According to White House officials who spoke with the Associated Press, the decision to end its attempt to push the Syrian regime towards reform, and call for its end instead, is the result of the increasing ferocity of Syrian security forces towards hotbeds of opposition. More than 2,000 people have been killed in the crackdown on dissent, human rights groups say.
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.