As the administration faces increasing pressure to take a stronger stance on Syria, embattled President Bashar al-Assad blames “saboteurs” for the unrest and the stalled road to reform in his country.
In a speech at Damascus University on Monday, his first address in two months, Assad acknowledged that there was a need for change and for the Syrian economy to be restored. He also acknowledged that innocent people have been killed and asked that displaced Syrians return to their homes.
“There are those who give them the impression that the state will exact revenge. I affirm that is not true,” he said, according to The New York Times.
Still, critics such as former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley have said that Assad cannot lead a transition in Syria.
In a Washington Post op-ed on Sunday, Crowley said that when President Obama “took the lead” in Libya, saying that Muammar el-Qaddafi had to go, the international community followed suit. The same has to happen for Syria, Crowley argued.
“We cannot solve the Syrian challenge overnight, but it is time to get off the fence and on the right side of history,” he wrote, questioning the administration’s "uncertain" stance on specific countries compared to its general support of the Arab Spring.
The emerging political interest groups that spurred these revolutions need to be taken seriously and need American recognition, Crowley writes, saying that hesitation puts the U.S. at risk of becoming irrelevant in the region.
This isn’t the first time Crowley has urged the administration to do more. The morning after Obama told NBC News that if he were Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., he would resign; Crowley asked via Twitter why Assad wasn’t getting the same push from the administration.