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November 27, 2015 5:00 am

An Interim Solution for Syria

avatar by David Avital and Marc Engberg

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently claimed that the US lacks a coherent Syria policy, and is instead adopting a “wait and see” approach that will not help to resolve the conflict. His argument is accurate, and should prompt the White House to address that issue immediately.

It is clear that the Obama administration — by not rushing to intervene in Syria — has learned its lesson from previous US experiences in the region and should be commended for it. Past attempts at wholesale regime change that destroy institutions have not worked, and they’ve caused this administration to cautiously refrain from formulating a policy without calculating all of the potential consequences of its actions.

By not acting impulsively (despite setting a “red line”), the Obama administration exhibited laudable maturity, despite mounting political pressure at home and abroad. However, inaction is not a policy in itself, and, as the clock continues to tick, such passivity could lead to a power vacuum liable to be filled by outside, and not always benevolent, actors (read Russia and Iran).

There is an urgent need to create a coherent and practical approach to Syria, one that considers the political and practical realities of the country, the interests of neighboring nations, and the legitimate opposition groups who will ultimately respect Syria’s minorities.

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It is apparent that any political solution for Syria should preclude Bashar al-Assad from remaining in power, as has been stated and conditioned by the Saudis, the Turks, other Arab League members, several European leaders and by some of Syria’s minority groups. The Obama administration should be focusing on looking for alternatives to Bashar al-Assad, while maintaining the integrity of the institutions of the Syrian state, including civil and security agencies. One of the potential alternatives who should be considered is Rifaat al-Assad. Rifaat, a leading opposition figure who was exiled from Syria 30 years ago, represents the potential for creating an interim political solution that could lead to a peaceful transition.

It is a good possibility that all the nations with vested interests in Syria, as well as the moderate opposition forces, would agree to Rifaat as an interim solution, especially since no other viable alternative has emerged. While he is not a perfect solution, Rifaat al-Assad represents a creative and practical alternative that might be a bold solution for the Obama administration.

The US should be at the table alongside the Russians, Saudis, Turks and Iranians in developing a political transition for Syria. Collaboration with the Russians proved to be beneficial and led to success on the chemical disarmament of Syria. The US should take the lead on proposing Rifaat al-Assad, or another like him, as the interim president of Syria and convincing the others at the table of the viability and shared benefit of this outcome.

Establishing stability, peace, and security in Syria is paramount. Removing Bashar al-Assad and installing Rifaat al-Assad as interim president for a stabilizing period of 2-3 years with a view towards democratic elections provides the best hope for achieving this outcome.

David Avital is a member of the board of advisors of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) as well as the board of trustees of the Institution for National Security Studies (INSS).

Marc Engberg is a specialist on democratic transitions in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He holds an M.A. from Stanford University in Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies.

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