What the Hell Should We Do About Syria?

(…)Randa Slim: Talk to Iran - The massacre in al-Houla, where Syrian military forces and allied militiamen massacred more than 100 civilians in cold blood, leaves no doubt about the intentions of President Bashar al-Assad's regime: survival at any cost and through any means. Assad does not have a Plan B.

While the United States and its Western partners remain publicly wedded to a toolbox of diplomacy, sanctions, and pressure to force Assad out of power, he responds with escalating violence. And it will only get worse: As long as Assad remains in power, more horrific massacres will follow. As long as Assad and his military elites believe they can win this fight, they will not relent, and defections from the senior brass -- whether out of loyalty or fear -- will remain minimal. The steady flow of Russian weapons and Iran's financial and military assistance reinforce their calculus.

Assad is digging in for a long fight. As the struggle goes on, the regional implications of Syria's crisis will increasingly become a complicating factor. Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions are already at a boiling point next door in Lebanon.

(…)Andrew J. Tabler: Cut off Assad's lifelines - Beyond the existing diplomatic isolation, the sanctions regime on Syrian oil exports and other designations of Assad regime figures and entities, a number of measures could be undertaken in the short run to weaken Assad's grip on power. Here they are, in order of most indirect to most direct:

1. Provide greater support to the opposition within Syria: The Obama administration is providing non-lethal assistance to the non-violent opposition in Syria. That assistance could be extended openly to all opposition forces as well, including providing them with vital intelligence about regime security and military formations headed for towns and cities. Working with these groups would help the United States understand them better, assess their reliability, and establish bonds of trust that could lead to provisions of lethal assistance as the conflict unfolds.

2. Encourage the Kurds and Arab tribes in eastern Syria to fully support the uprising: The Assad regime has broken its most reliable divisions into brigades as it continues its deadly game of "whack-a-mole" with the Syrian opposition. One way to further stretch Assad's forces and accelerate its demise is to expand the Syrian uprising to eastern Syria, where Syria's Kurds and Arab tribes hold sway. They also sit atop Syria's oil and gas producing regions. Sabotage operations on pipelines and other facilities would severely constrain the regime's ability to maneuver. In preliminary discussions with figures representing these communities, they have expressed interest in expanding their relationship with the Free Syrian Army, which has been active in eastern Syria. Now is the time to take the next step.

Rand Slim is an adjunct research fellow at the New America Foundation and a scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Andrew J. Tabler is a Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria.

The above article was published in foreignpolicy.com on May 30th, 2012.

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