US intelligence agencies have recently confirmed, with varying degrees of
certainty, the use of Sarin gas against civilians, most likely by regime forces.
This development presents a compelling challenge to President Barack Obama’s
“red line,” which declared the use of chemical weapons a “game
The Middle East, and most particularly the Assad regime and its
Iranian sponsors, awaits the reaction to this development and will likely
determine their future policies based on the US reaction.
stance of US policymakers, seeking more precise data on the chemical attacks, is
not only appropriate but critical. However, ultimately the US will need to
respond and show how it is committed to a leadership role in the unfolding
crises in Syria. Indeed, the world awaits this reaction and, importantly, the
Obama administration cannot risk losing credibility by not following through on
its own declarations.
Fortunately, the use of chemical weapons in Syria,
frightening as it is, also presents a unique set of opportunities for Obama
which did not exist previously. Maneuvering its way through the thicket of
international politics and relationships will not be easy, but leadership never
is. Still, by combining robust diplomacy and military power, the US can emerge
from this crisis having enhanced its role as global leader and positioning the
Middle East for a future of greater stability than has existed in recent
The effort will require a regional approach to share the burdens
of reestablishing some order and the critically needed control over stockpiles
of chemical and biological weapons. While the US will not be prepared to put
“boots on the ground,” it should insist on the Gulf states lending their own
Arabicspeaking troops for this purpose.
Such action by the Gulf states,
finally coming to the assistance of the Syrian people, will be viewed favorably
by their own people and enhance the standing of their leaders, a welcome change
from the current tension.
The US must concurrently assure the Syrian
people that a “no-fly zone” will be established over Syria to stop the Syrian
Air Force. This policy should be enforced by the US together with the backing of
the UK and France and possibly NATO.
The US must also assure the Alawite
community that it will be protected from retribution by establishing a
self-governing enclave along the Mediterranean coast where 85 percent of its
population now lives. Only such assurances will allow Assad’s supporters to
believe they can abandon their “fight to the finish”; currently they believe
that the fall of Assad will lead to their own genocide.
resettlement fund must be established and funded by donor countries to encourage
the over 1.5 million refugees to return to Syria from Lebanon, Jordan and
These host countries must be active in channeling this
Finally, the global community, led by the US and including
China and Russia, must sponsor and support a final agreement between the
Palestinians and Israel to end the conflict which has existed for over 60
The parameters of such a settlement is by now well known and
largely recognized and the time to end this issue is now.
None of this
will be easy, but faced with the escalating tragedy and the ever-increasing
instability it represents the US must do what the world needs and expects: Lead
us through the morass with the skills and vision only it can
Ghanem M. Nuseibeh is originally from a prominent Palestinian
family of Jerusalem. He is the founder of Londonbased Cornerstone Global
Associates, a strategic consulting firm. He is currently a senior visiting
fellow at King’s College, London. Eli Epstein is a New York-based businessman
with long-standing interests in the Middle East.
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