The difference between the situations in Syria and Libya is that the Syrian government might still come around and pursue a reform agenda, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.
In an interview with Lucia Annunziata of Italy's "In Mezz'Ora" in Rome, Clinton was asked whether the United States was applying a double standard when dealing with Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and other Arab dictators who are killing their citizens, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Clinton explained that she still held out hope that the Syrian government would institute reforms that could satisfy the demands of protesters and end the government-sponsored violence against civilians. There was no hope for that outcome in Libya, she said.
"There are deep concerns about what is going on inside Syria, and we are pushing hard for the government of Syria to live up to its own stated commitment to reforms," she said. "What I do know is that they have an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda. Nobody believed Qaddafi would do that. People do believe there is a possible path forward with Syria. So we're going to continue joining with all of our allies to keep pressing very hard on that."
Clinton argued that the United States and its international partners have acted aggressively in the case of Syria, but admitted that acting against the Assad regime is more complicated, in many ways, than organizing action against the Libya regime.
Clinton was also asked how long she thought the war in Libya would last.
"Well, I think everyone, including, of course, the United States, is working urgently to try to bring about a political solution," she responded. "The obstacle is Col. Qaddafi."
Clinton insisted Qaddafi's death was not part of NATO's mission in Libya, although she noted he might be killed if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"The objective is to protect civilians. But there are legitimate targets, like the command-and-control bunkers and facilities that we know he and his family control," Clinton said. "This is a conflict and he could become a victim of the very violence that he initiated."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.