The Anti-Assad Offensive: Can the West Oust Syria’s Strongman?

By Vivienne Walt

A fighter from the Shohada al-Haq brigade of the Free Syrian Army prepares for a raid to clear a new apartment building in the no-man’s-land area near the Salahudeen district of Aleppo, Nov. 3, 2012

Scarcely hours after his re-election, President Obama was under pressure from U.S. allies to take stronger action on Syria. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters on Nov. 7, during a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, that “one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius added to the clamor on Nov. 8, telling reporters he planned to call for more urgency from Washington on Syria at a planned meeting later in the day with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, promising that the message would be reinforced by “swift and necessary” talks between President François Hollande and Obama. On Syria, said Fabius, “The Americans have recently been in the background a little.”

Some hope that the Obama Administration may be less risk-averse in the wake of the election and possibly more inclined to arm Syria’s rebels. Until now, the U.S. has offered only nonlethal support to Syria’s disparate rebel groups, largely for fear that weapons could end up in the hands of elements — which make up a substantial part of the Syrian insurgency — hostile to U.S. interests and allies in the region. While such concerns remain, “there is now less risk aversion,” believes Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank in London. “Before, if the weapons got into the wrong hands in October and turned on the Turkish forces, for example, all those things would have been hugely embarrassing for the Administration at a moment when they wanted to avoid all risk,” he says. “It is less important that Obama has won than that someone has won.”

There are still anxieties about arms being turned against U.S. interests, including possibly in future attacks against Israel. And yet the anti-Assad offensive is intensifying. Cameron seemed to move ahead of his more cautious U.S. allies this week, announcing on Nov. 7 that Britain would open direct ties with Syrian rebel leaders, which was interpreted by many as opening the way to more military support for the insurgency. Read more…

Vivienne Walt is an award-winning foreign correspondent, based in Paris, who has written for TIME Magazine since 2003.

As published in www.time.com on November 8, 2012.


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