July 12, 2012
By Peter Brookes
Here’s a novel notion: Considering what’s at stake in Syria for U.S. interests, how about Team Obama leading for once from the front, rather than from “behind”?
After 16 months and nearly 20,000 deaths, it’s past time.
Sure, some don’t mind seeing Syrians spar with each other for nearly a year and a half; it keeps the roguish regime of strongman Bashar Assad from causing tons of trouble outside its borders.
But framing Syria’s future is pretty darn important for us. The country is strategically located in the Middle East’s Levant; that’s why plenty of world leaders have been fawning over the Assad regime for several decades now.
Plus, Washington designated Damascus a state sponsor of terrorism way back in 1979. It has supported Hezbollah (in Lebanon) and Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (both in Gaza) with arms, funds and political backing at places like the UN.
And who can forget the terrorist “rat lines” that ran out of Syria into Iraq, causing some of the war’s darkest days for US troops?
In short, we’re not in the least indebted to this regime.
Syria is also a WMD problem. It’s believed to have a huge chemical weapons arsenal (e.g., nerve gases Sarin, Tabun and VX) and probably biological weapons, too. Making sure this stuff doesn’t go walking is another reason we need some skin in the regime-change game.
By the way, the Assads were also building a covert nuclear facility with Pyongyang’s assistance — and outside the IAEA’s supervision — until the Israeli air force bombed it in 2007. (Syria has been trying to hide the evidence of this nuclear site ever since.)
Not to mention that Syria is an ally of our enemy Iran, so removing the current regime would leave Tehran without an important regional pal at a time when it’s increasingly isolated due its nuclear naughtiness.
And, of course, Syria and our ally Israel have fought no less than four wars (1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982) as well as indirectly duking it out during Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah some six summers ago.
Without question this is a regime that we’d like to see go — and soon.
But Team Obama is relying on nothing more than heated rhetoric about Assad’s days being numbered, economic sanctions and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Six-Point peace plan. These approaches are proving fruitless.
It’s time for us to amp it up a bit and take steps to try to mold the outcome of the Syrian “civil war” to favor US interests. Here are a few forward-leaning ideas:
First, end the outsourcing of our Syria policy to the UN. Instead, lead a limited group of like-minded states (e.g., Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, etc.) to work to oust the murderous Assad regime. Assad-enablers like Russia, China and Iran need not apply.
Second, finally help to organize the highly-fractured opposition — a situation the regime has widely exploited — into a cohesive political force that we can support, meaning one that’s as democratic, secular and pro-American as possible.
Third, look to support this opposition militarily with things like intelligence and secure communications gear — and, later on with arms — if we’re confident of who we’re dealing with and that these weapons will make a difference in the fight.
Lastly, work to tear away at the fabric of the regime using, for example, “psy-ops” — psychological operations such as radio broadcasts, texting and e-mails to recruit or demoralize loyalists, bumping up high-level defections.
Of course, any of these could backfire. We can just sit by, letting the meat grinder turn and hoping for the best. But doing next to nothing to shape post-Assad Syria probably poses a greater risk to U.S. interests than boldly taking thoughtful action.
Peter Brookes is senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in the New York Post.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute,
with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in
February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free
enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national
defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973