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Syria isn't Libya: Obama must consider bolder intervention

Before the calls come to commit US forces to an intervention in Syria, the Obama administration must take a hard look at what happened in Libya. The politically safe, low-risk, low-reward intervention in Libya shouldn’t be repeated in Syria.

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US officials need to proceed cautiously, of course, but now is also the time for audacious actions. First, US diplomats, who have worked for years to assist Iraq in its transition to democracy, can apply their lessons learned in Iraq to assist a post-Assad Syria move toward liberal democracy. To do so, however, they must be present when the regime falls.

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Now is the time to not merely return the US ambassador to Syria, but to get a transitional team of diplomats into Damascus who can immediately reach out to SNC officials when Assad falls. The move is risky in light of the increasing violence, but the pay-off can be substantial in terms of US access to a potential new Syrian regime.

Second, Washington should not let the fear of casualties prevent it from providing boot-on-the-ground advisers and mentors to the Syrian opposition fighters who now call themselves the Free Syrian Army (FSA). If (or when) the call for military intervention comes from the Arab League, America needs to take a bigger risk than it did in Libya in order to have a bigger impact with the FSA.

Last, US diplomats, military leaders, and potentially intelligence officers have links to tribal sheiks in Syria (links America built during the Sunni Awakening in Iraq). The US can now exploit (either overtly or covertly) those connections to influence the future of Syria.

In his 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama promised a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect…” that recognizes “common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

In Libya, America failed to fully demonstrate its commitment to those principles. It must not lose the opportunity in Syria.

Lt. Col. Michael E. Silverman, US Army (ret) served in the military for over 25 years including three combat tours in Iraq. He is the author of “Awakening Victory: How Iraqi Tribes and American Troops Reclaimed al Anbar Province and Defeated al Qaeda In Iraq,” which was released in October 2011. He currently serves as a consultant to the US Army and is recognized as an expert on counterinsurgency.


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