Five guidelines for US role in Syria

The civil war in Syria has reached a stalemate. While strategic military steps like arming the opposition or establishing a no-fly zone present complications, the US can do other things to bring aid, support the opposition, undermine the Assad regime, and counter a rising Islamist influence. Here are five guidelines for the US in addressing the conflict in Syria:

2. Use intermediaries like Egypt

Egypt is a unique partner for the US in dealing with the Syrian crisis. Egypt is seen as largely cooperative in the West, yet the country also carries a great deal of clout in Islamist circles. Working with the Egyptians to bring food and medical aid to Syria could help counterbalance the influence of the radical Islamist Jabat al-Nusra group – an affiliate group of Al Qaeda in Iraq – now on the rise in rebel-held areas in Syria.

Islamist factions have essentially hijacked the bread delivery in Aleppo. And while it would be easy politically for the Islamist factions to balk at American aid for bread delivery, it would be much more difficult to scoff at Egyptian aid. The US provides Egypt more than $1 billion in aid each year. Egypt is a respected partner that is likely to be received more positively than the US by the Syrian people.

Further, Egypt’s stake in participation in this task is great, as the Egyptian military is largely dependent upon US funding. Washington can call in a few favors, especially on a critical issue like the Syrian war – a conflict in which the US and Egypt share some similar views and even similar fears.

The US need not concern itself with creating a visible presence in humanitarian aid in Syria. By operating through Egypt’s resources, the US can more effectively break the unnatural stranglehold that Jabat al-Nusra has imposed on aid. Essentially, as long as the aid is coming from outside of the al-Nusra front, the US will not only serve the long-suffering Syrian people, but will also serve its own interests in slowing the momentum of this dangerous and powerful minority.

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