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Published: Tuesday, 11/13/2012

Forward in Syria

The U.S. government remains properly skeptical about intervening militarily in Syria — whether by boots on the ground or a no-fly zone — to help depose tyrannical President Bashar Assad and end the war between government troops and insurgents that has killed tens of thousands of Syrians. But short of using force, there are practical measures Washington can take to ease the carnage and help shape Syria after Mr. Assad goes.

Syrian rebel forces have been infiltrated by jihadists who do not offer an appealing alternative to even the murderous government troops. Arming the rebels, a frequently proposed option short of direct intervention, risks handing those weapons to America’s enemies.

A better approach, offered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, proposes greater support for opposition forces that are prosecuting the war, and less for the Syrian National Council, which is mostly populated by exiles. Divided council members have yet to make a credible case for leading the nation.

The Syrian opposition movement must be broad-based, including not only majority Sunni Muslims but also Christians, secular groups, and members of the ruling Alawite sect. Such inclusion is more likely to address Syrians’ desire for constructive change.

Carefully vetted opposition forces could assist usefully in the administration of humanitarian aid. They could appeal to Syrian military and government officials to end their support of Mr. Assad. But such things are less likely to happen if Syrians perceive the new movement as one imposed by the United States, or if the rebels do not purge their ranks of Islamic extremists.

Broader-based diplomatic efforts are likely to remain stalled as long as Russia and China continue to back the Assad regime. That support is costing China support among other nations in the region.

China now proposes a truce while Mr. Assad negotiates with the opposition. But a similar United Nations proposal never got off the ground. China and Russia would promote true progress by joining the international coalition that seeks to pressure the president to give up power.

In the meantime, the carnage in Syria continues. Even without military intervention, the United States can — and should — help Syria end the conflict and create a brighter future.



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