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Think tank warns Obama: Leading from behind could make Syria another Somalia

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has been warned that without
U.S. intervention Syria would threaten the Middle East.

The Brookings Institution asserted that Syria could turn into a failed
state with the potential to threaten its neighbors. In a briefing for Obama,
the institution said the president must intervene to facilitate a transfer
of power should the regime of President Bashar Assad fall.

U.S. President Barack Obama has so far refused calls from Congress to intervene in Syria, where the death toll has surpassed 60,000. /Reuters/George Ourfalian

“If the United States does not take on a more active leadership role,
the trend toward warlordism and sectarian fragmentation will likely prove inexorable,” the briefing, titled “The Road Beyond Damascus,” said.

“Syria will become a second Somalia, in the heartland of the Middle East and on the borders of Israel, Turkey and Jordan, the three closest regional allies of the United States.”

Dated Jan. 17, authors Michael Doran and Salman Shaikh said Syria has come to resemble Iraq in 2006 as Al Qaida dominated major provinces. They said the Assad regime was likely to collapse in what could result in a “toxic culture of extremism and lawlessness.”

Obama, who has sought a reconciliation with Syria’s ally, Iran, has refused appeals from Congress to intervene in Syria. But Brookings said the killing of more than 60,000 people as well as the intensification of the Sunni revolt required a review of the president’s decision.

The briefing said Washington must transfer weapons to the Syrian opposition as well as forge a dialogue that includes Alawites and Christians. Brookings said the United States must also draft a military strategy for the Free Syrian Army as well as cooperate with Russia, another leading ally of Assad.

“Today, the United States simply does not possess an effective ground
game in Syria,” the briefing said. “It needs to help the Free Syrian Army
develop a country-wide military strategy and insist that it forge stronger
links with the Syrian opposition coalition. Like it or not, the FSA is the
nucleus of the post-Assad military, which will be the most significant
institution of the Syrian state.”

One option was the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria. Such an
operation by NATO would hasten the fall of the Assad regime, Brookings said.

“A greater leadership role does not necessarily mean direct military
intervention,” the briefing said. “Continuous U.S. air strikes and large
numbers of American boots on the ground should not be necessary.”

The biggest danger of a Syrian collapse was that Iran and
Hizbullah would seize large parts of Syria, the briefing said.

Another danger was that Al Qaida would gain a foothold in the country.
“A continuation of the status quo will lead to a permanent diminishment
of American influence,” the briefing said. “A reluctance, thus far, to
provide lethal assistance has led to a growing sense of betrayal among
Syrians.”

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