Will Syria strikes trigger political transition?


The American strike on Shayrat air base in Syria is an appropriate response to mass homicide by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, said Ambassador Frederic Hof, a Senior Fellow with Atlantic Council.

“This American strike, which reportedly employed sea-launched cruise missiles to destroy aircraft and military facilities, will either be a one-time, one-off, fire-and-forget retaliation for a heinous chemical weapons assault on civilians, or it will serve as a signal to the Assad regime and its allies that the free ride for mass murder in Syria is now over,” he added.

“And the strike will have far wider effects,” writes Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations:

It was undertaken while Chinese president Xi was with Trump in Florida. Surely this new image of a president willing to act will affect their conversations about North Korea. Vladimir Putin will think again about his relations with the United States, and will realize that the Obama years of passivity are truly over. Allies and friends will be cheered, while enemies will realize times have changed. When next the Iranians consider swarming around an American ship in the Gulf, they may think again.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition also praised the U.S. missile strike, saying it puts an end to an age of “impunity” and should be just the beginning, the LA Times adds.

“They are first good steps, but we would like them to be part of a bigger strategy that would put an end to the mass killing, an end to impunity, and eventually we hope that they will lead to a kind of a political transition in Syria,” said Najib Ghadbian, the group’s special representative to the U.S. and the U.N.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged a political transition in Syria with the ultimate goal of a “democratic” end to the Assad regime. In a joint statement with French President Francois Hollande, the two leaders said they would continue to work with United Nations partners in “efforts to hold President Assad responsible for his criminal acts” and called upon the international community to “join forces for a political transition in Syria” in accordance with the UN resolution.

Radwan Ziadeh

A democratic Syria would entail reviving the democratic institutions based on those of its former protectorate, according to Radwan Ziadeh (left), executive director of the Syrian Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

When Syria gained independence from France in 1946, it had an elected parliament, multi-party politics, freedom of the press and the right to protest, he said.

“The 1950 constitution was one of the most advanced in the Arab world.” There were three coups in 1949 but “the state’s infrastructure, its democratic, pluralist and civil institutions didn’t change,” added Ziadeh, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

The administration should make clear to Moscow that it will hold it accountable for Mr. Assad’s actions going forward, rally others to do the same and launch more strikes if necessary, says Antony J. Blinken, a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. The United States should also condition counter-terrorism cooperation with Russia — something Moscow wants — on Russia’s efforts to rein in the Assad regime and push it toward genuine peace negotiations with rebels, he writes for the NY Times.

The Brookings Institution’s Shadi Hamid says the strikes on Syria highlight the fallacy of anti-interventionism:

The presumption is that not acting is neutral. But it’s not. “Do no harm” can do tremendous harm. In the case of Syria, it has. Deciding not to act in the face of war crimes is a very conscious decision. Just as we judge the consequences of intervention, we must be willing to judge the consequences of non-intervention.

Following this week’s conference on the future of Syria and the region, the EU should leverage its role as the largest financial donor, to demand a say in any negotiations on the political transition, observers suggest:

Under any development or political agreement, chances of a strong central government returning to Syria are small, and the various parts and regions of Syria are likely to claim or receive a certain degree of self-autonomy. Syrian civil society should therefore be closely involved in any endeavours for the future of Syria. Only by empowering the population can the political trust and stability Syria so desperately needs be created.

But discussions around the reconstruction of Syria are painfully premature, others suggest:

It’s no doubt that Syria will need massive support for reconstruction after years of deadly clashes and heavy bombardment that have killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed hospitals and schools. However, a move by the international community for reconstruction assistance risks doing more harm than good in absence of a political solution that ensures those in control have respect for human rights and allow existence of an independent civil society that can hold the state to account.



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