- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SYRIA POLICY ‘NAIVETE’

A potential Republican presidential candidate complained this week about the “naivete” of the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria and urged the White House to recall the U.S. ambassador from Damascus.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also criticized Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for implying that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has been a “reformer.”

Mrs. Clinton is “either ignorant or frighteningly misguided,” he told conservative radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt on Monday.

Mr. Pawlenty also denounced the administration for considering Mr. Assad a partner for peace in the Middle East.

“I think that’s a complete crock, and it shows the naivete of the Obama administration,” he said.

Mr. Pawlenty, considered one of the top Republicans eyeing a 2012 challenge to President Obama, said the White House bestowed U.S. legitimacy on the Assad regime by restoring full diplomatic relations with Syria with the appointment of Robert Ford, a career Foreign Service officer, as ambassador.

“Recall the ambassador,” Mr. Pawlenty said.

Former President George W. Bush withdrew Ambassador Margaret Scobey from Damascus in 2005 to protest suspected Syrian links to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Bashar Assad is a dictator,” Mr. Pawlenty said, according to a transcript of the radio interview released Tuesday. “He’s also a killer, and we have an individual there who many people in the United States have been duped into thinking of as a reformer.”

On Sunday, Mrs. Clinton tried to explained why Mr. Obama launched an air war against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya but has only expressed criticism of Mr. Assad’s crackdown on widespread anti-government protesters that has left at least 60 dead since demonstrations broke out March 18.

“There is a different leader in Syria now,” Mrs. Clinton said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” referring to Mr. Assad. “Many members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

She called Mr. Assad’s repression of dissent “deeply concerning.”

Mr. Pawlenty, who said he supported the U.S. intervention in Libya, insisted that the United States has stronger interests in Syria, which supports anti-American and anti-Israeli terrorists.

“Here, you have a country that enabled and accommodated people to go into Iraq and kill American soldiers,” he said.

“They housed Hamas [terrorists] … and the list goes on and on about the problems that Syria and specifically, Bashar Assad, has caused the region and the world, and the United States of America.”

TOPPLING TYRANTS

The Iraqi ambassador is encouraged by the uprisings in the Arab world and thinks his country’s transition to democracy “might have inspired” some of the anti-government demonstrators.

“Iraq might have inspired some and might have deterred some,” Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie said on a visit to Vermont this week.

He was referring to the initial “turmoil and chaos” after the United States ousted dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. A U.S.-led coalition government eventually brought order, and power later was transferred to an elected Iraqi government.

“When it is the people themselves, it is a different issue, and we see now people are encouraged in the Arab countries to move against their tyrants,” he said at St. Michael’s College in Colchester. “I think that is very encouraging.”

Mr. Sumaida’ie also thanked the Vermont National Guard for its service in Iraq. He was due to address the state General Assembly on Tuesday.

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