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Should Obama call for Syria's Assad to go? And would it matter?

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But would harsher words from the American president really influence Assad to resign? After all, President Obama has already said he has “lost legitimacy” as a leader, and should lead the country toward reform or get out of the way.

Assad may look at the example of, say, former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, who now faces prosecution after stepping down from his post, and decide that fighting to the bitter end is the preferable option.

On Wednesday, for instance, Syrian tanks stormed two towns in the northwest of the country, near the border with Turkey – one day after Turkey, with whom Syria has had good relations, called on Assad to end civilian killings.

But according to some experts, a call from the White House for Assad to go would hasten the disintegration of his government. In this view, Syrian elites view current US sanctions as an attempt to get Syria to distance itself from Iran as much as a tool intended to end their internal crackdown.

A clear statement from Mr. Obama might shatter this belief. It might cause Syrian generals to review their support of the government, and might cause the commercial elites of Damascus and Aleppo to begin to distance themselves from Assad, according to Ammar Abdulhamid, founder and director of the Tharwa Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to promoting democracy in the Middle East.

“But as long as Bashar Assad seems to be called upon to change or to lead the reform process, then his position is legitimized, and the army generals will say then why should be challenge a leader that the international community still considers somehow as legitimate despite the sanctions?” Mr. Abdulhamid said at a Carnegie Institution conference earlier this year.

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