By Senator Marco Rubio
The world has watched for more than a year as the Assad regime in Syria has been slaughtering innocent civilians. The recent massacre in Houla--including of scores of children--is a reminder of why the United States must step up and lead an aggressive international campaign to hasten Bashar al-Assad's departure from power.
Several diplomatic actions are required immediately. Others, especially involving the Syrian opposition, should be incremental and seek to help anti-Assad forces get organized.
One immediately required action is to abandon any wishful thinking that the efforts of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will help the situation, or that Russia's conscience will finally be shocked straight. The U.S. should urge Mr. Annan to condemn Assad and resign his job as envoy so that Syria's regime and other governments can no longer hide behind the facade of his mediation efforts.
Diplomacy doesn't stand a chance in Syria unless the military balance tips against Assad. With Iran and Hezbollah now directly involved in the conflict--sending soldiers and weapons into Syria--the U.S. must stop insisting that arming the opposition will only make the violence worse. The conflict is also attracting jihadis whose presence will only make an eventual reconciliation in Syria that much harder.
To address these problems, the U.S. should work with NATO, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and others to establish safe zones in Turkey and, eventually, in parts of Syria. This will help turn the opposition into a better-organized and viable force. The U.S. can provide valuable aid in the form of food, medicine, communications equipment, intelligence and logistical support.
Our allies in this mission should take the main responsibility for arming and training the most capable and trustworthy rebels now. But the U.S. should make clear that we stand ready to step in and fill key gaps between the rebels' military needs and our allies' capabilities. Empowering and supporting Syria's opposition today will give us our best chance of influencing it tomorrow, to ensure that revenge killings are rare in a post-Assad Syria and that a new government follows a moderate foreign policy.