January 5, 2012 | New York Daily News

It’s Time to Tip the Scales in Syria

Obama must do more to force out the tyrant Assad

Of all the regimes that have experienced turmoil as a result of the Arab Spring, Syria’s is the only one that has been consistently opposed to American interests. It is the only Arab ally of Iran, a major supplier of weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah, a perpetual violator of Lebanese sovereignty and a transit hub for jihadists on their way to Iraq.

It is also a brutal tormentor of its own people: Since the eruption of protests in March, the regime has killed more than 5,000 people. And while the regimes of Moammar Khadafy in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt were murderous and authoritarian, they did not stand in violent opposition to the U.S., as has the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

It is for that reason that the world, led by us, should put Assad’s regime to an end. A new report issued by Michael Weiss of the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank, charts the way.

The report, which has input from a retired Syrian general as well as an adviser to the Syrian National Council, the largest exiled opposition group, suggests the creation of a “safe zone” near the Turkish border, along the lines of the Libyan city of Benghazi, which had been liberated early in that country’s revolution. This would require the disarming of Syrian air defenses, as was accomplished by the NATO mission in Libya. And as in Libya, it is a mission that could be undertaken by a coalition that includes the U.S., Britain, France and some of the Arab states that have condemned Assad’s barbarity.

International sanctions of the regime have not had an appreciable effect in weakening it. Nor has the most recent multilateral effort; the Arab League mission currently “monitoring” the conflict in Syria is led by a Sudanese general complicit in the Darfur genocide.

“We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights,” says Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the SNC, who endorsed the report.

In addition to achieving humanitarian ends (and earning the goodwill of Syrians, as the intervention against Khadafy did with Libyans), removing Assad would serve important American strategic objectives. Ghalioun has already pledged that post-Assad Syria would cut ties to Iran as well as arms shipments to Hezbollah and Hamas. It would stop serving as the Star Wars cantina of terrorism.

There are hazards, of course, to intervention. “The current structure of the insurgency is atomized, hapless and beholden to no decisive authority,” the report says. Hezbollah could rain missiles on Israel, or the regime itself could spark trouble in the Golan Heights, as it did earlier this year, to draw Jerusalem into the conflict. Assad might empty his jails, as did Saddam Hussein, or deploy chemical weapons, which he is known to hold.

Yet, as the report states, while “any military intervention option would result in the loss of life in Syria,” it would “stem current and future mass-scale killings at the behest of the regime’s leadership.” In other words, policymakers should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

Foreign Policy magazine reports that the Obama administration has belatedly understood this, and is secretly planning to aid the opposition. That it has taken so long to reach this point is a function of its broader philosophy of “engagement” with the world’s authoritarian regimes.

Last year, the administration decided to send an ambassador to Damascus, the previous one having been recalled due to Syria’s suspected complicity in the murder of the Lebanese prime minister. The new ambassador, however, was recalled in October due to credible threats against his life.

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the man widely rumored to become secretary of state should Obama win a second term, visited with Assad a number of times in the past two years, all in hopes of somehow convincing the tyrant to change his evil ways.

As Kerry’s friend Sen. John McCain has said, the notion that Assad is a “reformer” is “one of the great delusionary views in recent foreign policy history.”

Thankfully, it appears that the administration is not suffering under this delusion any longer.

Kirchick is a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributing editor for The New Republic.

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