Here’s how to handle Syria

By Daniel Serwer
May 18, 2012

Bashar al-Assad continues his war on the Syrian opposition, despite the presence of United Nations observers. His efforts have generated extremist reactions, including major bombings. The Syrian opposition continues to fragment, even as protesters manage to mount peaceful demonstrations in many parts of the country. The conflict is increasingly sectarian in character and has overflowed to Lebanon’s Tripoli.

There is no alternative in sight to the existing Security Council resolutions. Syria is not on the NATO summit agenda this weekend in Chicago. The Americans continue to need the Russians “on side” for nuclear talks with Iran that resume next week in Baghdad. Unilateral American action on Syria is not in the cards. Europe is preoccupied with its own financial crisis and is unable to act without American help. Qatari and Saudi weapons entering Syria are likely to increase violence and worsen sectarian tensions.

So what is to be done? Here are some ideas for the Obama administration:

  • Lend wholehearted support to the Annan plan, which the United States has been badmouthing ever since the Security Council passed Resolution 2043 on Apr. 21.
  • Talk with Moscow about ensuring that Russian vital interests in Syria, port access and arms sales, are protected once Bashar al-Assad is gone. The United States no longer needs to block Moscow’s access to a Mediterranean port, as it did during the Cold War. Russian arms sales to Syria are a small price to pay to bring down a regime that links Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
  • Deploy civilian observers – including Americans – to Syria. The Security Council has already authorized a civilian component to the U.N. Supervisory Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). It would be too much to expect Syria to accept U.S. military observers, and the U.S. does not send its soldiers and Marines into harm’s way unarmed, as the UNSMIS observers are. But we have had good results with unarmed civilian observers in the Kosovo Verification Mission before the NATO-Yugoslavia war, when the lead observer spoke truth to power about a civilian massacre.
  • Stop talk about arming the opposition. It isn’t what we should be doing or encouraging      because of the likelihood it will prolong sectarian conflict; we can’t control where the weapons end up; and there is no hope that an insurgency will defeat Assad anytime soon.
  • Redouble encouragement for peaceful demonstrations, which are occurring every day in Syria, and try to ensure that the U.N. observers are present for them.
  • Increase the flow of non-weapons aid to the opposition inside Syria, which claims to have received precious little so far, and provide intelligence on threatening movements of Syrian security forces.
  • Present overhead video of heavy weapons in use against Syrian cities at the Security Council, along with other hard evidence of Annan plan violations. Anne-Marie Slaughter has proposed a U.N. website that would post video and photographs uploaded by Syrians.
  • Tighten the application of sanctions, including implementing the draconian financial sanctions already adopted for Iran against Syria as well.

When the Security Council approved the Annan plan, the United States called for “swift and meaningful consequences … should the regime continue to flout its obligations.” The best way of getting those consequences approved in the Security Council is to support full implementation of the Annan plan. Then the United States can go to the Council in mid-July, when the observer mission has to be renewed, arguing that despite its sincere efforts, Bashar al-Assad has defied the international community and needs to be taught a lesson.

PHOTO: Anti-government protesters attend the funeral of Mahmoud Al Moustafa, whom protesters said was killed by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Deir Al Zour, May 15, 2012.  REUTERS/Handout

11 comments

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This is unfortunately a complete delution. And of course, it could only be imagined in the confines of the faculty lounge.

Posted by Thucydides | Report as abusive

So what about terrorists killing innocent people sir?

What should the UNSC do about S. Arabia and Qatar sending Al Qaida Jihadists in Syria to kill innocent People?

How about the U.S. staying away and stopping its support of terror activities in Syria?

I think the syrian State acted within its rights. No State can allow armed gangs,insurgeants,rebels, whatever you call them,to run around killing people under the pretext of protesting.

If these terrorist acts we see in Syria were committed in the U.S., Obama would have responded in the same way Assad is doing.

The U.S. told the world during the last 10 yeasrs that you can’t negociate with terrorists.

Posted by Fromkin | Report as abusive

Prof. Serwer:

“to bring down a regime that links Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah”

Is that your objective?

I don’t take it as a given that alleged links to Hezbollah is a bad thing. After all, Israel has twice completely violated Lebanon’s sovereignty, tried to bomb it into the ground, actually occupied it, in the first case almost twenty years, and the Hezbollah organization has twice saved Lebanon.

If these ties to Hezbollah are the reason the US and West is going after Assad, it makes me suspect the whole issue: we already see daily how the media distorts the Palestinian issues, so they likely are doing the same thing again, in support of Israel?

What exactly is the role of the West in the Syrian “uprising”?

Your concerns for Syrians don’t meet the smell test.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

It is amazing how weak are the measures you are recommanding here compared whith those which would have been taken in the past century before 1990 as Russia was USSR and your country involved in the cold war. In that time Turkey was the center of yours moves in the country and Greece and Turkey were used to work together. At present USA belongs no more other relay of its middle-east policy except Israel. Egypt is broken. Iraqi is broken.Lebanon is broken. Greece is broken by the crazy idea to put the olympics in Athena in spite of the corruption and the debt increase, in 2004 for the remembrance of the birth of the games. Will we see the end of the slaughters of Hassad as long as Greece will not be rescued?

Posted by meleze | Report as abusive

What needs to be done? – Nothing. Every penny spent on other people’s wars takes money from the poor in America, while the rich lay back and enjoy the ego pop.

Posted by urownexperience | Report as abusive

Why “handle” Syria? Whats it to you?
Go home stay home and take care of your own problems!

Posted by SvenBolin | Report as abusive

US policy in ME is to create Afghanistan / Somalia like entities Iraq Libya AlQaida is a product of US ally Saudi Arabia, The regime that breeds, ideology and Money, Alqaida is well flourishing with petrodollar filled coffers

Posted by fatima05 | Report as abusive

Daniel, you’re under the delusion that NATO wants to see this end peacefully?

Right, that’s why they enlisted the Taliban then?

Posted by mick68 | Report as abusive

This Syrian Regime managed for 40 years to oppress its people and its Neighbors under the whispers slogan ” We stop Terrorism against Israel.” It is an old story now!

- How can a Regime stay in power where 85 percent of population are against? How can a Regime that kills its people stay in power?
- How can a regime that occupied its Neighbors and Harbor Terrorist groups from all kind stay in power for 40 years?
- How can such a minority group win over all population for that long? I have that answer for the Syrian regime lovers by committing all kind of terrorism against its people.
- History has taught us some Lessons, One that most dictators will loose at the End! I assure Syrian Regime will loose and Assad will be prosecuted for Genocide.

- For those of you that supporters of Hizbollah I say the truth about you and your masters in Iran: You never serve whats good for Lebanon you only serve whats good for the Aytollah Regimes of Iran and you do not represent the Lebanese citizens at all.

International community should act to stop this Genocide.

At the End Justice will prevail and I value Professor Daniel Serwer Opinion because the Syrian people are in great danger and they are looking for any Humanitarian support they can get.

I pray for Peace always.

Posted by lebaneese | Report as abusive

What’s wrong with arming some insurgents with guns,anti-tank weapons, and medical supplies and equipment? Mr. Serwer’s against this because, he says, it will only further inflame religious/sectarian tensions. No. I thought these were peaceful demonstrations until Assad started the violence. What we need to do is support the Syrian people and their desire to be rid of this 40 plus year dictatorship. As for Russian and Chinese facilitation of the Syrian government’s actions, it’s clear enough where they are coming from. They are afraid of democracy. We are too friendly to both countries and ought to review our portfolios with them, if they insist on aiding and abetting Assad’s killing machine.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

Why is unilateral American action “not in the cards?” Because it is an election year. It is shameful to see the pile of bodies ten thousand high continue growing because the leaders of the world are more concerned with their next election than they are about upholding the values which they so loudly extoll. I am American, and I am ashamed.

Posted by smanchwhich | Report as abusive