News / Middle East

Few Options for US to End Fighting in Syria

In statements at home and abroad, the Obama administration has made its policies toward the Syrian government clear: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go. 

"Our goal is to hasten the end of the bloodshed and the Assad regime," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a recent trip to Turkey. "That is our strategic goal.”

But analysts say the U.S. is nowhere near achieving that goal.

The U.S. rhetoric has done little to help rebel forces who have been fighting Syrian government troops for nearly 18 months, and there is no sign that either side will put down their weapons.

U.S. options few

Analysts say at this stage, no one is really calling for a military intervention. But President Barack Obama has threatened the use of military force if the Syrian government were to use chemical weapons during its fight against the insurgents. 

Some U.S. politicians are talking about another option - setting up a no-fly zone over Syria, similar to the one put in place in the Libyan conflict.

But experts also say such an endeavor would not be sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, since Russia has made clear it would veto any resolution calling for a no-fly zone. Moscow and China have already vetoed several resolutions urging Mr. Assad to step down.

Some analysts say the lightly armed rebels must get more weapons in order to adequately fight the well-equipped Syrian army. 

Several Western nations, including the United States and Britain, have been providing the Syrian opposition with non-lethal assistance, such as communications equipment, medical supplies and water purification kits. 

Arming insurgents may backfire 

Reports also indicate countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are either providing funds to various rebel groups to purchase weapons, or are directly supplying them with arms.

But Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East expert with London’s Chatham House, said providing weapons to the insurgents may be a bad move.

“It will backfire, because all these groups that are being armed now, whether for a good cause or not, will have to be disarmed later and that will be a very difficult process,” he said. “A direct military intervention has more legality. It’s easier to get rid of an occupying force than to dismantle militias later.”

Shehadi and others believe the United States must play a leading role now in finding a solution to the Syrian conflict. But others say nothing will happen until after the November presidential election - and even later, in January, when the winner of the election takes office.

View Latest Images

  • Free Syrian Army fighters run to take cover from fire from regime forces in the Seif El Dawla neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, August 24, 2012.
  • Buildings that were damaged after an exchange of fire between Free Syrian Army fighters with regime forces in the Seif El Dawla neighborhood Aleppo.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter runs to take cover from fire from regime forces in Seif El Dawla, August 24, 2012.
  • A Syrian man takes refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing in Azaz, August 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes continue.
  • A Syrian girl who fled her home with her family due to fighting in Syria sleeps by her family's belongings at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing in Azaz, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, August 23, 2012.
  • Members of the Free Syrian Army clash with Syrian army soldiers in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla district, August 22, 2012.
  • Sunni gunmen sit on a street where clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime in Tripoli, Lebanon, Aug. 22, 2012.
  • Members of the Free Syrian Army take cover inside a house during clashes with Syrian army soldiers in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla district, August 22, 2012.
  • Children play on a swing in the center of Aleppo city, August 22, 2012.
  • A Syrian rebel fighter stands guard in Saif al-Dawla district of Aleppo city, August 22, 2012.

Assad will fight to the end 

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert with the London School of Economics, believes President Assad will fight to the bitter end.

“All the indicators seem to clearly show that he is hunkering down for the long haul," he said. “Not only he does not believe that he will meet the same fate as the Libyan president, Assad and his supporters and his regional allies, particularly Iran, believe that he has the momentum, he can still defeat the opposition. Barring an international military intervention, Assad will be able to survive for a long time.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton sees another possible way out for Mr. Assad.

“You can make an argument that it’s more humanitarian, it would save more lives and cause less economic chaos for Syria, to allow Assad and his family to escape, to take some of their money with them in order to end the conflict sooner," Bolton said. “But who can guarantee security for Assad? If he doesn’t feel that he can get such a guarantee, he may well conclude he might as well fight right to the end. That certainly appears to be what he and his regime are doing right now.”



Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

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