As Syrian crisis deepens, Obama cites ‘Captive Nations’ week

As critics accuse President Obama of a weak response to the political and humanitarian crisis in Syria, the president quietly signed an order Monday proclaiming “Captive Nations Week.”

“As individuals rise to demand their universal rights, the United States stands with them in pursuit of equality, justice, and freedom,” the president declared in the order. “And as long as there are people who live in the darkness of oppression, America will remain their steadfast friend, linked by a common dream and our common ideals.”

The proclamation, which presidents have signed routinely since Dwight Eisenhower began the practice during the Cold War in 1959, makes no mention of Syria, where forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have killed nearly 15,000 civilians in 16 months of open revolt against the regime.

Douglas Feith, a former undersecretary of defense in the administration of President George W. Bush, said Mr. Obama is behaving too timidly in the Syrian crisis.

“The Obama administration has neither promoted humanitarian ‘safe zones’ on Syria’s Turkish border, nor provided arms to the rebels,” Mr. Feith wrote Monday in the Wall Street Journal. “It has not helped establish a no-fly zone, nor has it supported NATO military strikes against Assad’s forces.”

Russia on Monday accused the West of essentially trying to use blackmail to secure a new U.N. Security Council resolution that could allow the use of force in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the Kremlin has no intention of supporting the British proposal to enact U.N. sanctions to resolve the crisis.

The U.S. has consistently supported sanctions, which the Obama administration has stepped up as the crisis has deepened. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also worked with the U.N. Security Council and U.N. envoy Kofi Annan on a June 30 accord calling on Syrians to come up with a political transition.

A mandate for a U.N. observer force expires on July 20, and Mr. Lavrov accused the West of using the deadline as a bargaining chip.

“To our great regret, there are elements of blackmail,” Mr. Lavrov said. “We are being told that if you do not agree to passing the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, then we shall refuse to extend the mandate of the monitoring mission.”

Mr. Feith said the president is ceding U.S. sovereignty to the United Nations in the debate.

“By refusing to act on Syria, the president is missing an opportunity to advance U.S. security interests in the Middle East, while benefiting Iran, the principal sponsor of the Assad regime,” Mr. Feith said. “And by suggesting that America lacks international legal authority to act, he is undermining U.S. sovereignty.”

In “Captive Nations” proclamation, Mr. Obama said America “renews our abiding ties to all peoples who struggle to claim their inalienable rights.”

“As strongly as my administration condemns tyranny, we embrace emerging democracies and welcome the chance to work with those who seek to restore their people’s liberty,” the president said. “With our partners in the international community, we will continue striving to advance human rights, grow prosperity, and meet mutual challenges with global solutions.”

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