Tags: Syria | Syria | Assad | Obama | al-Qaida

An Interim Choice for Syria

Image: An Interim Choice for Syria An University student shows Syrians how to prepare for a chemical attack in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. (Getty Images)

Tuesday, 17 Sep 2013 04:32 PM

By Walid Phares

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In the northeastern part of Syria — contiguous to Iraq and Turkey — lies al-Hasaka or the Triangle, also known as al-Jazeera province.

As large as Lebanon, this area is inhabited by roughly four million Kurds, one million Christians and a half million Arabs. Assad forces have practically left the area, and Kurdish militias have set up patrols, stopping al-Qaida militias trying to enter these districts.

This region should be the foundation for a free Syria. Here we should nurture a free zone inside Syria with the potential to grow rapidly and defeat both the Assad regime and the Jihadists.

With U.S. and western help, the Kurds, Christians, and Arabs who populate this region can establish a liberated zone with its cities, rivers and expanded airports that should serve as the receiving area for aid.

The current Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups can be invited to join in this region. This pluralist “smaller Syria” would become the basis for liberation of the country — and the establishment of a pluralistic and peaceful society for all Syrians.

Sound unrealistic?

I would argue this is no more unrealistic than the hope that Vladimir Putin and the Russians will broker an honest peace in Syria.

In fact, if you examine the three current Beltway solutions to the Syrian crisis, we should recognize why turning to this plan will offer a real, long-term hope for a pluralistic and peaceful Syria.

President Obama has made the case for a “limited strike” against Assad and the forces who are presumed responsible for the horrible chemical gassing of more than a thousand civilians — after more than 100,000 Syrians have already been brutally killed in the civil war.

The president wanted this limited strike to force a weakened Assad to negotiate a settlement to the conflict. But seasoned observers know there will be no mediated solutions to this conflict. It has gone too far and divisions are too deep.

I would also argue that other Beltway solutions offer no more hope than those offered by Obama.

The isolationist argument is to simply allow both sides to fight it out because America has no horse in this race. “Let Allah sort it out,” says Sarah Palin. This “safe option” is incredibly dangerous.

If there are two radical forces — those of Assad and al-Qaida — in the game, each will receive more reinforcements and eventually settle their battles via some Islamist medication — or worse still, a manufactured war with Israel. Even if that war is avoided, we will be left with two extremist and heavily-armed terror groups in Syria.

Another option put forward by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona is equally dangerous. He wants to fully arm the rebels in an attempt at toppling Assad. The naïveté of this choice is that it can be manipulated by Islamist lobbies who will redirect U.S. assistance to their radical brethren inside the opposition, instead of to secular forces.

This could end up empowering al-Qaida and producing future Benghazi-like attacks in Syria.

Meanwhile, all of these positions could lead to war with Iran and Hezbollah or, in view of this administration’s natural tendency toward retreat, could culminate in another victory for radicals.

That is why I suggest a practical, but irreversibly winning option for the creation of a free Syria. We have in this region a group of vetted allies in place and al-Qaida and the Nusra Front contained. We have a region in which the Assad regime is not omnipresent. Those in the U.S. who are concerned about aiding two menacing forces can partner in the al-Hasaka region with free and independent Kurds, Christians and Arabs.

Those who want to arm the rebels will have an area ready to be supported.

If the administration wishes to conduct punitive raids against regime targets without aiding al-Qaida, it can, over time, empower the real allies to move forward from this particular zone. The development of a free Syria is the most viable option for the United States, Europe and the rest of the international community. This is where endangered minorities can be protected and joined with liberals and secular members of the Arab Sunni majority.

The United States and Russia have been attempting to find negotiated solutions to the chemical weapons crisis, and have declared that they reached a compromise. Assad is supposed to allow the UN to move in and dismantle the weapons of mass destruction and the opposition is supposed to accept the deal.

The latter rejected the deal because it keeps Assad untouched. The Russians state they will pressure the dictator but only if the opposition recognizes his role at the Geneva talks. In addition, it is less likely the Jihadists of al-Nusra would go along, and not likely that Moscow would accept a Chapter 7 resolution targeting its ally in Damascus.

It is also unlikely that the Obama Administration will transform any limited strike into a regime changer campaign, for fear of clashing with the Iranians and Hezbollah. The bottom line is clear: Putin and Obama are not partners on ending Syria's ordeal. They are producing a pause to find another status quo after Assad breached it with the use of chemical weapons in August.

The war will go on, and what is needed is a game changer on the ground. The third option we're proposing is the most efficient way to free more Syrians and weaken both Assad and al-Qaida.

Syrians yearn for freedom. Americans yearn for effective foreign policy. Let’s start building toward that end.

Dr Walid Phares is the author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East which in 2010, predicted the Araab Spring and its evolution. He serves as a Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counter Terrorism. Read more reports from Walid Phares — Click Here Now.


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