Hof, Doran, and Shaikh argue for greater US role in guiding Syrian opposition and transition

Syria: Is It Too Late?
Frederic C. Hof | January 14, 2013

Syria is dying. Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that the price of his removal is the death of the nation. A growing extremist minority in the armed opposition has made it clear that a Syria of citizenship and civil society is, in its view, an abomination to be killed. And those in the middle long begging for Western security assistance are increasingly bemoaning that it is already too late. Between the cold, cynical sectarianism of Assad and the white-hot sectarian hatred of those extremists among his opponents Syria already is all but gone, a body politic as numbingly cold and colorless as the harsh wintry hell bringing misery and hopelessness to untold numbers of displaced Syrians…..

And yet, what if the arm’s length approach to the armed Syrian opposition is precisely the wrong medicine for a patient at or near death’s door? What if an approach seen by its advocates as the very epitome of prudence is in fact the opposite? What if the United States can help shape a decent, civilized outcome in Syria by providing security assistance to select opposition elements, and do so with no US boots on the ground? What if it can help in the context of lethality but consciously elects not to?….

In a recent article, I urged the Syrian Opposition Council and Supreme Military Council to cooperate in forming a provisional government, one offering an alternative to the regime by standing up for Syria’s minorities and for democratic, civil society based on the supremacy of citizenship. A person prominent in Syrian opposition affairs wrote soon thereafter to say that the appetite for a provisional government was being dampened by the fear of insufficient material support from the West, a deficit that would cause its rapid failure and permanent loss of credibility, all for the benefit of Assad. To be sure there are many ways to articulate the “it’s too late” mantra. What they all have in common is the view that American actions will never match American words.

In truth the American taxpayer has hardly been AWOL from Syria’s struggle, as the United States leads the world in providing humanitarian assistance to desperately needy Syrians….Syria’s fate will likely be decided by men with guns. If a firm, irrevocable decision is in place that the United States will not play in this arena, then it may indeed be too late for Syria as the Assad/al-Qaeda tag team crowds out all other opponents from the ring, making Syria ungovernable, 22.5 million Syrians vulnerable, and neighboring states fully exposed to a catastrophe that could persist for decades.

Brookings: The Road Beyond Damascus

If the United States does not take on a more active leadership role in Syria, the country will become a failed state, a second Somalia in the heartland of the Middle East. Michael Doran and Salman Shaikh drafted this memorandum to President Obama as …

  • How can the U.S. provide greater leadership and concrete assistance without direct military intervention?
  • What countries should be part of an American-led international support group?
  • How should President Obama engage with Russia President Vladamir Putin, who wants Assad as part of transition talks?

….through active intervention you can help ensure a more stable transition to a post-Assad order that will provide a better future for the Syrian people and a strategic gain for the United States and its regional friends.In your first term, when it came to the Syrian revolution, you wagered that the risks of active intervention outweighed the risks of a more cautious approach. Now, however, we believe the massive toll of civilian casualties, the dismemberment of the country, and the intensification of the conflict along sectarian lines dictate a revisiting of your decision.


To stave off disaster and play a leadership role in shaping Syria’s future, the United States should provide lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, forge a genuine national dialogue that includes Alawis and Christians, and create an International Steering Group (ISG) to oversee and lend support to the transitional process, including the creation of an international stabilization force to provide protection to Syrian civilians. You will need to engage directly with President Putin to overcome already weakening Russian resistance to these essential endeavors.

Marlin Dick of the Daily Star tries to nail down the truth about a recent rebel offensive in Suweida, the capital of the Jabal Druze region.

Syrian Rebels Find Hearts and Minds Elusive

Rebel fighters in a neighborhood of Damascus on Tuesday. Many Syrians remain wary of the opposition and its assurances of how it would govern the country.
Published: January 15, 2013

Syrian opposition leaders in exile have repeatedly offered promises that a future Syria will guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion and ethnicity, including members of President Assad’s minority Alawite sect, and that government officials without “blood on their hands” will be safe. But that has done little to win the allegiance of a significant bloc of Syrians who are wary of the uprising.

“The opposition is in fact helping to hold the regime together,” said Peter Harling, an analyst with the International Crisis Group who meets in Syria with people on all sides of the conflict. “It seems to have no strategy to speak of when it comes to preserving what’s left of the state, wooing the Alawites within the regime or reaching out to those who don’t know who to hate most, the regime or the opposition.”…

Consulate Supported Claim of Syria Gas Attack, Report Says
By MICHAEL R. GORDON: January 15, 2013

WASHINGTON — A State Department cable asserted that Syrian forces might have used poison gas in December, according to a report by Foreignpolicy.com on Tuesday.

The classified cable was sent by the United States consul general in Istanbul, according to the Web site, and it discussed a consulate investigation into allegations that chemical weapons were used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23…. President Obama has said the use of chemical weapons by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad would cross a “red line” and possibly set off American military intervention.

Political Violence At A Glance

CNN: Gruesome toll of Syria cluster bombs

It was cloudy the afternoon of January 3 when residents say the cluster bombs fell on the Syrian town of Latamneh.

Comments (713)

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701. Ghufran said:

عدنان عبد الرزاق

قال عبد الرزاق إن تعميق الخلاف بين مكونات المجتمع السوري، يعيد إلى الأذهان تجربة البعثيين في مواجهة حركة الإخوان المسلمين في ثمانينيات القرن المنصرم، وتجربة مجالس الصحوات العراقية في مطلع العام 2003، التي دمجت في مفاصل مهمة في الوزارات العراقية لاحقًا.
بحسب عبد الرزاق، فاق عديد الصحوات في العراق 100 ألف مقاتل، واستفاد منها نظام نوري المالكي في مواجهة الشعب العراقي في مناطق محددة وقتل جذوة المقاومة ضد الاحتلال الأميركي، وفي زرع أنصار ومؤيدين نالوا رشاوى مالية لسنوات، ومن ثم سياسية، بتبوّئهم مواقع في الحكومة.
تساءل عبد الرزاق: \’\’هل يعيد التاريخ نفسه، وتنتقل التجربة العراقية إلى سوريا، ليس عبر جيش الدفاع المدني أو الوطني، الذي يحضر سريعًا، بل حتى لإهداء سوريا إلى إيران كما فعلوا مع العراق؟\’\’.
ورأى أن التبدلات التي طالت الحالة السورية أخيرًا، سواء لجهة الانسحاب من التعهدات السياسية بعيد تأسيس الائتلاف، أو حتى التوقف عن دعم المعارضة ومحاولات تجفيف منابع القوة المسلحة منها، تزيد من احتمال أن يعيد التاريخ نفسه.
قال: \’\’وأن تتحول مطالب الشعب السوري وانتفاضته إلى قضية لاجئين وإغاثة، ومن ثم إلى حرب أهلية، لتنتهي الحكاية بحرب على النصرة والإرهاب، وربما تشارك قوة دولية في اقتلاع الإرهاب السوري\’\’.
This is why Jabhat Alnusra sent a suicide bomber to kill the new recruits in Hama, there is no confirmation of the number of women and children who were murdered in that attack, nobody in his right mind believes that an attack of that type will only kill armed regime agents. Like it or not, this move by the regime is bad news for rebels and anybody who wants to use force to change the regime, it has the potential to split the opposition and increase resentment by many Syrians against rebel forces who will undoubtedly attack the new recruits. There is a sense of ” celebration” on pro regime social media sites , they see this initiative as an essential step to reduce pressure on regular army, the regime is learning from Assahwa in Iraq which basically ended any possibility of a united Sunni front against Maliki and Iran, do not blame the regime for this new development, it is doing what it can to cling to power, you should blame Islamist terrorist and incompetent expat opposition and their backers.
The conflict will now enter a new stage, Assad in my judgement is preparing his circle for a day when he is gone, the question is who will take the helm after him after he made sure that he has no competition around him?
Those of you who thinks the regime will collapse after Assad leaves are either ignorant or just dumb, the regime with or without Assad will still be alive and kicking for a long time but its composition and hierarchy will change as it tries to attract more leftists and tribal Sunnis.
( I am sorry if I interrupted the belly dancer and the drummer episodes)

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January 21st, 2013, 11:23 pm


702. William Scott Scherk said:

Ghufran’s post in Arabic features Adnan Abdul Razzak, who says (in part) “the deepening dispute between components of Syrian society brings to mind the experience of Baathists in the face of the 1980s Muslim Brotherhood movement — and also the experience of the ‘Iraqi Awakening’ councils at the beginning of 2003, the latter which became merged into Iraq ministries.”

Abdul Razak asks (I paraphrase): “Is history repeating itself, is [that] Iraq experience coming to Syria?”

He seems to suggest that history will indeed repeat itself — that the Syria people’s demands (of the government) and their intifada will end in foreign action of some kind …

I am not sure where Abdul Razak was interviewed, and I can’t be bothered to look it up since nobody cares about references, and I am sure he said nothing else interesting wherever he said it.

In other Iraq news, the Maliki government announced it was merging the Ministry of Information with the Prime Minister’s Office (I read somewhere), and laid heavy praise on its own example of centralizing and making more efficient the distribution of information.

Of course, compared to Syria, Iraq is like the Wild West of free-flowing media. Or Egypt in the present day. Let a hundred flowers bloom, then get the SAA to carpet bomb the field.

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January 21st, 2013, 11:39 pm


703. omen said:

World watches Syrians suffer


For months, global aid to Syria was largely channeled through international agencies that dealt only with sovereign governments. That meant they worked with Damascus or the Syrian Red Crescent, which wouldn’t deliver aid to areas freed from government control.

More recently, however, several international aid agencies, along with Syrian American volunteers, have found ways to transport tents, medical supplies, and other humanitarian goods across the border. USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), which has allotted $210 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian crisis, is getting supplies into the country, too.

Within Syria, civilians are organizing local relief committees in liberated areas, as well as volunteer clinics, schools, and bakeries. They are desperately awaiting equipment, money for salaries, and flour.

Getting relief supplies into Syria can be very risky. This week, one activist told me, Syrian refugees were cheered by wonderful, clear weather in the north of the country, but it also gave government jets an opportunity “to come and bomb.”

Still, courageous Syrian civilians are willing to risk all. But their success will depend heavily on whether the United States is willing to expand its role.

In November, U.S. officials helped organize a new Syrian Opposition Coalition, known as the SOC, with broader representation from inside Syria than previous such groups. President Obama recognized it as Syrians’ “legitimate representative.”

The immediate hope was that the SOC could serve as the focal point for coordinating aid to liberated areas of Syria and, with its contacts inside the country, identify needs. But to have credibility inside Syria, the SOC must be able to deliver benefits, which requires resources.

The Arab emirate of Qatar had promised to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in Qatari banks from accounts belonging to Assad, opposition sources say. That hasn’t happened. Nor have the Saudis delivered on their pledges.

Meantime, private Gulf donors continue to channel funds to Islamist groups in Syria, who distribute charity to desperate civilians and become heroes.

U.S. officials are trying to get donors to coordinate with the SOC, and they hope to deliver new U.S. humanitarian aid through the group. But this process is moving far too slowly, and U.S. officials need to expedite it.

Without resources, the SOC will quickly come to be dismissed as ineffective, like its predecessor, the Syrian National Council. It will not be able to establish itself in liberated areas of Syria or bolster nascent networks of civilian councils. A crucial chance to set up an effective channel to relieve Syrian suffering — and to facilitate a transitional government that might negotiate peace — will be lost.

That would be yet another tragedy heaped on Syrians already tormented by Assad’s war crimes — in full view of the world.

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January 21st, 2013, 11:44 pm


704. apple_mini said:

For those who are hoping/guessing Turkey’s direct intervention, this does not make sense at all. Do you really believe Turkey government is willing to lose any blood for Syria? Let alone the potential retaliation from Syrian army with mass destruction and facing off with Iran/Russia.

Sending weapons to rebels, they have been doing it for over a year. But I am pretty sure their intel agency and think tanks are worried now. After all, Turkey is not Islamic enough for those Nusra fighters. At this moment, everyone is using everyone for their own agenda. But wait and see when it is time to split.

None of any those FOS countries is willing/able/ready to get involved in Syria directly. It is a civil war with lots of foreign elements. As long as it continues, everything is determined on the battle ground. Not in Europe or the gulf. Definitely not on this board.

For Syria and Syrians, those Syrian expats are only good for one thing: their money.

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January 22nd, 2013, 12:08 am


705. Citizen said:

Triggering Political Chaos: U.S., NATO to Destabilize Iraq Through Qatar, Turkey
Qatar and Turkey receive orders from the United States and NATO to create insecurity in Iraq, says an Iranian lawmaker.

Nozar Shafiei, a member of Iran’s Majlis Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, said on Saturday that Doha and Ankara play a major role in creating chaos in Iraq at the behest of Washington and the alliance of NATO. The same thing happens in Syria, the Iranian lawmaker added.

Shafiei pointed out that Iran has no intention to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. However, the Islamic Republic should monitor the developments in Syria and Iraq in view of the spillover effects of the events in those countries.

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January 22nd, 2013, 12:24 am


706. omen said:

Role of Syrian women evolves as war rages on

“We hope after all the bloodshed, things will change,” said Tasneem Hamoude, 30, the daughter of a religious leader who fled her village of Bdama in Idlib province and works with Alhaji in the Free Syrian Women Organization. “We want to get rid of many social traditions. We want to have rights.”

A slight shift

Attitudes may be budging. Alhaji has noticed a subtle shift in language. Before the war, men commonly called out to a passing woman, “Ya, herme,” which loosely translates as “Hey, woman.” Now, she said, they are just as likely to address her as “sister.”

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January 22nd, 2013, 12:46 am


707. omen said:

Geography of Secrets

Women used their musical skills in their daily meetings, especially, the intimate girls who used to meet on a certain day of the week. There, every woman would sit beside her girl friend, whom she calls Abla. They would sit very close to each other, wearing revealing clothes, singing and flirting.

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January 22nd, 2013, 12:52 am


708. Ghufran said:

It is a relief to have a break from teenage type posts and be able to read a comment with a detectable level of sanity, thanks,apple mini, however, I am a fan of iPads .

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January 22nd, 2013, 12:53 am


709. Johannes de Silentio said:


“Qatar and Turkey receive orders from the United States and NATO, says an Iranian lawmaker.”

Dummy, for once in your goofy, acid-swilled life, will you please use your brain? Or at least, try to? Turkey and Qatar taking orders from the USA? Do you believe that? Are you that stupid?

Yes, I believe you are…

A New Bashar Cartoon:


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January 22nd, 2013, 1:11 am


710. revenire said:

Of course they take orders from the US. Heard of regime change? Iraq? Libya? Iran? Gee, the list is endless.

Qatar and the Saudis have their own thing but without the US forget it.

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January 22nd, 2013, 1:19 am


711. annie said:

This is a Russian-made air-delivered cluster submunition. We photographed it, and many others, in Syria in Sunday. Officially, that’s impossible, because Syria’s government, which operates the only air force over Syria, insists it has not used cluster munitions in the current Syrian war. Follow the links for more on the evidence that refutes, and the politics behind, official denials. Sometimes East is like West, and West is like East.


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January 22nd, 2013, 2:37 am


712. Johannes de Silentio said:

From the Jew/al Qaeda/Salafist/EU/CIA Press:

Russia is sending two airplanes to evacuate scores of its citizens from longtime ally Syria, Moscow said Monday, in the latest signal that the Kremlin may be preparing for the collapse of President Bashar Assad’s government.

The airplanes will fly to neighboring Lebanon on Tuesday and transport more than 100 people back to Russia, a spokeswoman for the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry told Russian media.

A New Bashar Cartoon:


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January 22nd, 2013, 3:51 am


713. Visitor said:

Time for new post by Landis. Even the trolls are getting tired of it!!

But it could be Landis’ way of getting rid of trolls!!

Or may be the trolls are getting sick of the scrolls!!

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January 22nd, 2013, 8:47 am


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