from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

What Next on Syria?

Syrian tanks are seen in Bab Amro near the city of Homs February 12, 2012. Syrian forces resumed their bombardment of the city...m neighbourhoods that have been at the forefront of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. (Courtesy Mulham Alnader/REUTERS)

February 21, 2012

Syrian tanks are seen in Bab Amro near the city of Homs February 12, 2012. Syrian forces resumed their bombardment of the city...m neighbourhoods that have been at the forefront of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. (Courtesy Mulham Alnader/REUTERS)
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What should the United States do about the continuing attacks by the Assad regime on the population of Syria? The Council on Foreign Relations asked several Senior Fellows to answer that question, and the short replies are here.

My own reply was this:

Pundits are used to analyzing the gap between what our ideals suggest and what our security interests require. In Syria, there is no such gap. The Assad regime is vicious and repressive, and has in the last year killed more than 6,000 protesters. It has no legitimacy and holds on to power by brute force alone. It is also Iran’s only Arab ally, the arms supplier to Hezbollah, and an enemy of the United States that worked hard to send jihadis to Iraq to kill Americans.

So the fall of the regime should be an American policy goal, and in this we will have considerable Arab and European support. The likely Sunni-led replacement will not have the close relationship with Iran and Hezbollah that the Assad clique has established. Thus far, we have imposed sanctions on Syria and made many demands. The problem is that our speeches and even our sanctions have not helped defend the people of Syria against Assad’s bullets.

The opposition movement began peacefully and was met with bloody repression by the regime, so it is now trying to defend itself and to fight back. The so-called Free Syrian Army, which began with little more than press releases, is now a force in the thousands and we should be helping arm and fund it.

The United States should encourage the arming and funding of the opposition, to give them a better chance to defend themselves and the protesters and to overthrow the regime.

Why? Because the real questions in Syria now are who will win and how long will this take. We ought to find an Assad victory (or perhaps one should say an Assad, Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and Hezbollah victory) unacceptable. Moreover, we should avoid the false moral equivalence that leads people to say, "Oh, don’t arm anyone, just call for a ceasefire." As in Darfur or Kosovo, such calls are in reality an abandonment of people fighting against oppression.

Every passing week not only brings more blood, but also makes reconciliation and internal peace that much harder when the conflict ends. What should we do? The United States should encourage the arming and funding of the opposition, to give them a better chance to defend themselves and the protesters and to overthrow the regime. Whether we best do this ourselves or through others is a tactical question; we should do what will work. But we should be determined that the decades of murder and oppression under this regime in Syria will soon come to an end.

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