In the northeastern part of Syria—contiguous to Iraq and Turkey—lies al Hasaka, or the Triangle, also known as al Jazeera province.
As large as Lebanon, this area is inhabited by roughly four million Kurds, one million Christians, and a half million Arabs. Assad’s forces have practically left the area, and Kurdish militias have set up patrols, stopping Al Qaeda militias trying to enter these districts.
With U.S. and western help, the Kurds, Christians, and Arabs who populate this region can establish a liberated zone with its cities and rivers and expanded airports that should serve as the receiving area for aid.
The current Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups can be invited to aggregate in this region. This pluralist “smaller Syria” would become the basis for liberation of the country—and the establishment of a pluralistic and peaceful society for all Syrians.
I would argue this is no more unrealistic than the hope that Vladimir Putin and the Russians and will broker an honest peace in Syria.
In fact, if you examine the three current Beltway solutions to the Syrian crisis, we should recognize why turning to this plan will offer a real, long-term hope for a pluralistic and peaceful Syria.
President Obama has made the case for a “limited strike” against Assad and the forces who are presumed responsible for the horrible chemical gassing of more than a thousand civilians—after more than a hundred thousand Syrians have already been brutally killed in the civil war.
The president wanted this limited strike to force a weakened Assad to negotiate a settlement to the conflict. But seasoned observers know there will be no mediated solutions to this conflict. It has gone too far and divisions are too deep.
But I would argue that other Beltway solutions offer no more hope than those offered by Obama.
The isolationist argument is to simply allow both sides to fight it out because America has no horse in this race. “Let Allah sort it out,” says Sarah Palin. This “safe option” is incredibly dangerous.
If there are two radical forces — those of Assad and Al Qaeda — in the game, each will receive more reinforcements and eventually settle their battles via some Islamist medication — or worse still, a manufactured war with Israel. Even if that war is avoided, we will be left with two extremist and heavily-armed terror groups in Syria.
Another option put forward by Senator McCain is equally dangerous. He wants to fully arm the rebels in an attempt at toppling Assad. The naïveté of this choice can be manipulated by Islamist lobbies who will redirect U.S. assistance to their radical brethren inside the opposition instead of to secular forces. This could end up empowering Al Qaeda and producing future Benghazi-like attacks in Syria.
Meanwhile, all of these positions could lead to war with Iran and Hezbollah — or in view of this administration’s natural tendency toward retreat, could culminate in another victory for radicals.
That is why I suggest a practical, but irreversibly winning option for the creation of a free Syria. We have in this region a group of vetted allies who are in place, and it is an area where Al Qaeda and al Nusra have been contained — and where the Assad regime is not omnipresent. Those in the U.S. who are concerned about aiding two menacing forces can partner in this al Hasaka region with free and independent Kurds, Christians, and Arabs.
If the administration wishes to conduct punitive raids against regime targets without aiding Al Qaeda, it can over time empower the real allies to move forward from this particular zone. The development of a free Syria is the most viable option for the United States and Europe and the rest of the international community. This is where the endangered minorities can be protected and joined with liberals and seculars in the Arab Sunni majority.
Syrians yearn for freedom. Americans yearn for effective foreign policy. Let’s start building toward that end.
Dr. Walid Phares is an advisor to members of Congress and author of “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom and the Middle East (Threshold Editions 2010).