Despite a vicious crackdown by Bashar al Assad's forces over the past week, the popular uprising in Syria has not been extinguished - a remarkable testament to the courage and determination of the Syrian people. In the face of tanks, snipers and heavy artillery, and even after suffering more than 2,000 deaths, enormous numbers of demonstrators continue to take to the streets demanding their freedom.
The Syrian revolt is an important part of the broader Arab Spring that is transforming the Middle East, and U.S. policy must transform with it. After months of disappointing statements urging Assad to "reform," the Obama administration has begun to align itself with the Syrian people against the dictatorship that is brutally assaulting them. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with a group of Syrian opposition leaders and later stated bluntly that Assad has lost "all legitimacy to govern Syria."
Now the protesters who are under renewed assault need to know that the full moral and diplomatic weight of the U.S. is behind them, and that we are doing everything we can to mobilize the world to their side.
First, President Obama should finally say unequivocally that Assad must go. The administration should also redouble efforts to persuade key countries and companies to ratchet up the pressure on Assad - in particular by sanctioning the Syrian energy sector and by seeking tough action at the United Nations Security Council. A binding resolution condemning the regime's human rights abuses and imposing sanctions directly on Assad and his lieutenants is now critical.
We should also work with Syria's neighbors, especially Turkey, to ensure that humanitarian aid immediately reaches Syrians in cities like Hama and Deir Al Zour, where the regime is attempting to strangle the population by cutting off electricity, water and other basic services.
Congress has a role to play too. In September, the Senate will again consider whether to confirm a U.S. ambassador to Damascus.
When the Obama administration first announced its intention to send an ambassador to Syria in early 2010, nearly five years after our last ambassador was withdrawn, I was among those critical of the decision.