“U.S. Signals Shift on How to End Syrian Civil War”
The New York Times, January 20, 2015, p.A1
“American support for a pair of diplomatic initiatives in Syria underscores the shifting views of how to end the civil war there and the West’s quiet retreat from its demand that the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, step down immediately. The Obama administration maintains that a lasting political solution requires Mr. Assad’s exit. But facing military stalemate, well-armed jihadists and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United States is going along with international diplomatic efforts that could lead to more gradual change in Syria. That shift comes along with other American actions that Mr. Assad’s supporters and opponents take as proof Washington now believes that if Mr. Assad is ousted, there will be nothing to check the spreading chaos and extremism. … The United States still trains and equips Syrian insurgents, but now mainly to fight the Islamic State, not the government. … The shifts reflect a longstanding view among United Nations officials in Syria that the West must adapt to the reality that Syrian insurgents have failed to defeat Mr. Assad. Syrians on both sides have said frequently in interviews that they fear the growing influence of foreign militants, and while they mistrust all international players that have financed warring parties, they are willing to explore compromise with other Syrians. … Western leaders now openly talk about a deal allowing some current officials to remain to prevent Syria from disintegrating, like Iraq and Libya. … Tarek Fares, a secular Syrian Army defector who long fought with the loose-knit nationalist groups known as the Free Syrian Army but who has lately quit fighting, joked bitterly about American policy one recent night in Antakya, Turkey. ‘This is how the Americans talk,’ he said. ‘They say, “We have a red line, we will support you, we will arm you.” They do nothing, and then after four years they tell you Assad is the best option.'”
Quickie Analysis: The US has long been focused on finding the least-worst option in Syria. Is it Assad? Or might the Southern Front still prove a viable alternative to Assad, at least in parts of Syria?