12/17/11: Frederic C. Hof, a State Department Official in the office of Middle East Peace and its point man for Syria, tells a Congressional Subcommittee that the State Department views the Assad government as "the equivalent of dead man walking," and that "I do not see this regime surviving."
11/18/11: Speaking on ABC News, Secretary of State Clinton says that their "needs to be a change at the top" of the Syrian government, and that "the growing armed opposition" and "army defectors" will topple the Syrian leader.
10/30/11: U.S. officials tell the New York Times that plans are underway to build a new "security architecture" among the six GCC states in the Gulf, integrating missile defense and air and naval patrols between the six states. Announced shortly after Obama's decision to pull all troops out of Iraq, an unnamed senior official described it as not going to be a "NATO tomorrow, but the idea is to move to a more integrated effort."
10/23/11: Senator John McCain speaks in Jordan at a meeting of the World Economic Forum. He states: "Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what partial military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria...The Assad regime should not consider that it can get away with mass murder." A week later, he repeated this same message at an AIPAC conference in Arizona, raising the bar even higher by stating "The Assad regime has spilled too much blood to stay in power. Its days are numbered, but it will use those days to murder more of its own people. In this way, there is no moral distinction whatsoever between the case of Syria and that of Libya."
9/30/11: The U.S. and NATO allies try to pass a resolution through the UNSC, calling for a weapons embargo and other sanctions against Syria. The draft resolution, however, is vetoed by Russia, and discussed critically by the BRIC states.
9/16/11: The U.S. and Turkey sign a military agreement on a NATO backed missile defense system. Admiral Mike Mullen remarked that this was "the most significant military cooperation between Washington and Ankara since 2003." This "defense system," made operational in January 2012, consists of a radar station located in the Turkish town of Malatya but controlled from Germany, which transmits data to Naval forces in the area and U.S. command posts.
8/23/11: Ambassador Robert Ford visits town of Jassem without Syrian govt's permission
8/18/11: President Obama, in an announcement choreographed with European allies, wrote: "We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way...He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside." A similar statement, cosigned by PM Cameron, President Sarkozy, and President Merkel, was released at the same time. Obama also announced that he had frozen all Syrian assets in American jurisdiction, banned imports of Syrianoil and barred American citizens from having any business dealings with the Syrian government.
Stage 2: hard edged diplomacy "An illegitimate government necessitates a transition to democracy"7/18/11: Qatar closes its embassy in Damascus and removes its ambassador. Qatar, which has been friendly with Syria for the past decade, had come under intense criticism from Syria for the al-Jazeera's portrayal of the protest movement.
7/15/11-7/16/11: Secretary of State Clinton visits Turkey, where she formally recognizes the Libyan NTC, although officially has no interaction with the Syrian opposition conference that is taking place at the same time. She does make a number of remarks pertaining to Syria on her visit. Speaking at a press conference in Istanbul on the 15th, she reiterated that the State Department position was that "Syria can’t go back to the way it was before, that Asad has lost his legitimacy in the eyes of his people because of the brutality of their crackdown, including today. And we, along with many others in the region and beyond, have said we strongly support a democratic transition." In an open "coffee Hour" hosted by CNN-Turk, she responded to a question on the ongoing violence in Syria by saying the Assad government had to work with the opposition for stability: "And stability inside Syria is important for Turkey, but the right kind of stability – a transition to democracy – is what would be best for Turkey and even more importantly what would be best for the Syrian people."
7/12/11: In an interview with the CBS evening news, President Obama tells host Scott Pelley, "I think that increasingly you're seeing President Assad-- lose legitimacy in the eyes of his peoplel. And-- you know, he has missed opportunity after opportunity to present-- a genuine reform agenda."
7/10/11-7/11/11: According to the Washington Post, July 10th was a turning point in the Syria policy, because it was when Assad failed to begin negotiating with opposition figures. Jeffrey Feltman, the Assistant Secretary of State who heads the Bureau of Near East Affairs, tells the Post "People here are genuinely appalled that you have a government, you have a leader who claims to want a dialogue, but at the same time is overseeing a government that is practicing torture, terror, theft, firing upon people." As a result of this, the White House decided to turn up the rhetorical notch on Assad, by declaring him "not indispensable," evidently a reference to private boasts Assad had made, where he described himself as being "indispensable" in the eyes of American and European leaders (ibid). Secretary Clinton uses this phrases--"not indispensable"--the following day, following her meeting with Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. She stated in regards to the Syrian leader, "if anyone, including President Asad, thinks that the United States is secretly hoping the regime will emerge from this turmoil to continue its brutality and repression, they are wrong. President Asad is not indispensible, and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power. Our goal is to see that the will of the Syrian people for a democratic transformation occurs."
7/8/11: Hillary Clinton, speaking to reporters at the State Department, says of the Assad government "From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy...President Assad is not indispensable, and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power." This follows Pro-Assad demonstrations at the American and French embassies in Damascus, which were provoked by the American and French Ambassadors visiting an anti-Assad rally in the town of Hama. Robert Ford, the American Ambassador, released a message on the US embassy Facebook page of all places talking about the trip and the anti-American protests that followed.
7/7/11: Ambassador Robert Ford visits the city of Hama to meet with protestors. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland describes the reasoning behind the trip: "The fundamental intention ... was to make absolutely clear with his physical presence that we stand with those Syrians who are expressing their right to speak for change, who want a democratic future and who are expressing those views peacefully."
6/12/11: Senator Lindsay Graham says the military option should be on the table in Syria
5/31/11: Speaking to reporters at the State Department, Secretary of State Clinton says "Every day that goes by, the position of the government becomes less tenable and the demands of the Syrian people for change only grow stronger."
5/18/11: The Treasury Department issues a second round of"human rights abuse" sanctions on Syria, this time personally against President Assad and six of his top aides, seizing all financial assets under U.S. jurisdiction and barring any dealings with U.S. companies and individuals. Just like Obama's rhetorical statements, the sanctions were immediately matched by the European Union.
5/17/11: President Obama gives a speech on the Middle East, where he states regarding Syria: "The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way."
Weeks of 5/11/11: Freshman Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, introduces a resolution urging President Obama to issue a second round of Syrian sanctions, this time targeting Assad and his top officials. The resolution was sponsored by Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Ben Cardin. In response to the Presidents speech a week later, Rubio would give his view on Assad, stating "I think Assad needs to get out of the way, leave power, and I wish the president would have said that."
5/7/11: EU announces first round of sanctions against Syria, targeting 13 government officials, but not the highest up in the Syrian government.
5/6/11: Speaking to reporters in Rome, Secretary of State Clinton still speaks of Syria in the context of "reform" stating: "There are deep concerns about what is going on inside Syria and we are pushing hard for the government of Syria to live up to its own stated commitment to reforms...What I do know is that they have an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda."
4/29/11: The White House issues an executive order (full text) leveling financial sanctions against three prominent Syrian military officials- Mahir al-Asad Brigade Commander in the Syrian Army’s Fourth Armored Division and brother of President Assad, Ali Mamluk the director of the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, and Atif Najib, the former head of the Syrian Political Security Directorate for Dar’a Province--as well as the Syrian Quds force and General Intelligence Directorate. A WH official also states in regard to the Syrian president, "Don’t think for a second Bashar is not on our radar, and that if these abuses continue we won’t sanction him." The sanctions in question allow the Treasury Department to seize all financial assets under U.S. jurisdiction and bar any dealings with U.S. companies and individuals.
4/28/11: Senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and Lindsay Graham release a statement urging President Obama "to state unequivocally -- as he did in the case of Qaddafi and Mubarak -- that it is time for Assad to go. The President should take tangible diplomatic and economic measures to isolate and pressure the Assad regime, including through targeted sanctions against Assad himself and other regime officials who are responsible for gross human rights abuses."
4/26/11: An article by Josh Rogin in Foreign Policy's: The Cable, speaks of a White House "mood change" that had occurred in the past two weeks, and that Assad was no longer seen as likely to reform. Rogin reports that "after a series of deliberations, culminating in a Deputies Committee meeting at the National Security Council last week, a new policy course was set."
Stage 1: Reform
4/1/11: Rep. Gary Ackerman, the top democrat on the house subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia releases a statement calling for Assad to step down: "No less than Qaddafi, Assad, a bloody, brutal tyrant, has made war against his own people, and has lost whatever putative right to rule he has claimed. Syria deserves to be free and Assad needs to go."
3/27/11: Senator Joe Lieberman speaks on Fox News, and advocates for a military intervention in Syria, following the Libyan precedent.
3/27/11: Secretary of State Clinton appears on CBS's Face the Nation, as does Defense Secretary Gates. Clinton speaks of both Libya and Syria, and draws a distinction between the two situations. Concerning Syria, she describes the Assad regime in terms of reform, calling for the Syrian government, "to be responding to their people's needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests and begin a process of economic and political reform." She also lays out a long scenario necessary for military intervention: 'If there were a coalition of the international community, if there was the passage of a Security Council resolution, if there were a call by the Arab League, if there was a condemnation that was universal."