February 21st, 2012
09:46 AM ET

Husain: Let the Europeans lead on Syria

Editor's note: Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Author of "The Islamist," he can be followed on Twitter via @Ed_Husain. For more analysis of U.S. options in Syria, visit their Expert Roundup.

By Ed Husain, CFR.org

Syria, like much of the Middle East, is in flux. U.S. policy options must reflect this fluidity, but also not lose sight of regional priorities including threats from Iran, the rise of virulent anti-American radicalization in Pakistan, social and political fragility in Saudi Arabia, increasing instability in Egypt, uncertainty in Yemen, and now the officially declared entry of al-Qaeda cadres into the mix in Syria. There are limits to U.S. power: The more it is spread, the greater the challenges, and the less effective it will be in yielding results.

Going forward, therefore, I suggest the following:

First, given other regional priorities, the United States should be once removed from the Syrian conflict. Let the Europeans lead. Assad's wife is British. He was educated in Britain. His father-in-law, Fawwaz al-Akhras, lives in London and has been the go-to man for politicians and others. Britain, Turkey, the Arab League, and Russia are already working together to broker a ceasefire in Homs. That work deserves U.S. diplomatic support. Cessation of violence must be the immediate priority.

Second, the Syrian opposition is a ragtag force of disparate rebels. They have few options but to revert to peaceful resistance, however long that may take to oust Assad. They desperately lack political vision, training, and leadership. In the absence of such qualities, who is the West being asked to support with weapons? Unless the fractured opposition is united with a democratic and peaceful mandate, the United States would be fatally mistaken to open the doors in Syria for al-Qaeda and its affiliates. As in Egypt and Pakistan, the U.S. State Department's public diplomacy initiatives should encompass Syrians. This can start with those who are based in Turkey and Europe to help them mobilize Syrians in Damascus and Aleppo with a vision of a pluralist, but peaceful, Syria.

Finally, military intervention must not be ruled out indefinitely. For as long as Damascus, Aleppo, most mosques, schools, and the bulk of the armed forces support Assad, we would be mistaken to underestimate the risks of an all-out war, sectarian bloodshed, and rival tribal fighting. If there are mass uprisings in Syria's two largest cities or fractures within the ruling Ba'ath party, then regional calculations and priorities alter. For now, all diplomatic efforts must be exhausted to bring about an end to violence from both sides in Homs and other rebel outposts, while continuing to monitor the variables in Syria.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Ed Husain. For more views on Syria, visit CFR.org's Expert Roundup.

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Topics: Foreign Policy • Syria • United States

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. SHIIE3A AND IRAN ARE EVIL

    we must attack iran now before it is too late when iran fall all other minor evils like syrian thugs , hizboallah, hizboaldawa, qodods army, mahdi militia, al hakeem killers, asyeb al haq, moqtada al sadder army, and all those shiia army led by nori al maleki in iraq will fall one by one.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
  2. ...syria bashar al kalb AND IRAN ARE EVIL

    .......we must attack iran now before it is too late when iran fall all other minor evils like syrian thugs , hizboallah, hizboaldawa, qodods army, mahdi militia, al hakeem killers, asyeb al haq, moqtada al sadder army, and all those shiia army led by nori al maleki in iraq will fall one by one.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
  3. Joseph DuPont

    Back in 1967, riots in just Newark, NJ and Detroit claimed the lives of 69 and injured 1192 people. In recent times the United States has been telling other countries that they can not kill their citizens to maintain "law" and order. As far as I know dead is dead. It doesn't matter to the dead person or their relatives if they were killed by a US Army National Guard soldier or by some Assad thug in Syria.

    If the USA had a total economic meltdown causing food and fuel shortages and riots, how many Americans would you condone being killed in order to regain some kind of semblance of law and order? Or would you let the UN and other foreign powers come in and sort it out? And while yur at it you might want to want to consider how our corn based ethanol program drove the price of all grains up to the point where these poor devils became hungry enough to lay their lives down,
    just so that we could feel a little "green". A lot to think about.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:35 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Well put, Joseph. Moreover, we need to quit abusing our power overseas as we have no business intervening into Syria's internal affairs nor that of any other country. After all, we wouldn't like it if some foreigner country did the same to us!!!

      February 21, 2012 at 11:48 am | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    The author shouldn't expect too much from us. The only two players in Europe that were involved in last year's Libyan mission were Britain and France. It's not clear what David Cameron could do! Nicolas Sarkozy is running for re-elections. The Gulf states and Turkey should be more involved as Syria is in their region.

    February 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      And so should Iran since the leaders of Syria are Shiite Muslims. Germany could do great deal toward stabilizing Syria but won't because of that bureaucratic, Washington-loving Angela Merkel who only sits around preaching "unity with the United States"!!!

      February 21, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Reply
      • Marine5484

        Thank you, George. You said it all.

        February 22, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  5. S.V.P.YADAV

    Respected, Mr.ED Hussain garu ,In Syrias internal conflict Russia is not a broker.you must agree that. European union already brokerised with opposition leadors in Syria. when so many countrys are invade to Syrian govt. will automatically fall down.What i am saying if it is going on,Syria at least 50years wil back.Ueropean union will charge every aspects on Syria.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:39 am | Reply
  6. jyves95

    Let the UK deal with it because she's English. Looks like a coward's comment.
    With all of these planes, tanks and soldiers, sure that the other Arab countries can't do anything.

    February 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply

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