A Plan for Syria

August 21, 2013 Topic: Failed StatesRogue StatesTerrorismSecurity Region: Syria

A Plan for Syria

The United States must think outside the box.

MANDATE—Given Russian and Chinese resistance, there will be no UN Security Council mandate for action. That should not stop Washington and allies from receiving a mandate to legitimate their intervention in Syria. The United States should lead an effort to draft such a mandate defining the terms and principles of an acceptable end state, and then pursue a "Resolution of the Willing." The task force should dispatch a team of diplomats to work with Jordan to request help from the Arab League, and lobby Arab League member states to support a resolution authorizing action in Syria and requesting help from NATO. Turkey should be encouraged to ask NATO for assistance, and NATO member states should be urged to authorize alliance support to the effort.

MILITARY INITIATIVES—The United States should arm the organized Syrian resistance, taking a calculated risk that foreign jihadists will find no lasting place in post-conflict Syria. Steps such as these should define the effort:

A) As with efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to train and equip new security forces, small arms should be sourced from countries other than the United States, but this time using measures the USG has applied elsewhere consistent with our international leadership in arms export controls and fighting illicit arms trafficking: using marking and tracing technology, embedding each weapon with microdot identification of the individual recipient and his city/village of residence in Syria. Each resistance fighter will be told that there will be a reward in the future for turning the weapon back in if requested by the authorities—perhaps food, medical attention for a family member, or a visa.

B) The United States should not provide, and should discourage other countries from providing, shoulder-fired missiles (MANPADS) to the Syrian resistance. The costs of tracking these weapons later to prevent their falling into terrorists' hands exceeds their tactical value. Military experts will need to think of other means of combating regime air attacks against the resistance. Crew-served weapons, including antitank, antiaircraft and counter-rocket, -artillery and -mortar systems, should be provided along with training in secure areas of Syria or in Jordan or Turkey. To curb risks still further, these weapons could be embedded with tracking and remote-disabling features.

C) U.S. defense and intelligence agencies should embark on an aggressive "skunkworks"-style R&D initiative to configure remotely-piloted aircraft (RPAs) for kinetic missions beyond ground attack. Syria is the right place to develop, validate and employ RPAs launching air-to-air munitions and otherwise substituting for piloted attack aircraft operating in contested airspace. As with previous breakthroughs, a combination of innovative engineering and tactics, pursued with urgency, will be needed to prove the skeptics wrong.

D) The need will still exist for significant precision strikes against regime targets. DoD should develop standoff quick-strike packages for tactical purposes, mainly for well-timed psychological support of 'coalition' demands. Objectives may include hitting specific runways, regime weapons depots, aircraft on the ground, or infrastructure seen as important to the Alawite communities of northwestern Syria. A successful use of coercive military power will minimize destruction of Syrian assets and infrastructure important to its future recovery. Far preferable to leverage surprise and create shock and uncertainty within the regime and the Alawite community. Iran’s aerial resupply nodes and Hezbollah’s movements of troops and weapons within Syria (but not Russian vessels) should be approved for possible targeting as part of the operation.

INTELLIGENCE INITIATIVES—Undoubtedly the intelligence community already has some of these efforts underway:

A) Collection priorities:

· Identities of top security, political and economic individuals in the Assad regime

· Locations of the Syrian Army’s key bases, infrastructure, and operations

· Locations of Iranian fighters and aerial resupply nodes in Syria

· Locations of Hezbollah fighters and weapons in Syria

· Key personalities and locations of the Al-Nusra Front and other extremist elements

· Media footprint and viewership map for Syria, and daily update of key media statements and themes by Assad regime, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Iranian leadership, Al Nusra figures, etc.

B) Special security clearance category for cooperating Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians etc—The Task Force needs to be able to draw from the knowledge of selected Syrian nationals and expats and swear them into a one-way clearance that gives them no access to any information other than the work they are assigned. There is a risk of leaks; it is an acceptable risk. To be avoided are months-long paperwork delays, tying up USG investigators who can never fully clarify foreign backgrounds. Given the dearth of U.S. government expertise on events on the ground in Syria, this program will provide an additional layer of policy support from people with language fluency, local ties and sources—quickly.

NONMILITARY LEVERS ON THE REGIME—As with military levers, each of these is an arrow in the Task Force Commander's quiver, all for the pursuit of the political ends defined by the mandate.

A) Prepare war crimes prosecutions now—Just as U.S. forces in Iraq circulated a deck of cards identifying top regime figures, the United States and its partners should develop a working list of Syrian key regime officials, with categories of ‘target’, ‘subject’ and ‘witness’ related to personal responsibility for the willful destruction of civilians and the use of chemical weapons. Rather than presuming indictment, this exercise should be an inducement for departure and defection of the civilian and security circle around Assad. People who abandon the regime and help the opposition should do so in expectation of separating themselves from otherwise certain culpability for crimes against humanity. Indeed, this enforcement mechanism for violation of international norms, rather than military action, should have been the administration’s tool of choice in setting the Presidential 'red line' on chemical weapons use.

B) Coordinated visa policy—A potential lever that senior diplomats are loath to consider because it can make them personally unpopular among influentials in their countries of assignment is the withholding of visas to relatives and key business partners of the leadership circles in Syria and countries that support it. Many elites in countries hostile to the United States own homes or have children studying or living in the United States and Europe. With a higher degree of resolve and cooperation by the United States and its allies, the influential families behind Bashar al Assad could begin to feel isolated and vulnerable, and put pressure on the regime to find an ‘out’.

C) Assistance ‘escrow’ accounts by U.S. Congress and allied parliaments—When the United States is uncertain but hopeful of an outcome abroad, Congress usually waits for achievement of the outcome before voting for assistance. To the foreign parties being influenced, the message can be a negative one, that their endeavors have produced no U.S. assistance; and when they finally do meet our expectations, the appropriations cycle may have passed for the year. This proposal would create an accounting mechanism by which Congress can appropriate and then set aside multi-year funds as a gesture of U.S. support, and maintain control of these funds, releasing them to the administration only when it determines that the desired goals have been reached. In Syria, if the United States and allies are acting in support of a post-conflict end state where the rights of women, and religious and ethnic minorities, will be protected, and an electoral system will remain participatory and competitive, such an escrow mechanism could generate a growing pot of money set aside as a future reward for the desired outcome—much like the Millenium Challenge Account. If other donors did the same and coordinated with the United States, this could be a significant tool of influence on the resistance as the end game develops.

D) Major, well-funded information operations effort—Not public diplomacy or strategic communications, this media operation would use local creative talent to produce appealing video, audio and print content for TV, radio and the web. Production and network placement could be funded by Arab allies, and would be unattributed. In today's Middle East, it is a significant liability that the United States can dominate the skies and hold any territory by military force, yet cedes the local media domain entirely to hostile and antidemocratic extremists. As long-time authoritarians Mubarak and Ben Ali learned, viral media exerts a powerful influence on popular attitudes and can be a potent engine of political change. The Task Force should be able to obtain detailed intelligence products depicting the geographic footprint and viewership of all broadcast outlets reaching Syria.

What one U.S. combatant commander used to call 'truth telling with a purpose' would advance, subtlely but unmistakeably, several key themes in its programming, e.g.:

- The scope of Bashar al Assad's crimes against his own citizens and country;

- the naked reality that Hezbollah, lacking any further pretense of Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory to "resist" (UNSCR 425 having been fulfilled), is now fighting Syrians next door, adding to the destruction of the country and sacrificing the lives of gullible young Lebanese Shiite followers, solely as a tool of Iranian hegemonic ambition;

- the $6B that Iran is spending to prop up a secular government while Iran's citizenry suffers economically at home; and