The Envoy

Four experts on Syria: Advice on what the U.S. should do next, as embassy closes and death toll mounts

The Envoy


The United States announced on Monday that it is closing its embassy in Syria and recalling U.S. diplomatic personnel amid some of the worst days of violence Syria has seen in Bashar Al-Assad's ten month crackdown against anti-government unrest.

The U.S. embassy recall followed a major diplomatic setback, after Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a hard-fought UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to the Syria bloodshed. The defeated measure, introduced by Morocco on behalf of the Arab League, was backed by the United States, Europe, Turkey and Syria's Arab neighbors, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself traveling to New York last week to implore the UN to stand with the Syrian people or be complicit in the crackdown.

Moscow, which  has billions of dollars in investments, including an estimated $5 billion alone in Syria's military sector, rejected the resolution, arguing against any Libya-style international intervention or regime change in Syria.

And even as the measure was going down for defeat, Syrian security forces stepped up a brutal revenge attack on the restive Syrian city of Homs. Activists there report as many as 300 people killed and 700 wounded since Friday in the worst days of violence Syria's third largest has yet seen. That bloodshed adds to an estimated death toll of 5,400 people killed since last March cited by Clinton last week.

Amid the mounting death toll and diplomatic setback, Yahoo News interviewed four experts about what they think the United States should do next on Syria. All interviews were conducted via phone unless otherwise specified.

Elliott Abrams, former George W. Bush White House Middle East adviser, now with the Council on Foreign Relations:

First, I think we should do one thing we have done: denounce the Russians and Chinese. Secondly, I think we should be helping at least indirectly the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council.

There is a war going on now; they need arms. To me the secondary question is, [whether the United States help arm them] indirectly or directly. If there's not a political way out of this, to defeat Assad, help the people who are fighting.

Bruce Jentleson, former senior adviser on Middle East issues at the State Department office of Policy Planning, 2009-2011, now at Duke University (via email):

Flood the zone—Do lots short of military intervention: tighten sanctions, keep naming and shaming Russia and China, provide refugee relief. Don't arm the opposition, but don't kill ourselves stopping others from doing so if they so choose. No boots on the ground--but perhaps some Nikes on the ground (as there likely already are, whether US/French/Turkish or other).

Find channels--probably quiet ones and not necessarily U.S. ones--to reach out to key Syrian elites like the business community that while having been pro-Assad, has its own interests which it may be starting to see as pointing in a different direction. And do all this without making it a U.S. issue. Call it 'lead with partners, lead for results" ... with the Arab League and individual Arab states out front.

Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian human rights activist, and leading member in exile of the Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council:

The situation is deteriorating very quickly. This is why our main focus right now is to establish a Friends of Syria international coalition. Such an international contact group on Syria--like the one formed on Libya--can help Syria politically, financially and with humanitarian aid. It can have regular meetings about what is going on in Syria and decide next steps.[...]

[Russia's veto] gave Assad a green light to continue. In addition to the attacks on Homs, [the Syrian security forces] have been increasing attacks on my home town near Damascus, where 26 people have been killed in the past days. They have snipers in all of the buildings. They have been shelling the last three days hospitals and [private] clinics. The U.S. has to do something....

Now we cannot get any resolution on Syria, even this [mild] resolution supported by the Arab initiative. This is why it is important to move without [a UN Security Council resolution] to pursue the idea of an international coalition on Syria. It's the only way right now.

Marc Lynch, head of the Middle East studies program at George Washington University, and frequent consultant to the Obama administration on Middle East policy:

The United States has been trying to stop militarization of the opposition. The U.S. has really been trying to keep them on this supposedly non-violent path, and hold out the possibility of a political solution. But the whole idea of a peaceful opposition has been hurt.

As far as this idea of a serious growing armed opposition around Syria, I think  people exaggerate its integrity and unity. It seems to be made up of local movements, local organizations, with no unified leadership. ... The Free Syrian Army is basically a fax machine in Turkey.

My real fear is that everyone seems to be moving in the direction of [believing the Syrian opposition] has not been given enough weapons--that they are outgunned. There is money everywhere, guns everywhere. The thing that will tip the military balance is not more AK-47s, it's going to be anti-tank missiles, secure communications. That is the direction this is probably going to go.[...]

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