PRISTINA, Kosovo -- As the U.S. builds its coalition and prepares to strike ISIS, it is critical for President Obama to follow his own long-held and oft-stated conviction and spell out the endgame. This is a matter of urgency because the minute the U.S. starts bombing ISIS in Syria, it will become one of the parties of the civil war there.
My experience from the NATO bombing campaign that preceded negotiations and independence for Kosovo in 1998-99 suggest two goals that would define the endgame:
-- First, drawing from the president's own belief in a "no victor/no vanquished" outcome, the U.S. and its allies ought to define as their political goal a situation in which the Syrians, with international mediation and support, find a mutually negotiated end to their civil war, with a mutually shared future of a functioning, democratic and secular state.
ISIS, of course, by disputing the very essence of that goal with its objective of creating a Levantine Caliphate, has excluded itself from those eventual deliberations.
-- Second, the U.S. military intervention in Syria ought to confine itself to restraining and minimizing the territory that is under ISIS control and not take on any larger effort against political Islam.
In order to achieve this military objective, the U.S. and its allies should declare a no-fly zone throughout the territory of Syria where there are ISIS units.
"The Assad regime and its international backers will claim that any U.S. incursion must require the regime's invitation or permission. The U.S. can and should rightly claim that in this civil war, the government has lost its legitimacy."
This, of course, immediately raises the sensitive issues of international legality and legitimacy. The Assad regime and its international backers will claim that any U.S. incursion must require the regime's invitation or permission. The U.S. can and should rightly claim that in this civil war, the government has lost its legitimacy.
If the Islamic State group can be considered a target because of its brutal beheadings, the Syrian regime's trademark barrel bombings of civilians are no less gruesome and thus undermine the regime's claims of sovereign legitimacy.
The Free Syrian Army, caught between the al-Assad air forces and the Islamic State group's territorial expansion, will benefit directly from an air campaign that is simultaneously against ISIS but does not allow any other air military activity.
In this way, the U.S. can bring a new strategic balance on the ground in Syria, forcing both Assad's regime and the moderate opposition to accept that there can be no military victors in this civil war.
"When bombs start falling on ISIS in Syria soon, it would be in everyone's interest to start planning for a future peacekeeping force in Syria."
An international effort, under U.N. auspices, and where the U.S.-led coalition together with Russia and Iran, as the main backers of the Assad regime, can establish a negotiated process that would enable the Assad regime and the Syrian Opposition delegation (representing the SOC, FSA and affiliated forces) to bring an end to the civil war, initiate a transitional process of power sharing with international peacekeeping support and engage in truly democratic state-building, based on the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional nature of the country.
When bombs start falling on ISIS in Syria soon, it would be in everyone's interest to start planning for a future peacekeeping force in Syria under U.N. auspices. Military intervention has a way of speeding up events.