As the violent government crackdown continues in Syria, the United States is faced with a series of questions about what role it should play in the international response. Here are ten questions and answers about the road forward:
Does the U.S. have an interest in the Syrian uprising?
The Assad regime has supported numerous Palestinian, Lebanese, Iraqi, and Kurdish terrorist groups in attacks on Americans and U.S. allies. Furthermore, it has subverted Lebanon’s independence, assassinated its leaders, and blocked Arab peace efforts with Israel, and it remains both a state sponsor of terrorism and Iran’s most important ally. The United States has a strong interest in reducing terrorist threats to Americans and U.S. allies, containing Iran, and shoring up regional stability.
Should the U.S. participate in U.N. peacekeeping?
Earlier this week, the Arab League issued a vague proposal for a joint Arab League/United Nations peacekeeping force to be deployed to Syria. However, there is little peace to keep. As long as the Assad regime and the myriad of opposition groups that it has spawned are locked in a power struggle, no outside force is likely to bring peace. Rather, any outside peacekeeping force would become embroiled in the conflict as a combatant and thereby increase the suffering of the Syrian people.
Should the U.S. back a no-fly zone?
The Assad regime has not needed to use its air force, as it has done virtually all of its killing with ground units. A no-fly zone would accomplish little and is not needed.
At this time, military action against Syria is not in the best interest of the United States. A military intervention by an external force would feed into the Assad regime’s narrative of foreign meddling and would be counterproductive to ending the crisis.
Should the U.S. continue sanctions?
The best assistance the United States can provide to ease the suffering of Syrians is to help speed the fall of the Assad regime. Unlike the Muammar Qadhafi regime, Bashar al-Assad lacks the luxury of Libya’s oil wealth and has fewer financial resources, making him vulnerable to economic sanctions. As such, Washington should continue to work with its European allies, Turkey, and willing Arab states to continue implementing sanctions on the Damascus regime.
Should the U.S. arm rebels?
It would be a mistake to provide arms to groups that seek to replace Assad’s secular Baathist dictatorship with a totalitarian Islamist dictatorship. If such groups were to consolidate power, they could pose an even greater threat to the United States and its allies in Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon than the weakened Assad regime does. Moreover, providing arms would feed into the Assad regime’s propaganda that its domestic opposition is comprised of puppets controlled by foreign powers.
Should the U.S. give humanitarian aid?
The United States can play a constructive role in the conflict by supporting efforts to deliver humanitarian aid. The U.S. should also work closely with regional partners, especially Turkey, both to hasten the transition to a new, legitimate government and to continue diplomatic pressure and international sanctions against the Assad regime.
Should the U.S. support rebels?
Washington should provide humanitarian aid in close cooperation with its allies as well as diplomatic support to the broad opposition coalition through the Friends of Syria international contact group that will meet in Tunisia next week to formulate an agenda for international support for the opposition. In addition, the United States should give economic support to inclusive opposition groups that support freedom, religious tolerance, and a pluralist democracy in post-Assad Syria.
Should the U.S. call for regime change?
Yes. After slaughtering more than 5,000 of his people, Assad lost legitimacy a long time ago. The problem is not just Assad, but the regime he leads. Although the Assad regime can depend on its fearsome international security and intelligence services, the vast majority of the Syrian military is becoming increasingly unreliable. As loyalist forces are spread thin and Arab states seek to counter Iranian support for Assad with their own support for the opposition, Assad’s grip on power will grow tenuous.
Should the U.S. be worried about Iran and al-Qaeda?
Iran has provided considerable support to the Assad regime. In addition to shipping arms to Damascus via commercial jets, Iran has also dispatched members of the Quds Force, an elite element of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, to help crush dissent within Syria.
The crisis in Syria has opened a security vacuum that al-Qaeda is ready to exploit. Iraqi officials report that Sunni Iraqi jihadists are streaming across the border to join the fighting in Syria. Al-Qaeda has already made noticeable inroads in Syria after conducting a number of suicide bombings.
Should the U.S. work with friends and allies?
The United States should continue to implement sanctions with its European allies and Syria’s northern neighbor, Turkey. Turkey in particular has a valuable role. When the Assad regime revealed that it has no intentions of genuine reform, Ankara’s once-friendly relations with Damascus quickly expired. Turkey has given sanctuary to Syrian refugees and opposition groups on its territory. Ankara has also imposed an arms embargo on Syria and floated the idea of creating a buffer zone in Syrian territory to provide a safe haven for internally displaced refugees. Furthermore, Turkey has cultivated ties with the Syrian opposition and will play a pivotal role in Syria’s future.