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Opinion

Direct foreign intervention is the only feasible option for Syria crisis

The recent Geneva agreement is ill fitted to reality in Syria, and a new Human Rights Watch report details torture by the Bashar al-Assad regime. Intervention appears to be the only means for halting human rights violations, stabilizing the conflict, and ensuring a sustainable transition.

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With respect to the legacy of Iraq, an overwhelming show of force in Syria now (whether through properly focused assistance or more direct allied action) could eliminate the most dangerous actors within Syria: groups who would seek to create the type of prolonged conflict suffered by Iraqis. Immediate action could also dissuade parties who are still riding the fence from choosing sides and violently engaging.

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In addition, concerns about the identity of the resistance movement are well founded. A responsible intervention requires that the US and its allies understand which elements of the resistance would ensure the implementation of an open, democratic governance structure. Clearly, moreover, it is unacceptable to abet attacks on civilians such as those in which some elements of the opposition have allegedly engaged. But there are ways to focus assistance on the most promising allies while constraining the influence of Salafist or other radical ideologues.

Finally, options exist to address post regime-change infighting such as we have seen in Libya. For starters, transition governments, and the international community on whose assistance they often depend, must ensure that robust law enforcement and judicial institutions can act to immediately contain local unrest. Doing so will channel disputes about the future of the country, which might otherwise turn violent, towards legitimate, political forums.

Ensuring the end of the Assad regime, if done properly, also has strategic benefits for the US that policymakers should consider. In Muslim societies, the concept of justice enjoys a place of hallowed reverence akin to the idea of freedom in the United States. Demonstrating an unwavering commitment to justice in defense of Syria’s civilians could build goodwill that would pay big dividends as a new government emerges after Assad is gone.

Moreover, this commitment to toppling the Assad regime could help sever the lifeline, running through Syria, between Hezbollah and its patron, Iran. Finally, removing Assad from Syria would further isolate Iran, providing timely leverage against one of America’s greatest foes.

A decision to intervene in Syria is complex and daunting. Yet, the escalating atrocities, the remote likelihood for a negotiated settlement in the current state of conflict, and the numerous strategic benefits, provide sufficient grounds for the US and a group of allies to act. No people will tolerate the intolerable forever, and the people of Syria will eventually see that justice is done in their homeland. America and other nations of goodwill would do well to ensure they have our full support.

Brock Dahl is a former US Treasury Department official who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently an attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. He has authored numerous articles on transitional societies and conflict. The views expressed herein are his own, and do not reflect those of his current or former employers.

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