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Experts to the administration: Help Syria now

President Barack Obama‘s administration has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside and has increased sanctions on the regime, but a group of foreign policy experts in Washington is publicly calling on the administration to increase its non-military assistance to opposition groups. "As was the case in Libya, the situation in Syria is ...

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545455_syria15.jpg

President Barack Obama's administration has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside and has increased sanctions on the regime, but a group of foreign policy experts in Washington is publicly calling on the administration to increase its non-military assistance to opposition groups.

"As was the case in Libya, the situation in Syria is one in which our interests and our values converge," wrote a bipartisan group of 55 foreign policy experts on Monday in an open letter to Obama. "Members of your administration, however, have made statements against the militarization of the uprising, even warning that such a turn could threaten international support for their cause. Such a position is counterproductive, especially since the protesters themselves are calling for international protection from the Assad regime's forces. As of now, this protection is coming only from defectors from the Syrian military, who are fighting in support of the revolution. U.S. condemnation of their armed resistance undercuts them, and could have the effect of discouraging further Syrian military defections."

The experts are mostly from the conservative end of the political spectrum and include advisors to both the Mitt Romney and Rick Perry campaigns, although the letter is not explicitly tied to either presidential candidate. It was organized by two conservative policy organizations, the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

President Barack Obama‘s administration has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside and has increased sanctions on the regime, but a group of foreign policy experts in Washington is publicly calling on the administration to increase its non-military assistance to opposition groups.

"As was the case in Libya, the situation in Syria is one in which our interests and our values converge," wrote a bipartisan group of 55 foreign policy experts on Monday in an open letter to Obama. "Members of your administration, however, have made statements against the militarization of the uprising, even warning that such a turn could threaten international support for their cause. Such a position is counterproductive, especially since the protesters themselves are calling for international protection from the Assad regime’s forces. As of now, this protection is coming only from defectors from the Syrian military, who are fighting in support of the revolution. U.S. condemnation of their armed resistance undercuts them, and could have the effect of discouraging further Syrian military defections."

The experts are mostly from the conservative end of the political spectrum and include advisors to both the Mitt Romney and Rick Perry campaigns, although the letter is not explicitly tied to either presidential candidate. It was organized by two conservative policy organizations, the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

The signatories are calling on the Obama administration to take several specific actions to aid and protect the Syrian opposition and the Syrian people. They want the administration come out in support of new Syrian sanctions legislation that has been put forward by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Eliot Engel (D-NY). They also want the administration to work harder on "crippling multilaterally-based sanctions" on the Syrian government.

The administration should also form an international contact group on Syria, as it did with Libya, establish direct contact with more anti-regime groups in Syria, and work with Turkey to establish safe zones in Syria where the Assad regime won’t be able attack civilians.

The experts warned that the influence of "other countries," such as Russia, would grow if the United States does not increase its activity and attention to the growing instability there.

"In the absence of American leadership, other countries that do not necessarily share our goals and values are stepping in to fill the void in Syria. Given the stakes, it is important that the United States lead on this issue," they wrote. "The Syrian people are calling for protection from the Assad regime. It is our moral obligation and in our interest to assist them."

There is a feeling among some of the protesters in Syria as well that the Obama administration is moving too slowly. The photo above, which was taken from an opposition related Facebook page, is reportedly from a Dec. 16 protest march in the town Kafr Nabel in the province of Idlib, an area that has experienced the worst of the crackdown by Assad’s security forces. The sign reads, "Obama’s procrastination kills us: We miss Bush’s audacity. The world is better with America’s Republicans."  You can view a video of that protest march here:

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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