What next for Syria?
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
With the apparent collapse of the U.N.-mediated peace talks on Syria, the United States and its allies find themselves in a difficult spot. Absent a diplomatic and political option, what can the world do about a civil war that has killed an estimated 136,000 people, produced 9 million refugees, displaced 4.25 million civilians internally and now threatens to destabilize several other countries in the region?
President Barack Obama has to be frustrated over the failure of the talks; a second and largely fruitless round ended last week in Geneva. Having said, rightly, that there is no military solution, he has struggled to get the negotiations off the ground. The opposition forces, though weak, at least proposed a transitional government. President Bashar Assad of Syria not only resisted any compromise but actually intensified the bombing of rebel neighborhoods; 5,000 more people have reportedly been killed.
U.S. officials say that Assad’s grip has grown stronger over the past year, thanks largely to the reliable support of his patrons in Russia and Iran. Yet despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s criticism, Moscow has enabled Assad to “double down,” while the rest of the world has largely given Iran and Russia a pass. That is astonishing. Experts say Syria is using Russian-supplied helicopters to attack in Homs, and Russia most likely has supplied engines, transmissions and other spare parts. Iran has also been shipping arms and deploying its elite Quds Force paramilitary units to assist Assad, as well as encouraging Hezbollah militants to fight on his behalf.
Now that peace talks have run aground, Obama has asked his advisers to review old and new options for bolstering opposition forces and easing the desperate humanitarian crisis. These tasks have grown even more complicated as Syria has increasingly become a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists and as ever-larger refugee flows threaten to destabilize the region. Such threats may at some point require bolder steps. But, so far, no one has come up with surefire remedies or even new ideas that would not draw the United States into war. Options under consideration include providing money, transportation and intelligence to some rebel fighters. But such moves are unlikely to change the military balance.
The administration is reportedly not considering strategies that have already been rejected, such as air strikes or directly supplying the rebels with weapons beyond the limited arms and training available to them under a program led by the CIA. It is unclear whether the administration has dropped its objections to Saudi Arabia’s supplying vetted rebel groups with more advanced weapons.
Obama has resisted being pushed into a war by critics who seem to believe that force is the ultimate sign of leadership. Leadership sometimes means not going to war. It also means, in this case, persisting in the frustrating search for a peaceful solution and, short of that, some means of lessening the misery of the Syrian people.