Until the dictator leaves Syria, bloodshed will continue.
The recent horrific chemical attack by regime forces in Syria has once again focused international attention on the never ending Civil War there and the massive civilian death toll that has resulted.
President Trump's swift response sent a message to the world that the U.S. would not tolerate the use of such weapons. A long-term solution to the crisis seems as impossible as ever, however, with the multi-sided conflict seemingly an intractable puzzle.
Years of failed Obama administration policies and timid half-measures have taken an already difficult situation and made it worse. Solving the Syrian problem and bringing an end to the bloodshed will not be easy. It will not be impossible either. What it will take is backbone, severely lacking under Barack Obama, and the recognition of four essential truths.
There will be no peace in Syria until and unless Assad is gone. As long as his brutal, dictatorial regime remains in power, the bleeding will continue. Therefore, any and all actions we take from this point forward have to be dedicated to that purpose.We should not leave that for others to infer. We should state so loudly and publicly and continue to repeat that intention until it becomes reality.
The first step in removing Assad must be cutting off the support he receives from Tehran and its surrogates. Without Iranian money, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) support and Hezbollah cannon fodder, Assad would have been forced out long ago. Assad must be deprived of this support before anything else meaningful can be accomplished.
The task of cutting off Iranian support begins in Iraq, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a province of Iran. IRGC commanders, Iranian intelligence officers and 100,000 Shia militiamen armed and trained by Iran are taking control of Iraq and already moving into Syria in support of the Assad regime. Arms and equipment move through Iraqi airspace into Syrian regime territory freely.
We need to pressure the Iraqis to end this support. That means sustained pressure in military and diplomatic channels and hard bargaining. We cannot continue to fly air cover for IRGC operations and facilitate a Shia takeover of the Levant. IRGC and Iranian intelligence personnel must leave Iraq. Shia militia must either disband or fold into the Iraqi Army and submit to direct control by the central government. In support of these objectives we must commit to keeping substantial ground force in Iraq indefinitely and providing the support the Iraqis need to succeed.
Once Iraq is secured and the Iranians, now standing on the borders of Israel, are pushed back several hundred miles we must then act to isolate and strangle Assad and his Shia allies. That means working with Iraq, Turkey and other nations to close their airspace to all air travel into regime controlled areas. That likely means a blockade of Syrian ports to prevent arms and equipment from coming in by sea. That means acting through international bodies and in cyberspace to prevent the flow of cash to Damascus.
Assad must be left to wither on the vine, short on supplies and allies and unable to continue the fight. He must be made to realize that his only choice concerns how his regime will end not whether or not that end is coming.
And perhaps most importantly, we must engage the Russians, who have inserted themselves into this conflict. Vladimir Putin will not want to walk away from Syria having been forced to admit defeat. By the same token, Russia does not begin to have the military and financial resources to remain in Syria indefinitely, especially as Iranian support vanishes. We must present Putin with the chance to end this adventure in a way allowing him to paint it as a success to his countrymen — and the world.
If the Russians see that we are serious about bringing down Assad and have moved to effectively isolate him, and if they are convinced that they can have a part in the negotiations that remove Assad from power, they can be very constructive partners.
In fact, if properly motivated they can be counted on to communicate directly and clearly to Assad that his time to go has arrived and if he squanders it his next opportunity to negotiate will be with the rebel forces swarming into Damascus after Russian forces withdraw.
If we accept these necessary conditions, and if we act with resolve, we can yet take the disaster bequeathed to us by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and restore stability to a key part of the Mideast.
We can yet end the suffering of the Syrian people. It will be difficult. It will not happen overtime. It is possible. It all begins with Assad.