Syria has put President Barack Obama’s enlightened realism in international affairs to its stiffest test. Direct military intervention could immerse the United States in another open-ended Middle East war. Doing nothing would mean failing to live up to America’s humanitarian obligations and harming America’s regional interests.
But the main impediment to a political deal remains President Bashar Assad’s brutal intransigence. And there is something America could do to pressure him. The most powerful inducement for Assad to reach an acceptable compromise would be a loss of support from Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based, Iranian-financed Shiite militant group. In Lebanon, popular anger over Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria is rising, and the United States must exploit this opportunity, even if it means negotiating directly with Iran.
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Jonathan Stevenson is a professor of strategic studies at the United States Naval War College and a former director for political-military affairs for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council. He wrote this for The New York Times.