x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

US action in Syria must level the playing field

Hurdles will be expected along the way to change in Syria, but the first step is to put an end to Assad¿s killing machine.

President Barack Obama's aides have begun to build a case for military action against the regime of Bashar Al Assad to deter him from using chemical weapons again. While many prominent senators have declared their support for Mr Obama, whether the action will be sanctioned by Congress is still a matter of speculation. But public statements suggest that the administration's strategy will be more than a mere slap on the regime's wrist. Given the seriousness of the situation, a mere slap on the wrist could do more harm than good.

John McCain, a Republican party senator who has long called for military intervention in Syria, backed the action after a meeting with Mr Obama when he became convinced the strategy will be more than firing a few cruise missiles. Mr McCain suggested that the plan also includes stepping up support for the Syrian opposition. And at Tuesday's Senate hearing, Mr Obama's team said the strikes will not be limited to "deterring" the regime from using chemical weapons but "degrading its capacity" to do so. They also suggested that would collaterally weaken the regime and empower the rebels.

To be sure, as the debate continues, such a plan might be fine-tuned or limited to appease members of Congress. But having a strategy that will include not merely striking the regime but degrading its ability to destroy cities and slaughter civilians, is necessary. In fact, as Mr McCain himself said, a weak response is almost as bad as doing nothing.

No one expects an end to the Syrian conflict even if the strikes are strong. But if the military action includes a strategy to bolster the opposition and enable the rebels to tip the balance on the ground, the strategy may well be a game changer.

It must already be clear that a political solution is untenable while Mr Al Assad is in power - in his latest interview with Le Figaro, he said that 80 to 90 per cent of the rebels belong to Al Qaeda and that the only way to deal with them is to annihilate them. Those are not the words of a man who can be a peace partner.

From the outside, a political solution looks unworkable in Syria. But from inside, the opposition and those who currently serve in the state institutions can formulate a plan for transition. The opposition has repeatedly said that it will maintain state institutions.

Hurdles will be expected along the way to change but the first step is to put an end to Mr Al Assad's killing machine. To that end, US-led action will present an opportunity to do just that - if done properly.