Assad's Fall Is In America's Interests
The U.S. should help establish safe zones in Turkey, offer medicine and intelligence, work to unify the Syrian opposition, and certainly abandon hope in Kofi Annan.
By MARCO RUBIO
The world has watched for more than a year as the Assad regime in Syria has been slaughtering innocent civilians. The recent massacre in Houla—including of scores of children—is a reminder of why the United States must step up and lead an aggressive international campaign to hasten Bashar al-Assad's departure from power.
Several diplomatic actions are required immediately. Others, especially involving the Syrian opposition, should be incremental and seek to help anti-Assad forces get organized.
One immediately required action is to abandon any wishful thinking that the efforts of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will help the situation, or that Russia's conscience will finally be shocked straight. The U.S. should urge Mr. Annan to condemn Assad and resign his job as envoy so that Syria's regime and other governments can no longer hide behind the facade of his mediation efforts.
Diplomacy doesn't stand a chance in Syria unless the military balance tips against Assad. With Iran and Hezbollah now directly involved in the conflict—sending soldiers and weapons into Syria—the U.S. must stop insisting that arming the opposition will only make the violence worse. The conflict is also attracting jihadis whose presence will only make an eventual reconciliation in Syria that much harder.
To address these problems, the U.S. should work with NATO, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and others to establish safe zones in Turkey and, eventually, in parts of Syria. This will help turn the opposition into a better-organized and viable force. The U.S. can provide valuable aid in the form of food, medicine, communications equipment, intelligence and logistical support.
Our allies in this mission should take the main responsibility for arming and training the most capable and trustworthy rebels now. But the U.S. should make clear that we stand ready to step in and fill key gaps between the rebels' military needs and our allies' capabilities. Empowering and supporting Syria's opposition today will give us our best chance of influencing it tomorrow, to ensure that revenge killings are rare in a post-Assad Syria and that a new government follows a moderate foreign policy.
Also crucial is helping secure Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile, which is the largest in the Middle East and poses a serious proliferation threat. Fostering a post-Assad government-in-waiting will help ensure that a plan is developed to prevent these weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
While we pursue these steps, we should also immediately pass additional sanctions against Assad. Unfortunately, the Democratic majority in the Senate has been reluctant to consider tough new sanctions legislation. I urge Majority Leader Harry Reid to take up the Syria Democracy Transition Act of 2012, which authorizes the president to impose crippling sanctions on the Syrian regime to cut off the financial lifeline that is helping keep Assad afloat.
Then there's the opportunity to assign Robert Ford, our former ambassador in Syria, as the envoy to the Syrian opposition, encouraging him to engage Jordan and Turkey and to lay the groundwork for a relationship with a post-Assad Syrian government. We can also pursue a commercial air embargo on Damascus, whereby no airport should facilitate flights to or from the Syrian capital.
By not pursuing a policy that takes bolder steps to stop Assad and assist the more pro-Western opposition leaders, we prolong this conflict and allow Syria to hurtle toward becoming a radicalized, failed state whose violence will spill over and threaten its neighbors. Such an outcome would damage American interests and delight Iran and Hezbollah.
Barack Obama is not the first president to face difficult choices about dealing with tyrants, and he won't be the last. As the Syrian ordeal reaches new levels of horror, we should take heed of Ronald Reagan's words: "It is a sad, undeniable fact of modern life that wishes are no substitute for national will. And wishful thinking only encourages the tyrants for whom human rights are as easily trampled as protesters in a city square."
America's Syria policy has been all wishful thinking and no national will. It has been based on the false hope that Assad will realize the error of his ways, that Russia and other unreliable nations will change, and that a positive outcome can be attained absent American leadership. Although U.S. policy has been that Assad must go, this demand has not been coupled with action. This devalues America's power and influence in the world, with disastrous and lasting consequences.
Mr. Rubio, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Florida and a member of the Senate's Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees.
A version of this article appeared June 7, 2012, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Assad's Fall Is In America's Interests.