United States should execute new strategy toward Syria

As Syria’s raging civil war approaches the two-year mark, the United States should prepare a more focused strategy that strengthens the moderate political forces in Syria and engages Syria’s regional and international stakeholders, according to a new special report from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The report also recommends that U.S. strategy should buttress Syria’s neighbors, address the deepening humanitarian crisis and plans for a post-Assad Syria.

The special report, “Syria at the Crossroads: United States Policy and Recommendations for the Way Forward,” was co-authored by Edward Djerejian, founding director of the Baker Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel, and Andrew Bowen, the Baker Institute’s scholar for the Middle East. It highlights the deepening challenges Syria faces and provides substantive policy recommendations for the U.S. government in securing a multi-ethnic, democratic Syria.

“Given the absence of a negotiated political settlement and the prolonged military stalemate on the ground, the U.S., engaging its partners in the international community, should act to preserve the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional nature of the Syrian state and help the Syrian people transition to a broadly representative government and a country at peace with its neighbors,” Djerejian said. “While a renewed U.S. and EU engagement with Russia is needed to help reach a political solution in Syria, immediate steps should be taken to support and to buttress both the moderate forces in Syria and Syria’s neighbors, who are vulnerable to the continued crisis.”

Syria_(orthographic_projection)The special report recommends that the U.S. should consider supplying military assistance to vetted leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in an effort to support the moderate opposition, protect Syrian civilians and abate extremists. In addition, the U.S., in conjunction with NATO, should form a joint special operations command in Turkey to monitor the distribution of this assistance and provide logistical support, communications and training to vetted commanders. “What is needed is to combine military assistance with a coordinated strategy of capacity building within the opposition, which can then have measurable results and importantly, not lead the U.S. into any overextended commitment,” Bowen said.

“In taking these steps, the U.S. and international community can potentially create an opening for a political dialogue to bring an end to the civil war and to secure the territorial integrity of Syria,” Djerejian said. “As Syria faces this critical hour, American leadership is needed to prevent this state from collapsing in the heart of the Middle East and upending the stability of the region. An unstable Syria that becomes a base for extremism could eventually threaten U.S. national security interests.”

The assessment and recommendations in this report were drawn primarily from extensive consultations that Djerejian and Bowen conducted both in Europe and the Middle East. Djerejian held discussions with the former and current U.N.-Arab League Special Envoys, Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi. Djerejian also traveled to Israel this past December to discuss the deepening crisis in Syria. During the fall of 2012, Bowen traveled to the U.K., France, Belgium, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt and held consultations with government ministers and advisers, U.S. government representatives, U.N. officials, former members of the Syrian political regime, the leadership of the Syrian National Coalition and other political opposition groups, members of the FSA and regional analysts and war correspondents.

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