A Syria Strategy for Obama

Three bold steps to hasten the end of Assad's regime.

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Residents look at buildings damaged by the forces of President al-Assad in Daraya on January 16, 2013. (Reuters)

This post is part of "Obama and the Middle East: Act Two," a series produced with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on U.S. foreign policy in the president's second term. See our full coverage here.

The Assad regime's brutal suppression of the Syrian uprising has spurred a humanitarian disaster, with the United Nations now estimating over 60,000 killed and 3 million displaced. Syrians are now dying of starvation and exposure as food and medical supplies run desperately short. The regime continues to escalate its attacks with the use of artillery, combat aircraft, and, most recently, SCUD and reportedly Fatah 110 missiles against the armed and civilian opposition.

The Obama administration has repeatedly voiced its concern that the Assad regime is considering using its chemical weapons stockpile, which includes sarin nerve gas and mustard gas, against its domestic opponents. The U.S. government reportedly even investigated the possible use of a chemical agent last month in Homs. At the same time, Washington has refused to fulfill the opposition's request for more and better weapons that would help it end the regime's onslaught, sowing anti-American sentiment that is being increasingly harvested by Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda affiliates. There is now a real danger that Assad regime's chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militants sworn to destroy the United States and its regional allies.

With U.S. elections now settled, the Obama administration is less constrained by domestic U.S. politics and should now take bold steps to hasten the end of Assad's regime. The fight to take down the regime and its supporters may continue for some time, and divisions between opposition groups means the struggle for what replaces it may be conflict-ridden as well. Even as the war continues, Washington should take steps to ease human suffering and place itself in a better position to secure chemical weapons from use in Syria and elsewhere.

First, Washington should use patriot missile batteries in an offensive capacity against regime aircraft - and deploy them defensively against SCUD and Fatah 110 missiles targeting opposition-dominated areas along Syria's borders with Turkey and Jordan. A package of the patriot missiles recently deployed to southern Turkey augmented with an anti-aircraft capability, for example, could be used to carve out a 50-mile air exclusion zone from the Turkish border city of Kilis to Aleppo, Syria's largest city. This would help the opposition create vital "safe areas" where civilians could be secure in an organized fashion free from regime airstrikes as the war against Assad continues.

Presented by

Andrew Tabler

Andrew J. Tabler is senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the book In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.

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