Appearing on Sunday's Face the Nation on CBS, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed the idea of U.S. military action in Syria, claiming that unlike Libya's Qadhafi, Syria's Bashir Assad was considered to be a "reformer" by "many of the members of Congress." Schieffer failed to challenge the assertion. In the days since, CBS, ABC, and NBC have ignored the comment.
In contrast to Clinton's remark, a 2009 State Department review of human rights in Syria, released in a March 2010 report, found: "During the year the government and members of the security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses, and the human rights situation worsened. The government systematically repressed citizens' abilities to change their government. In a climate of impunity, there were instances of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life. Members of the security forces tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees."
As the interview began, Schieffer strongly questioned Clinton on the brutality of the Assad regime, but made no objection when she called the Syrian leader a "reformer." He simply moved on to ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates for his thoughts on the topic.
Here is a transcript of the March 27 exchange:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Madam Secretary, let me start with you. Tens of thousands of people have turned out protesting in Syria which has been under the iron grip of the Assads for so many years now. One of the most repressive regimes in the world, I suppose. And when the demonstrators turned out the regime opened fire and killed a number of civilians. Can we expect the United States to enter that conflict in the way we have entered the conflict in Libya?
HILLARY CLINTON: No. Each of these situations is unique, Bob. Certainly we deplore the violence in Syria. We call, as we have on all of these governments during this period of Arab awakening, as some have called it, to be responding to their people's needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests and begin a process of economic and political reform.
The situation in Libya, which engendered so much concern from around the international community, had a leader who used military force against the protesters from one end of his country to the other, who publicly said things like we'll show no mercy. We'll go house to house.
And the international community moved with great speed in part because there's a history here. This is someone who has behaved in a way that caused grave concern in the past 40-plus years in the Arab world, the African world, Europe and the United States.
SCHIEFFER: But I mean, how can that be worse than what has happened in Syria over the years, where Bashar Assad's father killed 25,000 people at (inaudible). I mean, they opened fire with live ammunition on these civilians. Why is that different from Libya? This is the friend of Iran, an enemy of Israel?
CLINTON: Well, if there were a coalition of the international community, if there were the passage of a security council resolution, if there were a call by the Arab League, if there was a condemnation that was universal. But that is not going to happen because I don`t think that it`s yet clear what will occur, what will unfold.
There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer. What's been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning. But there's a different between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities than police actions which frankly have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.
SCHIEFFER: Secretary Gates, you have strongly condemned Bashar Assad and said he must learn from Egypt. I think it's fair to say he didn't pay much attention to you.
ROBERT GATES: Well, that's not a surprise.
SCHIEFFER: Should he step down?
— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.