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.

- the worthy motives and mandate of the United States and coalition seeking to give Syria's future back to its people and avoid its being destroyed by sectarian conflict.

A special media package could be developed to portray the supply of sophisticated Russian weapons to the Assad regime, generating large revenues for Russia; it would portray the shocking destruction of Syrian civilian communities using these weapons. Senior Russian officials should be privately confronted with the prospect of a well-funded media campaign saturating Sunni Arab airwaves throughout the Middle East with these images and this message, unless they cease supplying the Assad regime.


A) Defection operation—using positive and negative inducements, finding confidential channels to communicate with and reward major players who cross over to resistance and/or reveal key information.

B) Offer Assad family and close friends a safe exit—a potentially strong signal, with a deadline (e.g., 30-45 days), involving internationally arranged consent to allow these individuals to be transported safely with some financial assets to a willing country, never again to be involved in Syrian affairs. This is the kind of political initiative that could be psychologically supported, even prior to the deadline, by standoff precision strikes in or near the Alawite 'heartland.'

C) End-State planning—Work with Syrian resistance to plan reconstruction and political transition to a multiethnic, rights-based system, and transparent management and stewardship of national critical infrastructure (energy, communications, civil aviation) long controlled by the Assad 'syndicate'.

When a Call to Action Goes Unanswered

Has the world become a harder place for American leaders to exert leverage? The rise of fascism and war in Europe and the Pacific in the 1940s, followed by combat on the Korean peninsula and the rise of a hegemonic, nuclear-armed superpower beginning in the 1950s, did not dissuade American leaders from taking extraordinary measures—non-military as well as military—creating new organizations, tools and policy approaches as needed, to address formidable threats to global peace and stability. The one constant was Washington’s steadfast belief, never doubted in the capitals of allies and adversaries alike, that the United States would lead and act in redressing these and other global security threats.

Admittedly, it is hard to conceive of a more ‘wicked’ problem set for U.S. national-security policy today than the Syria crisis. And yet, the seeming impossibility of forging an agile, speedy, unified and highly potent response to such a crisis from Washington’s national security bureaucracy, including Congress—the inability to defy its policy stovepipes, jurisdictional rice bowls, and balky bureaucratic culture in pursuit of swift, clever, game-changing impacts on such a crisis, all without writing a blank check denominated in American blood and treasure—may be the ‘mother’ of all ‘wicked’ problems for the United States.

Ambassador Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr. served as a defense and foreign policy official in the past five Republican administrations. He is Chairman of the Stimson Center in Washington D.C.

Image: Flickr/Christiaan Triebert. CC BY 2.0.