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What Should the United States Do in Syria?

U.S. restraint was the right call in the early phases of the rebellion, but the recent escalation in fighting poses greater risks to key U.S. interests and will likely lead to greater U.S. involvement.

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The United States has so far refrained from taking an active role in Syria, despite calls by some for military intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. U.S. restraint was the right call in the early phases of the rebellion, but the recent escalation in fighting poses greater risks to key U.S. interests and will likely lead to greater U.S. involvement.

Though the overwhelming majority of the international community and U.S. policymakers agree that Assad must be removed from power, many policy recommendations incorrectly use Assad’s removal as the sole litmus test for success. Failing to address the effect of such policies on the range of U.S. interests in Syria could have disastrous results for the United States and its regional allies.

U.S. policymakers should focus their attention on five major priorities in Syria:

  • Preventing the spillover of conflict into neighboring countries, including mitigating the effect of refugee outflows
  • Securing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and preventing their use
  • Eliminating the space for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to operate
  • Safeguarding the country against collapse into sectarian violence
  • Preparing for an effective and stable political transition

A new issue brief from Ken Sofer analyzes each priority, why they matter to U.S. strategic interests, and how each is affected by the current situation in Syria, and recommends options for U.S. policymakers to address these critical interests.

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