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September 16, 2013 9:09 am

A Real Interim Solution for Syria

avatar by Walid Phares

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The fighting in Syria, as seen from Israel. Photo: Tsuri Cohen-Arazi/ Tazpit News Agency.

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.

This region should be the foundation for a free Syria. Here we should nurture a free zone inside Syria with the potential to grow rapidly and defeat both the Assad regime and the Jihadists.

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.

Sound unrealistic?

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.

Those who want to arm the rebels will have an area ready to be supported.

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).

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • muhtesemsin

  • Shareef Abdul-Kareem

    Very interesting and seems full of possibilities, but it is unlikely that you will get these people to stop fighting. Why? Because in the Islamic lexicon, the word democracy does not exists! The House of Saud, despite their apparent good faith, have no good intentions for non Muslims and they will find a way to use their money to influence and infiltrate what ever seems plausible. This war in Syria is Shia vs Sunni, plain and simple.

    Nature abhors a vacuum!

  • Yale

    Phares’s suggestion is on the right track, but it needs to be taken further. The path to a solution is a cantoning of Syria, where the various ethnic groups can conduct their own affairs. Each canton should be required to agree that it won’t let its territory be used for conducting the Syrian civil war, and in exchange, the fighting groups will agree to not attack them.

    My guess is more than half of Syria would opt for this, and the process would likely spread, leaving the war fairly well-contained.

    If we could also devise a plan to get the foreign forces out, on both sides, Syria would then be on a path that could resolve the conflict.

  • Matt

    We wait to take our shot, this is a holding pattern, we wait for 45. Sniper, urinate, defecate, ants, spiders, snakes, bugs to take the shot.

  • M. Orbuch

    Sometimes, like a chronic disease, there is no answer but containing the symptoms.

    All these alleged solution are pie-in-the-sky and based on reconstituting an inherently artificial polity. For the moment, Ms Palin’s solution may be the best. The time to have romanced a better mix in the opposition passed by as Mr Obama dithered, a natural stance for him since failing to recognize the mass demonstrations in Iran several years ago as a once-in-a-decade opportunity. Now we are reduced to outsourcing foreign policy to rising tyrants.

  • Plain Talk

    Sound like as good a plan as any currently being presented. I have never read about this anywhere else and hope this option becomes published in mainstream news outlets so that the public is aware.

  • Barry Newman

    This is a truly great idea. I do actually wholeheartedly agree with this thinking. The only concern that I have is the practical reality that Turkey would never allow even a hint of a “free” Kurdish state on its border. Thus, wedged between Iraq (with its own issues with the Kurds and Sunnis) and Turkey, and “not free” Syria/Lebanon it would be logistically difficult for such a state to get up and running let alone survive. But it would be a good concept and something to think about if it could be made more practicable.

  • Bernard Ross

    I think that area belongs to kurdistan and ultimately the fragmented kurds will be united as the only real national ethnic group. Syria is a dead horse and like Iraq will disappear in time with an interim concoction like iraq for those who like their dramas draw out. Israel should try to get hold of the southwestern border area up to damascus. It lost the opportunity to create a Christian state in south lebanon perhaps it should create a buffer zone next door now and figure out what to call it later.