Offering a new look at the Syrian strategy
By Julian Weiss, Staff Writer
This past week, negotia- tions in Geneva between the Assad regime and Syrian Opposition Forces broke down, what the LA Times called living “down to expectations.” Assad also failed to give up his chemical weapons as per the agreement last year with Russia and the United States. Knowing that he has the upper hand in the conflict, Assad has ignored any serious diplomatic effort.
This has forced President Obama to reevaluate his Syrian strategy and put more options on the table. For now, it seems that the Obama administration wants to pressure the Assad regime by increasing military assistance to the rebels while accepting its allies’ heavy military assistance for the first time. Obama’s goal is to weaken Assad to force his hand in negotiations.
The United States has a significant stake in the outcome of the Syrian conflict. Some have argued that America should leave Syria and let Assad regain what he can. This would mean leaving a nation with tens of thousands of radical extremists fighting a full scale war on Israel’s and the Gulf’s doorstep. These extremists would create lengthy problems for American capacity in the region while threatening allies and citizens alike if the Opposition or Assad does not decisively win the conflict. Leaving Syria would weaken the legitimacy of American security promises and American security in general.
America’s only option is to remove Assad. In Iraq, American leaders learned that deposing a head of state illegitimately causes more problems than it solves. Assad either needs to be militarily defeated by a Syrian group with enough authority to legitimately take over institu- tions after his deposal or needs to hand over authority in an agreement. Currently, the primary opposition group with American support is in fighting over whether or not to reinstate removed General Salim Idriss. They have no chance within a reasonable time frame of decisively defeating Assad’s professional military.
The only option left is to weaken Assad so that he concedes power in negotiations. This is Obama’s current strategy. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argued that Assad is fighting a losing war of attrition. If the opposition could be held together just long enough to deal any significant blow to the Syrian Arab Army while breaking their sieges, Assad may run out of options. Unfortunately for Syrians, this could take months or years and would ensure tens of thousands more deaths, millions more refugees, and further destruction of basic Syrian institutions.
In a glimmer of hope for Syria, the UN Security Council passed a resolution on Saturday which gives the UNSC the ability to use force if Assad continues to deny humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians. Another part of the resolution calls for transition to democracy. This development could become the begin- ning of the end for the horrific war, but both Russia and China would likely block any anti-Assad resolutions. Realistically, Obama is going to have to accept the consequences for prolonging the conflict in order to further American interests and support Syrian democracy.