By Robert Schlesinger |
The situation in Syria has already taken the lives of 70,000 Syrians and displaced four million. Now, if reports are accurate, the Assad regime has crossed a red line by using chemical weapons, forcing us to consider all options as to how we influence the conflict and tip the scales against Assad.
This doesn't mean throwing ourselves into the middle of a complicated sectarian civil war, but it does mean looking at every option for the United States to play a leading role in a coordinated international response with a clearly articulated strategy that our partners in the Middle East and around the world can support.
Even before reports of the use of chemical weapons, Syria was becoming a threat to our national security: Civil strife has allowed terrorists to claim a safe haven in the heart of the Middle East; the humanitarian tragedy in Syria is destabilizing its neighbors like Jordan, which are supporting enormous refugee populations; and there is a real risk of chemical-weapons-stockpiles falling into the wrong hands.
First, we should dramatically increase aid to address the suffering of the Syrian people. This would signal to other donor nations that it's not business as usual – that there's too much at stake to look the other way.
Second, we must cut off the Assad regime's economic lifelines from Moscow and Tehran. Russia and Iran must both know that there will be economic consequences for their continued support of the regime.
Third, we must increase support for groups inside Syria that we are confident share our values and interests. We need to continue to identify these groups and assist them in establishing governing institutions that are a viable alternative to Assad. We must also provide military aid and training to these groups to increase their fighting capacity, while stopping short of weapons that could threaten our own interests if they fall into the wrong hands.
Finally, with reports of the possible use of the nerve agent sarin, the time has come to evaluate more direct forms of intervention such as limited safe zones over liberated areas of the country, or a more complete no-fly zone.
If we take these bold steps – publically and forcefully – with the support of our allies, it will send a strong signal to Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies that efforts to keep him in power will be in vain.
About Robert Menendez Democratic Senator from New Jersey
Charles Dunne Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs at Freedom House