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Why it took so long for Obama to say Syria's Assad must go

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For one thing, the US wanted to make sure it was acting in coordination with allies, said a senior administration official. A call to Assad to resign delivered by many capitals at once has far more effect than one emanating from a single nation, even if that nation is the US.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t just issuing statements [on our own], but were doing so in an internationally coordinated way,” said the official, speaking on background in a conference call with reporters.

In addition, the US slapped sanctions on Syria at the very beginning of its crackdown, said the official. In that sense the US has been tougher on Assad than it ever was on Mr. Mubarak, a longtime American ally.

“In Syria, unlike in Egypt, we pursued punitive measures from the beginning,” said the US official.

When the Syrian regime redoubled its efforts to suppress demonstrations with force at the beginning of Ramadan, it was clear that the time to take the final step and call for his resignation was getting close, said the official. At that point the administration realized that there was no chance of Assad recovering enough legitimacy to lead a Syria at peace.

“Increasingly we felt the need to coordinate a stronger response given the continued violence against the Syrian people,” said a second senior administration official.

Will Assad now actually resign as a result of international pressure? That seems unlikely. The example of Mubarak, who left voluntarily but now faces prosecution in Egypt, cannot be comforting to Assad.

At this point, Assad is in a “dictator’s dilemma,” according to Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy. He has unleashed so much violence that it would be extremely difficult for him to back down.

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