Closing an embassy is an exceptionally rare and politically loaded diplomatic undertaking. If, however, the host country can no longer guarantee the safety of the ambassador and the staff, it is a necessary one.
The announcement by the State Department today that the U.S. will close its embassy in Damascus and end official diplomatic tie is a troubling indication that America no longer considers the Assad regime legitimate and strong enough to protect foreign dignitaries, nor does it consider the opposition to be a viable alternative worth staying for.
Without a singular unified opposition that the country's silent majority can coalesce behind, the hope for a Tunisia or Libya-like resolution to the uprising in Syria is fading fast.
Instead, numerous ethic and religious sects, Hamas, an increasingly well-armed opposition, and a ruthless government intent on holding onto power at any cost create an explosive concoction and recipe for what could be a prolonged civil war.
The decision to close the embassy won't come without a cost though. For one, any remaining U.S. nationals and a host of CIA spies would be left on their own. So too would the Syrian opposition, which has been in contact with the remaining American delegation.
Then, of course, there is the political gamble the United States would be taking. Should the Al-Assad regime survive, America would likely not be allowed back and would further sever any remaining diplomatic ties.
In any country, particularly in the Middle East, an official presence is crucial. In the case of Syria, understanding the key players such as Hamas and the opposition will be vital to any future military operation should one be deemed necessary.
Ultimately, however, the move is not so much a political calculation but a security one. If the U.S. believes Ambassador Robert Ford and his staff are no longer safe and that the Syrian military cannot be trusted to protect them, then the risk of maintaining the Embassy is too high.
That being said, such a high-profile decision does not bode well for the future of Syria or the Assad regime, as the State Department made this decision because the on-the-ground intelligence overwhelmingly pointed to the country further deteriorating into a drawn-out conflict.
Certainly not an easy calculation to make, but whatever should transpire in Syria, a withdrawal and closure of the embassy is the right one.
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