enforcing economic sanctions against the Middle Eastern country, reportedly involving “the oil and gas sectors.”
The likelihood of these actions being executed may be greater in the aftermath of Assad’s highly-anticipated address. Rhetorically, Assad did seem relatively open to initiating change and discourse “in which all different parties in the Syrian arena [would] participate.” He acknowledged the bloodshed and pledged to “hunt down” those responsible. He asked refugees on the Turkish border to come back to their homeland, promising that the state would not “exact revenge.”
However, Assad continued to blame insurgents for the violence. Furthermore, he pledged no far-reaching reforms, and therefore his promises to enact change seemed vague and empty. He described the protesters in Syria as “germs” infecting Syrian society, warned against instability, and asserted that maintaining a strong economy was paramount. In these respects, the speech was clearly designed to consolidate his own power.
The domestic reaction was, in short, dissatisfaction and distrust. Less than an hour after his speech was given, protests erupted in and around Damascus, denouncing the lack of substantive reforms and calling for Assad to step down.
While it remains to be seen whether Assad or his military could in fact be charged with war crimes, the speech and its reactions will likely intensify international pressure against the Syrian president.