New Castle News

Editorials

March 21, 2012

Our Opinion: Promoting democracy, protecting weapons are key goals

NEW CASTLE — The crisis in Syria is one of those headaches the world does not need right now.

But deal with it, the world must. The only real question is how should the international community handle the situation.

On the surface, the obvious answer is to encourage Syrian President Bashar Assad to engage in a peaceful transition, where he gives up power and a democratic government is put in his place.

And while the United States is holding out hope for such an outcome, the underlying situation presents a far more complicated scenario than a brutal and unpopular regime being challenged by democratic reformers.

Much of that has to do with the uncertainty of who, precisely, is opposing Assad. Yes, there are Syrians who want a more open, democratic system that enjoys constructive relations with the rest of the world. However, that’s not the whole story.

For instance, there are reports that al-Qaida forces that remain in Iraq have their sights set on Syria. Al-Qaida’s influence in Iraq has waned in recent years and the organization would like to use another country, such as Syria, as a base of operations.

But beyond that, terrorist and radical groups may be interested in Syria’s weapons stash. This is a country that’s awash in conventional and chemical weapons, as well as the missiles that can deliver them.

Terrorists could do a lot of damage with even a handful of these weapons. That’s why the Obama administration has been working quietly to ensure the weapons remain under some level of responsible control.

Yet that’s a problem when a civil war is brewing. When governments collapse, all sorts of orderly processes disappear, ranging from who will collect the garbage to who will keep track of the weapons of mass destruction. Obviously, that’s a concern in Syria.

This is one reason the United States has been subdued about supporting more aggressive actions in Syria. The goal — particularly when the ideological leanings of any replacement of the Assad regime is unclear — is to make an orderly transition key.

Some potentially good news in that regard is word that Russia is expressing a willingness to work with the United Nations to push for an end to fighting in Syria. At the very least, such a scenario would involve having Assad’s government allow democratic initiatives.

To date, Russia has been reluctant to put pressure on the Syrian regime, and has instead offered support for a long-time ally. If Assad’s friends are urging him to make changes, that will reduce his options.

Ending the bloodshed and promoting reforms in Syria in a manner that promotes democracy while protecting dangerous weapons will serve America’s interests. For now, it’s a delicate process.

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