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.