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U.S. shifts policy on Syria

While peaceful anti-government protests continue to be repressed by Syrian security forces, anti-American mobs wreaked havoc on the U.S. embassy in Damascus yesterday. Syria reportedly “refused” to protect the embassy from the attacks, which were encouraged by a pro-government television station. Now, the Obama administration is responding with its harshest rhetoric yet towards President Bashar al-Assad and his regime.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton condemned the attacks and said Assad has “lost legitimacy” in failing to fulfill his promises of democratic reform. Her comments reflect what has become a harsh U.S. assault on Assad, whose security forces have responded to the Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy movement with an increasingly brutal crackdown.

“It’s clear based on the Secretary of State’s statements that American policy on Syria has evolved over the course of the last few months,” said Steven Cook, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “In March, the administration called Assad a reformer and obviously, as of yesterday, he’s no longer considered indispensable to Syria’s future. I think that’s overall a good thing that we’ve moved in that direction.”

The attacks included both vandalism of the U.S. embassy and the U.S. ambassador’s residence and an attempted attack on the French embassy, in which three French officials were injured. The Obama administration will request that the Syrian government reimburse it for the damage caused to the U.S. embassy.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. military prepares for an Afghanistan drawdown, a political assassination may reveal that Afghan officials are not as safe as they once were. Today, the half-brother of Afghan President Harmid Karzai was shot and killed by one of his trusted bodyguards. Ahmed Wali Karzai, widely regarded as a key power broker in southern Afghanistan and called the “number one man in Kandahar,” was meeting with tribal leaders in his heavily-fortified compound in Kandahar province when the killing occurred.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the killing, which occurred when Sardar Mohammed – the assassin – arrived at Karzai’s compound and requested a private discussion with Karzai. After the two entered another room, three gunshots sounded and the deputy provincial council chief rushed in to find Karzai shot dead. Karzai’s other guards then entered the room and shot and killed Mohammed.

The political fallout of Karzai’s death will surely be felt in Afghanistan. In recent years, Karzai had been extending his influence in Kandahar, the strategic base of the Taliban, and the U.S. has come to see his influence as necessary for the stability of the area. He also framed himself as a potential ally in the NATO-led efforts to stabilize the region. Karzai’s death may foreshadow further political tumult as the U.S. executes Obama’s plan to reduce troops by thirty thousand in the next year.