The Washington Post reports that when Hillary Clinton said last week that Bashar Assad has “lost legitimacy” from the US perspective, it was completely impromptu — “not even her aides expected her to go that far”:
The line, an unscripted response to a reporter’s question, was instantly hailed as a shift for the Obama administration, which until Monday had been relatively restrained in its public criticism of Assad. But while the White House had intended to sharpen its tone toward the Syrian leader, the decision to use the word was Clinton’s, according to two administration officials familiar with the incident.
Clinton’s utterance, coupled with Ambassador Robert Ford’s decision – also unscripted – to visit the opposition stronghold of Hama on July 7, nudged the administration a step closer to declaring that Assad must step down. Taken together, the visit and Clinton’s remark show how the administration’s policy toward the Syrian autocrat has lately been shaped more by diplomatic improvisation than methodical planning within the White House.
This is remarkable. The Ambassador and Secretary of State have effected a palpable shift in US policy, and a shift in the right direction at that. But it’s not terribly encouraging to learn that the White House hasn’t been fully in the loop. Syria demands a comprehensive diplomatic effort against Assad (the Foreign Policy Initiative put out a ‘Fact Sheet’ on Thursday that sketches out what this would look like). Hillary Clinton cannot do this all by herself. The WaPo report suggests that Hillary has been disabused of fantasies she’d previously clung to about Assad embracing reform; how about getting the rest of the administration on the same page?