The world is sending the wrong message to Syria

Italy has pulled its ambassador out of Damascus to protest the Syrian crackdown, but other countries have not. The Obama administration is inching its way toward calling for the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, to step down, but has not yet done so. The U.N. Security Council has condemned the Syrian crackdown, but Lebanon, the only Arab nation on the 15-member council, withheld its support.

Such is the international cacophony that has greeted Assad’s decision to send in tanks against his own people in Hama.

President Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, continued along the incremental road yesterday, saying of Assad: "We do not want to see him remain in Syria for stability's sake and, rather, we view him as the cause of instability in Syria.” But we are still waiting for that moment — which eventually came in the administration’s slow-motion reaction to the Egyptian revolution — when the administration states clearly that Assad should go.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, it was too little, too late, after Syrian tanks were unleashed against the civilian population. It’s true that no country likes to be the target of a formal U.N. reaction to events, and the presidential statement is the first rung on the ladder that puts Syria on the council’s agenda. But Lebanon’s decision to disassociate itself from the “balanced” statement, reached by consensus, seriously undermined its impact and deprived the Arab world of a collective way to condemn the Syrian atrocities.

It’s clear there is no appetite at the council to place Assad at the mercy of the International Criminal Court, or for any military intervention. The Libyan case saw to that, after the U.S., Britain and France stretched a U.N. resolution on the protection of Libyan civilians almost to the breaking point in order to go after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi militarily.

But that should not stop the international community from speaking with one voice. And it should say clearly now: Assad must go. He has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of his people. For how much longer will he be allowed to get away with murder?