The United States can take out Assad, but at what cost?

By Daniel DePetris

John Allen and Charles R. Lister outlined a series of steps the United States could take to stop the Assad regime’s war crimes and bring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table. Most of the options they recommend have been considered in Washington policy circles for years: more advanced weapons to vetted opposition units, targeted strikes against Syrian military facilities and stronger sanctions on the regime’s external partners.

Curiously, Mr. Allen and Mr. Lister leave out any risks that would be associated with this strategy. They seem to play down the possibility of Moscow escalating the war in response to U.S. military strikes on its Syrian client. While they mention possible commingling between Russian and Syrian forces, they ignore the likelihood that Russia would retaliate if some of its personnel were killed in the course of U.S. airstrikes.

Mr. Allen and Mr. Lister also did not make a convincing enough case that sending more powerful weapons to moderate opposition forces would improve the situation, particularly when extremists on the ground seem to outnumber moderates.  Can the United States be confident that these weapons won’t simply be taken by extremist factions on the battlefield?

Their argument should be considered as worthwhile suggestions to right a horrible conflict. But we shouldn’t be blind to the costs either.

Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.

This Letter to the Editor appeared in The Washington Post on October 26, 2016. Read more HERE