Syria is a horrible mess. It is no longer an asymmetrical war. It has drawn in Iran, Russia, Iraq and Egypt on one side, and the US, France, Jordan and a host of other countries on the other side. Not much will be left of Syria after the conflict is over.
All good options, are impractical. Victory by the opposition and a non-secular democratic government is a fantasy. We have the military power to defeat ISIL but we can not occupy and run Syria. We can not put Americans into a war between Sunnis and Shi’ites in Syria.
The cornerstone of US policy is first Assad has to leave. We must let go of this. While the opposition is committed to a non-secular government, even if they hold to their promise, it will be an enormous loss of power to the Shi’ites or one can say a major victory to Sunnis. Assad and his Shi’ite minority will never give up, even if Syria is completely leveled.
We must reverse course, and fast. Conceptually, the policy change is to treat ISIL and the other jihadist groups as foreign invaders, who occupy Syria. We can accept Russia’s presence as a fight against terrorism. Through negotiations, Russia presence can be short. They really don’t want a long term involvement in Syria. If there can be peace (or at least some stability) in Syria, even under the tyrant Assad, then hopefully Russia’s military presence is not longer needed. The end to bombing by US, Russia and Syria (of their own people) should be the new goal. Thus, instead of making Assad the number 1 enemy of the US, we have to work to keep Syria independent of Iran and the more radical Shi’ite groups like Iran’s revolutionary guard.
I believe non-interference agreements between the US and Russia are the highest priority. This is tough as the US will have to stop supporting the opposition forces In turn, Russia will not use its air force to bomb cities held by the opposition forces. This would be a truce or standstill agreement in the civil war. It does not require us to acknowledge the legitimacy of Assad. It does tell the opposition groups, that they better make peace with Assad and fast, because they can no longer count on US support. Since the common enemy is ISIL, then we support Iraq’s effort to fight ISIL and allow Russia to fight ISIL in Syria. ‘
We have to keep Israel at bay also, as their involvement will be counterproductive to de-escalation efforts, and result in intensifying support for radical Islamic groups. It is a real juggling act for Obama.
This is a major change in concept and unfortunately, allows Assad to continue to treat his own people, hoping for change, as terrorists. We can not be the policemen nor the nurse maids of the world (Fulbright’s famous quote). Disengagement is not a mainstream Democrat or Republican idea. Many of the conservative Republicans see us increasing support to the opposition, as if we are on a holy crusade to spread democracy and wipe out tyrannical (illegitimate) governments. Bomb Damascus, Tehran or Moscow or parachute a million Americans into Syria. Higher ideals do not translate into workable solutions.
Oh, if the Tunisian officials had given Mohamed Bouazizi back his scale (see my prior post). There is no rewind button on history.
The long term solution of disengagement requires a huge swallowing of pride and compromise of our ideal. Syrians who gave their lives for a better future without Assad will feel betrayed. Mutual disengagement (US and Russia) is the trade off needed for a hope for stability. Otherwise, we end up with a colossal proxy war of our own making.