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Whether the Obama administration has now decided on an adequate programme to train and equip rebel groups remains unclear. How many men will be trained, for how long, and how well, and what weapons they will be given, and when the programme will seriously get under way, are all uncertain. Given the President's long record of reluctance to become involved in Syria's war, there is room for scepticism. But perhaps he has turned a corner and the new programme will be serious and effective.

Second, the US and if possible the UK and France should do now what we should have done last summer: punish Assad for the continuing use of chemical warfare. This means an air strike robust enough to damage chemical weapons targets, including units that have used them and any air assets ever used to deliver them. Any strike should at this point be broad enough to restrict greatly Assad's ability to use air power as an instrument of terror. More broadly, punitive air operations should be considered in order to force the regime to allow humanitarian aid to reach those who need it fast. And even more broadly, air strikes can both change the military balance on the ground, and affect the political and psychological dimensions of the conflict by demonstrating a new American policy and new determination. As Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning in the State Department in Obama's first term, wrote in April: "A US strike against the Syrian government now would change the entire dynamic. It would either force the regime back to the negotiating table with a genuine intention of reaching a settlement, or at least make it clear that Assad will not have a free hand in re-establishing his rule." Is such use of American air power feasible? Yes; outside the Damascus area air defences are quite limited and so would be the risk to the US. This conclusion is supported by Israel's series of successful air attacks on Syria without losing one aircraft. But it should be added that such air strikes to weaken Assad's forces will only benefit the jihadis unless there is a simultaneous effort to strengthen non-jihadi Syrian rebel groups.

As a corollary, air strikes and stepped-up military aid to Syria's neighbours should be considered whenever ISIS or other jihadi groups cross into their territory. Iraq was first; Jordan or Turkey may be next, and we should be prepared to help them defend themselves.

Third, the US, the EU, and other donors are still not delivering sufficient aid to Jordan, and other neighbours of Syria, to enable them to cope with the refugee crisis there without severe political and economic strains — for example, on schools and hospitals. The US and our Gulf allies, some of whom are actively funding rebel groups in Syria, should undertake a serious joint review of Jordan's needs, and then act together to meet them. At West Point, President Obama pledged to do so: "We will step up our efforts to support Syria's neighbours — Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria's borders."

Fourth, the US with France, Germany and Britain should make it clear to allies in the region such as Israel and the Gulf Arab states that any nuclear deal we reach with Iran will not stop us from confronting Iranian subversion and aggression — such as its sending hundreds of Revolutionary Guard and Quds Force combatants and advisers to Syria. There are many suspicions in the region that a "grand bargain" with Iran is still in the cards, and that if a nuclear deal can be reached Western resistance to other aspects of Iranian conduct would be softened just when sanctions relief would be giving Iran more economic resources. These fears should loudly be laid to rest. The Obama administration should clarify that we seek only a nuclear deal with Iran, have no illusions about or intentions to negotiate a broad rapprochement with the Islamic Republic, and will help those nations that are resisting Iranian misconduct.

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John Ray.
November 18th, 2014
2:11 PM
Not a smidgen of bias, misinformationan or ommission in this article I see. Also not a hint of wishful thinking and sheer fantasy either. Really can anyone take this self declared expert seriously?

August 17th, 2014
6:08 PM
This article has too many basic errors. The prescriptions are also based on a fantasy. Just as a couple of examples of errors: ISIS was not formed in 2013 in Iraq. AQ in Iraq sent fighters to Syria in 2012 to form al-Nusrah. AQI also had its own presence in Syria. Once Al-Nusrah refused to accept AQI leadership, ISIS was declared. ISIS is an AQI re-branding. Also the so-called moderate Syrian insurgents never suffered from lack of funds or weapons. Saudis and Qataris poured money into the FSA but the FSA couldn't get itself organized. Saudi-Qatari rivalry didn't help either. But now to the fantasy: Somehow the US will be able to simultaneously weaken Assad (by bombing its air assets) and train enough moderates who'll in turn will be able to defeat both ISIS and hordes of other jihadis in Syria on the one hand and the Assad regime on the other hand. This is not serious analysis.

Observer of the Scene
July 1st, 2014
8:07 AM
The question we face now is which happens first: that policy change, or the explosion of bombs set by our own citizens who returned from war determined to make our capitals the next front. Yes, what a clever policy we've followed for decade on decade. On the one hand, we've reached out to Muslim nations with high explosive; on the other, we've opened our borders to mass immigration by Muslims who are, it seems, not entirely happy about our international policy. If only wise and far-sighted individuals like Eliot Abrams had had some influence over what we were doing. If only we'd asked Israel how it has managed to assimilate all those Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Somalis, Eritreans and other assorted Africans it has welcomed in. You know, the dream-filled migrants who have helped Israel's economy boom, rather than its underground stations and buses.

David O'Sullivan
June 27th, 2014
5:06 AM
It is time to partition Iraq…Iraq is basically a construction created by Britain and France after the fall of the Ottoman empire for the benefit of the West, without reference to the diverse communities that make up the population…Iraq (and Syria) should be partitioned into a Kurdish state, Sunni state and Shia state so that the security forces created by them can be trusted by the communities in which they operate. Syria is a special case; there is a large Sunni population, and a minority Alawite population more closely aligned to Shia than Sunni and some other minorities whose interests should be recognized. Such a resolution may well be supported by the other Moslem states in the region.

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