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Policy Experts Urge President Obama to Take Immediate Action to Establish Safe Zones in Syria


24th July 2012 - FPI/FDD

Washington, D.C.—A bipartisan group of sixty-two foreign policy experts and former U.S. government officials signed an open letter today urging President Obama to adopt a strategy that will help the Syrian people quickly end the Assad regime, and actively promote order and stability after the dictatorship’s fall.  Organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the letter urges the President to immediately establish air-patrolled “safe zones” in liberated areas within Syria, to use military power to protect these zones, and to neutralize the threat posed by the Assad regime’s chemical and biological weapons.

Over 17,000 Syrian civilians have died since the Assad regime began its coordinated campaign of indiscriminate violence against opposition groups in March 2011.  Last week, as reports surfaced that Assad regime had begun to move some of its chemical weapons stockpile, opposition forces bombed the regime’s national security headquarters, killing several of Assad’s closest advisors.  Tensions continue to mount this week after Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi acknowledged the regime’s chemical weapons stockpile and threatened its use in the case of foreign attack.

The letter states that President Obama’s current inaction on Syria constitutes what he called “complicity in oppression” in his 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, arguing that “it is clear that the United States cannot outsource its strategic and moral responsibilities to cynical great powers, regional actors who do not fully share our values, or international mediators.  Only resolved U.S. leadership has the potential to halt the bloodshed and ensure the emergence of a Syria that advances America’s national security interests.  We urge you to exercise such leadership immediately.”

The full text of the letter and signatories can be found below or downloaded here.


The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Mr. President:

The situation in Syria is, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said on July 18th, “spinning out of control.”  Recent events make clear that the United States must play a more proactive role than it has heretofore in ensuring the end of the Assad regime and shaping a post-Assad Syria.  Even prior to recent high-level assassinations and opposition gains, Assad's security forces reportedly began to move chemical weapons out of storage, raising the specter that some of the world’s most dangerous weapons could be used against the Syrian people or fall into the hands of terrorists.

We believe it is clear that multilateral diplomacy and non-military pressure, by themselves, will neither compel Assad to step down nor ensure that America’s national security interests in Syria and the wider region are protected.  The Assad regime has repeatedly violated the ceasefire brokered by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, just as it disregarded earlier efforts by the Arab League.  Russia and China yet again used their vetoes on July 19th to prevent the Security Council from imposing more severe sanctions on Syria.  Meanwhile, Iran continues to materially assist the Syrian dictatorship’s crackdown on its citizens, underlining Assad’s importance to Tehran.

America’s national security interests are intertwined with the fate of the Syrian people and the wider region.  Indeed, Syria’s escalating conflict now threatens to directly affect the country’s neighbors, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel, and could provide an opening for terrorist groups like al Qaeda to exploit.  The longer we wait to act, the more others with interests contrary to ours will fill the void, limiting America’s ability to ensure a multi-sectarian pluralistic Syria.  We therefore believe it is long past due for the United States to adopt a strategy that will help the Syrian people to quickly end the Assad regime and actively promote order and stability after the regime’s fall.

We urge you to take immediate steps, in close and continuing consultation with the Congress, to work with regional partners to establish air-patrolled “safe zones” covering already liberated areas within Syria, using military power not only to protect these zones from further aggression by the Assad regime’s military and irregular forces, but also to neutralize the threat posed by the Syrian dictatorship’s chemical and biological weapons.

Such "safe zones" would serve as a destination for civilians fleeing violence.  They would also provide the country’s opposition groups—which have actively stood up to the Assad regime’s relentless aggression, and bravely defended their cities, towns, and villages in the absence of decisive international action — a place to train, be equipped, and organize.  Indeed, “safe zones” would make it easier for the United States and like-minded nations to reliably provide critical non-lethal aid, including secure communications technologies and field hospital equipment, as well as self-defense assistance, to carefully vetted recipients.  “Safe zones” could also serve as a venue for U.S. and allied officials to work with Syria’s future leaders to plan and prepare for a post-Assad Syria and explore options, such as an international peacekeeping force, that could limit chaos and sectarian conflict and prevent the proliferation of Assad’s weapons of mass destruction.

America’s continued inaction in Syria risks becoming what you called in your 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “complicity in oppression,” and only serves to undermine our interests and embolden our enemies.  It is clear that the United States cannot outsource its strategic and moral responsibilities to cynical great powers, regional actors who do not fully share our values, or international mediators.  Only resolved U.S. leadership has the potential to halt the bloodshed and ensure the emergence of a Syria that advances America’s national security interests.  We urge you to exercise such leadership immediately.

Sincerely,

Ammar Abdulhamid Abe Greenwald Ausama Monajed
Elliott Abrams John P. Hannah Joshua Muravchik
Fouad Ajami William Inboden Meghan L. O'Sullivan
Tony Badran Bruce Pitcairn Jackson Martin Peretz
Paul Berman Ash Jain Danielle Pletka
Max Boot Kenneth D. M. Jensen Stephen G. Rademaker
Ellen Bork Allison Johnson Karl Rove
L. Paul Bremer Robert G. Joseph Kori Schake
Matthew R. J. Brodsky Robert Kagan Jonathan Schanzer
Seth Cropsey Lawrence F. Kaplan Randy Scheunemann
Larry Cox Irina Krasovskaya Gary J. Schmitt
Jack David William Kristol Lee Smith
Toby Dershowitz Michael A. Ledeen Henry D. Sokolski
Larry Diamond Robert J. Lieber William Taft
Paula J. Dobriansky Tod Lindberg Daniel Twining
Mark Dubowitz Herbert I. London Kenneth R. Weinstein
Nicholas Eberstadt Mary Beth Long Michael Weiss
Eric S. Edelman Ann Marlowe Leon Wieseltier
Douglas J. Feith Clifford D. May Robert Zarate
Jamie M. Fly Robert C. McFarlane Radwan Ziadeh
Reuel Marc Gerecht Alan Mendoza  

About the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies is a non-profit, non-partisan policy institute dedicated exclusively to promoting pluralism, defending democratic values, and fighting the ideologies that drive terrorism. Founded shortly after the attacks of 9/11, FDD combines policy research, democracy and counterterrorism education, strategic communications, and investigative journalism in support of its mission. For more information, please visit www.defenddemocracy.org.

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About the Foreign Policy Initiative

FPI is a non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. FPI seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America's global economic competitiveness. The organization was founded in 2009 and is led by Executive Director Jamie Fly. FPI’s Board of Directors consists of Eric Edelman, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, and Dan Senor. Visit our website at www.foreignpolicyi.org for more information.

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