Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

David Ignatius: Looking for Calm in Syria

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

David Ignatius: Looking for Calm in Syria

Article excerpt

With U.S.-backed "moderate" opposition forces on the run in northern Syria, a mediation group is proposing an alternative strategy for local cease-fires and a gradual de-escalation of violence in a future decentralized nation.

"The solution in the short term is neither transition nor power- sharing but freezing the war as it is, and acknowledging that Syria has been decentralized at the barrel of a gun," argues the report, prepared by a European group that is funded by more than a dozen European and Asian governments. The report urges that the cease- fires should be followed by local elections and eventual national elections.

"Cease-fires will allow us to move towards a political solution and a negotiated political transition," and bolster the embattled moderate opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, argues the report. It says the regime "knows it cannot take back the whole country or turn back the clock."

The report surfaces at a moment when the moderate Free Syrian Army rebels, the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy for defeating the extremists, have been driven from their strongholds in northern Syria. The moderates have been pleading unsuccessfully for U.S. help.

The Free Syrian Army's requests to U.S. commanders make painful reading: "The FSA needs urgent Coalition support," said an Oct. 28 message that noted the Islamic State was sending reinforcements to help fighters attack moderates in Idlib province. Three days later, the FSA warned: "We've got major problems w Nusra in Idlib.... Close air support badly needed." And then, on Nov. 2, "Morale is low ... air support would be welcomed to stave off disaster."

These latest reversals suggest that, without the kind of support the Obama administration has so far been unwilling to provide, the U.S. strategy for the moderates to defeat the jihadists is, as the report bluntly states, a "fantasy." The report's alternative plan for cease-fires may also be unrealistic, but it might offer a reduction in violence.

The local "reconciliation" approach was attempted, with mixed success, last year in Homs and the Damascus area. …

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