US President Barack Obama continues to avoid direct action against Bashar Assad's increasingly savage crackdown on dissidents by cultivating a partnership with Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After talking on the phone early Tuesday April 26, the two leaders voiced "deep concern over the unacceptable use of violence" in Syria and went on to say: "The leaders agreed that the Syrian government must end the use of violence now and promptly enact meaningful reforms that respect the democratic aspirations of Syrian citizens."
There was no condemnation of Bashar Assad, his brother Maher Assad or their use of tank artillery and troops to pound entire city blocks, shoot civilians at random or mass arrests. Early Tuesday, Washington recalled nonessential US embassy staff and diplomats' families from Damascus.
These actions, rather than reining in the Syrian ruler, will have told him he has at another 48-72 hours at least to use the army for polishing off his violent purge of protesters in towns where they have swept up entire districts. In the coming hours, those towns will be condemned to the same fate as the southern city of Daraa, the first to rise up against the Assad regime last month, where Monday, tanks and snipers began massacring the population after shutting down its electricity and telephone communications with the outside world.
Obama and Erdogan have therefore given the Assads a precious lease of life for reasserting their grip on power by brute force.
debkafile's Washington sources report that Obama's decision to engage Assad through the Turkish leader did not come out of the blue. He has been in continuous discreet dialogue with Erdogan by phone since the first protesters took the streets of Syria almost six weeks ago. President Obama was well aware that Erdogan was also on the phone almost daily to Bashar Assad to transmit enormously valuable information: The state of affairs in Syrian towns based on data coming in from Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) undercover agents in the field. He also kept Assad abreast of where the White House stood on different Middle East issues, including Syria.
The secret three-way channel linking Washington, Ankara and Damascus was first uncovered by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 488 on April 8. It then came to light without stirring much notice on April 17 when the Turkish MIT chief Hakan Fidan visited Damascus and was received by the Syrian president.
But the Obama-Erdogan bid to keep the Syrian pot under control blew up under twin pressures: the explosion of long pent-up popular resentment of life in a police state and the extremes to which its heads were willing to go to crush any internal threat to their survival.
The opposition was not impressed by Assad's show of abolishing the 48-year old emergency laws on April 19 because it was not a genuine concession to demands for reform but a meaningless gesture meant only to get the US and Turkish leaders off his back. The midnight arrests and street shootings of demonstrators went on regardless, with or without the draconian regulations.
After getting away with that charade, Assad felt free Sunday night, April 24 to unleash his tank columns against the populace. And now, the Obama-Erdogan statement gives him more leeway for following through on his bloody crackdown for at least another couple of days until his regime is safe and its opponents crushed.
According to debkafile's intelligence sources President Obama knew the Syrian ruler was about to deploy his entire army against the protest movement. He could have tried to hold his hand with a stern official warning of serious consequences, even without Erdogan. But the US president chose to cement his partnership with the Turkish prime minister rather than try seriously to stem the violence against Syria's pro-democratic movement.
The Obama-Erdogan statement on Syria oddly contained two unrelated elements: It called on Muammar Qaddafi to "step down and leave Libya permanently" and expressed a hope for better Turkish-Israeli relations.