News / Middle East

    US Needs New Strategy for Syria

    U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi addresses the media after a meeting at the Geneva Conference on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Feb. 15, 2014.
    U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi addresses the media after a meeting at the Geneva Conference on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Feb. 15, 2014.
    Reports that UN special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is considering resigning should not surprise anyone.
     
    Two rounds of “peace talks” in Geneva between the Syrian regime and émigré opposition figures produced no progress toward a political solution of the conflict, which this month marks a third grim anniversary.
     
    Brahimi, 80, a veteran international mediator who took on the assignment after former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan resigned the post in 2012, apologized to the Syrian people after the recent talks for accomplishing so little to end their agony. With more than 140,000 dead – including victims of regime “barrel bombs” and bitter opposition infighting – and half the population internally displaced or refugees, Brahimi has ample reasons for being apologetic.
     
    Two US-based analysts argue that the United States and the international community need a fresh approach.  Instead of putting representatives of the Assad government and the externally based Syrian Opposition Coalition in the same room together again, Faysal Itani and Nathaniel Rosenblatt say the United States should “zoom in” and seek to identify local actors within Syria who have garnered respect and support and are not unremittingly hostile to the United States.
     
    “We’ve been thinking about this through the wrong lens,” Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told a Washington audience on Wednesday (March 5). “We don’t have the appropriate participants in the process. Geneva was diplomatic theater without substance” that was “not only useless but harmful.”
     
    Itani said the strategy should be to identify opposition nuclei in different parts of Syria, bolster them and gradually try to mesh them into a coherent national force.
     
    Rosenblatt, who has done extensive analysis of local sentiments in Syria and found scant backing for the government or the external opposition, said it was possible to identify more popular and effective actors even though the opposition is evolving daily and currently appears dominated by Islamist groups.
     
    Frederic Hof, a former US official who is now with the Atlantic Council and who moderated Wednesday’s discussion agreed that “the top down approach by the US government is essentially bankrupt.”
     
    Officials in the Barack Obama administration have praised the Syrian Opposition Council for behaving in a dignified manner in Geneva – in contrast to representatives of the government of Bashar al-Assad who spent most of their time vilifying  their interlocutors. But US officials such as Secretary of State John Kerry have also acknowledged the lack of progress and hinted that they are looking for a new approach.
     
    The US has stepped up efforts to coordinate covert support for selected rebels, with senior officials from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Jordan meeting  in Washington last month. The Saudis have reportedly sidelined Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former ambassador to the US, who is blamed for funneling aid to jihadists, and replaced him with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister, who survived an al Qaida attempt to assassinate him in 2009 and has a more jaundiced view of al Qaida-linked groups in Syria.
     
    There are no guarantees, however, that a beefed up strategy of overt and covert backing for local actors will resolve the conflict any sooner. Indeed, the more money and weapons sent into Syria from the outside, the bloodier the war is likely to become in the short and medium term. The United States and the Saudis also have a poor track record of identifying responsible actors in failed and failing states, judging from mistakes made in Afghanistan in the 1980s and ‘90s and US support for feckless Iraqi exiles before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
     
    Hopes to enlist more cooperation toward a political solution from Russia, one of Assad’s two key foreign backers, also are evaporating given the new Cold War between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
     
    However, the US, Russia and other interested parties -- including Iran -- could do more to push for humanitarian access to displaced Syrians, building on a UN Security Council resolution passed last month – the first that Russia has not vetoed since the conflict began.
     
    The Obama administration has provided more than half the humanitarian aid going to Syrians -- some $1.7 billion – and sought to enhance Syria’s neighbors’ capacity to deal with a deluge of refugees. But Syria is still hampering access to about 3.3 million people within the country, according to Anne Richard, the assistant secretary of State for population, refugees and migration, and another quarter million are in places that are under siege by Syrian government forces. 
     
    Francois Stamm, the head of the North American delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said Wednesday at a symposium at the Aspen Institute that the Syrian government is forcing aid agencies to choose whether to operate out of the Syrian capital or from neighboring states.
     
    “We try as much as we can to cross the lines,” Stamm said, saying that the ICRC was working from Damascus. “It’s very difficult to get to besieged areas.”
     
    He also complained that the Syrian government has blocked the ICRC from visiting political detainees, a number he estimated is in the “tens of thousands.”
     
    Aid workers also face enormous challenges negotiating access with opposition forces. Stamm said that three ICRC workers are still missing after being kidnapped in rebel territory last October.
     
    Richard urged Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates to follow the example of Kuwait and funnel contributions through UN and other international aid agencies which are doing the bulk of humanitarian work.  She added that she wished the American public – apart from Syrian Americans, who are very active – would pay more attention to this unprecedented unfolding tragedy.

    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    Ethiopia's Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?

    Yonatan Tesfaye was detained in December 2015 on charges under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; eleven statements from his Facebook page were used as evidence

    Egypt Orders Trial for Journalists Charged With Harboring Reporters

    Order targets journalists' union chief Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim for allegedly spreading false news, harboring fugitive colleagues

    Nigerian Oil Production Falls as Militant Attacks Take Toll

    Country no longer Africa's petroleum king due to renewed militancy in its oil-producing region

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    March 11, 2014 6:39 AM
    They need to go in and take him out. Russia is allowed to illegally take over countries, why cant the west go after a mass murderer?

    by: jeremy_gsl
    March 08, 2014 5:37 PM
    UN is brainstorming how to appease the U.S. administration, rather than apologise for Kofi Annan's "tweet" on Syria, which was subject of Geneva "negotiations".

    Somebody out there should suggest the president to put on the pants

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahdai
    X
    Lisa Schlein
    May 31, 2016 1:56 PM
    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahda

    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Mobile App Allows Dutch Muslims to Rate their Imams

    If a young Dutch-Moroccan app developer has his way, Muslims in the Netherlands will soon be able to rate their imams online. Mohamed Mouman says imams rarely get feedback from their followers. He believes his app can give prayer leaders a better picture of what's happening in their communities — and can also keep young people from being radicalized. Serginho Roosblad reports from Amsterdam.
    Video

    Video Moscow Condemns NATO Plans to Beef Up Defense in Eastern Europe, Baltics

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday an upcoming "landmark summit" will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in eastern Europe and the Baltics. He is visiting Poland ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Zlatica Hoke reports
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video F-35 Fighter Jet Draws Criticisms as Costs Mount

    America’s latest fighter plane, the F-35, has been mired in controversy. Critics cite cost, faulty design, and the attempt to use it to fill multiple roles. Even the pilot’s helmet is controversial. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Concerns Over Civilian Suffering as Iraqi Forces Surround Fallujah

    Thousands of residents are trapped inside the IS-held city ahead of a full scale Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking it.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora