POLITICS: White House

Partitioning Syria is Obama's chance to lead

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White House,Congress,Op-Eds,Barack Obama,Syria,Analysis,Pentagon,Middle East

No matter what leadership style President Obama has chosen, his responsibility lies not with removing Bashar Assad, but in securing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.

But Obama seems more concerned with his Image and Washington politics than preventing an imminent global chemical disaster. Because he dislikes the leadership responsibilities that come with the job he was elected to do, he has passed the ball to Congress.

Thus no one could blame him if Congress authorizes a “limited” attack and it boomerangs. Not surprisingly, a jubilant David Axelrod tweeted that “Congress is now the dog that caught the car.”

Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry hinted on CNN that the administration intends to stall when he trotted out that military action against Syria doesn’t have to happen as soon as possible, “like previous situations.”

Kerry added that the situation in Syria is different than Libya, which was “an overnight emergency … where people were about to be slaughtered.”

What about more than 110,000 Syrians who have been slaughtered already, including those killed since Kerry made this astute comparison? And what about those who are being killed now and more who will lose their lives tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after next?

Assad has been at it for more than two years. As for chemical weapons, the administration claimed last year that it had evidence Assad used poisonous gas in Hama.

While others attributed the chemical attacks to opposition groups like al Nusra, Assad long ago crossed the red line of crimes against humanity, so why do something now instead of tomorrow, next week, next month or whenever?

Some Americans may be deceived into believing that their president’s hands are tied because he needs congressional approval to act. But the Syrian official newspaper Al-Thawra pointed out that “Obama announced … directly … the beginning of the historic American retreat,” which actually began with Obama’s Cairo speech in June 2009.

Clearly, Obama’s priorities are with his Image as the Nobel Peace Laureate. He worked hard to enhance that Image by agonizing whether Assad crossed the red line; by soul-searching and seeking sympathy for his alleged war-weariness.

But what comes across is an Image of an incompetent politician who managed to drag America’s super-power stature into the mud.

If Congress authorizes a limited attack, one hopes the Pentagon will secure Assad’s chemical weapons more competently than it did Libyan anti-aircraft missiles that are being used by al Qaeda groups in the Arabian Peninsula, the Maghreb, Africa and the Sinai Peninsula.

Attempts to remove Assad by force, replacing his Alawite regime with one or several factions of radical Sunni opposition forces and a titular leader (the Afghan Karzai and Iraq's Maliki come to mind), would all but guarantee that the deadly chemicals will be moved, smuggled across borders, and used to attack civilians elsewhere, including the U.S.

Obama is on his way to St. Petersburg, Russia, to attend the G-20 summit, where he reportedly will seek support for a limited attack on Syria. That, however, will do little to mitigate the raging civil war.

And, while there are hardly any good sides in the Syrian conflict and no easy solution to the chemical weapons threat, he may consider enlisting the support of the G-20 participants to a new initiative that would keep Assad in Syria, but not in Damascus.

Such a partitioning plan carve the country into sectors, with Assad controlling Alawite Syria, between Tartus and Latakia, the Sunni majority would keep its large central area, including Damascus, and the Kurds would control the the North. With enough pressure from Russia, Assad might yield.

This plan, if adopted, would take time to implement. But it presents a chance to reduce fighting and provide Obama a way to show the world that he can lead. He could, finally, justify his Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is director of the American Center for Democracy and author of numerous books and articles on political Islam, the Middle East conflict, and terror financing.

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