On May 29 2012, the decision of the US, France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia and Bulgaria to expel Syrian top diplomats from their capital cities caught Assad by surprise. This move was led by Washington and took place in the aftermath of the Houla massacre. After a few days Assad reciprocated by expelling the ambassadors of the aforementioned western countries from Damascus. Key questions arise regarding the motives and consequences the action of Washington and other western countries.
The action of expelling Syrian diplomats from some western capitals aimed to criticize the Syrian government for the Houla massacre, albeit Damascus has officially denied responsibility for the event. The main recipient of their action was the public opinion and the message was that these governments support human rights actively. Besides human rights forms the ideological context within which Western intervention in domestic Syrian politics takes place. So far so good but is that all? Apparently not.
The move of withdrawing diplomats of some of the western allies resembles that of the decision made more than a year ago in the case of Libya. Maybe it is too early too presume that there is a plan of some Western countries to cut off all diplomatic ties with Damascus. Yet for the time being there are signs that there is an effort to deteriorate the diplomatic status. Recent past, with regard to the US-Syrian relations, has shown that such moves could be excessive diplomatic measures which can be annulled later on. This back-and-forth game could be the game this time too. However the growing intensity of the Syrian civil war in terms of time and operations suggests that the western policy vis-à-vis Assad is going to worsen in the short term. Thus the aforementioned diplomatic move could be part of a wider Western effort to stop gradually considering Damascus as the only official representative of Syria and accept a united Syrian opposition as an equally official interlocutor for the West. Whether this Western effort is going to bear fruits depends on future developments in the battleground.