|Why Syria matters|
|Posted 9/27/2012 12:12 PM ET|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The issue:
Syria's conflict is the most violent to emerge from last year's Arab Spring. The protests started peacefully but prompted a brutal crackdown by President Bashar Assad's government. The fighting has escalated into a civil war that has killed at least 23,000 people over the last year-and-half, according to activists. Despite intervening in Libya, the United States has steered clear of taking military action or arming Syria's rebels.
Where they stand:
President Barack Obama called for Assad to step down more than a year ago and has sought consensus for a diplomatic power-transfer plan. He has been stymied by Russia and China, which have blocked efforts at the United Nations to end the Assad regime. He has been unable to prevent a worsening civil war between Assad's forces and the rebels, but remains opposed to enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria or providing the opposition with weapons. His administration says such plans would further militarize Syria. Instead, it hopes better coordination among the opposition will help it unite the country against Assad.
Romney has demanded "more assertive" tactics to end the Assad regime, blaming Obama for a "lack of leadership." The Republican challenger has been vague on specifics. He stresses U.S. cooperation with partners to arm Syria's rebels -- which the Obama administration has been doing in a limited fashion for several months. He has spoken of possibly sending American troops into Syria if weapons of mass destruction are loose -- going slightly further than Obama, who calls WMD his "red line" in the conflict. And Romney wants more U.S. pressure on Moscow to break the diplomatic logjam.
Why it matters:
The future of the Arab world's democracy efforts could hinge on Syria. After demonstrators ended dictatorships out in Tunisia and Egypt, a U.S.-led mission helped defeat Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and a transition deal brought change to Yemen, the four-decade Assad regime has dug in to hold on to power. It is accused of torture and mass killings. And if it succeeds, reform-wary leaders across the region could take it as a lesson that they can attack their own citizens and get away with it.
Syria's close alliance with Iran is important. The Assad regime has facilitated Iran's assistance to militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, destabilizing Lebanon while threatening Israel's security and American interests in the Middle East. The U.S. accuses Iran of managing Syria's repression to prop up its faltering ally. With Washington and Tehran battling for influence in the Arab world, the change toward a more U.S.-friendly government in Syria would be a major strategic victory. Up to now, the only governments ousted in the Arab Spring were either U.S. allies or counterterrorism partners.
For Obama, Assad's perseverance also poses a credibility problem. The president has demanded that Assad leave power, but has ruled out several elements of American power to make that happen. He has limited the repercussions on Assad mainly to tighter U.S. sanctions and harsher rhetoric. For Romney, however, Syria offers up no easy solution. The presence of al-Qaida-linked fighters and other extremists in the opposition makes members of both parties uneasy about offering greater U.S. aid. And no one wants greater instability on Israel's up-to-now secure northeastern border.
|Posted 9/27/2012 12:12 PM ET|