United States “Should Have a Plan” for Syria

Former national security advisor James Jones says the United States should be prepared for the fall of Assad.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor General Jim Jones and other White House staff watch President Barack Obama deliver a news conference at the White House in Washington DC, June 16, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor General Jim Jones and other White House staff watch President Barack Obama deliver a news conference at the White House in Washington DC, June 16, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

Former national security advisor General Jim Jones said on Tuesday that the United States “should have a plan” for Syria if President Bashar al-Assad is toppled by the popular uprising in the country. “Syria is a real big strategic country, particularly as it relates to stability in the Middle East. What happens to Lebanon, for example, if Assad goes? What happens to Iran?”

In an appearance on CNN’s Amanpour, Jones, a retired Marine Corps general who served as President Barack Obama’s national security advisor between January 2009 and October 2010, couldn’t confirm that the administration had a plan for Syria but said that it was “obvious” it should have one. “As a global leader we need to consider what the elements of that plan are.”

“It’s not just about sending in troops,” said Jones, possibly to secure Assad’s chemical weapons which he has threatened to use if there is foreign intervention, “but it’s about having economic incentives and packages.”

We have to figure out as quickly as possible who’s likely to emerge in a leadership position, how do we talk to them and how do you put something on the table that meets the expectations of the people of Syria who are putting their lives on the line for a better life and a better future.

On Monday, President Barack Obama warned that the Ba’athist regime would be “held accountable” if it deployed chemical weapons. “The president did the right thing by drawing the line in the sand,” said Jones.

Russia, which has so far shielded Assad from sanctions in the United Nations Security Council, reminded Syria on Tuesday that it had ratified a global convention banning the use of chemical weapons. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it expects Syria to “unfailingly honor its international obligations.”

Western powers and probably Russia as well fear that chemical weapons could fall into the hands of extremists or terrorists if Assad’s regime collapses and there is no immediate successor government. “It would be wise to have a plan to go in and secure those weapons before they really do fall into the wrong hands, just as we did with Libya,” said Jones. He did not rule out the possibility of those wrong hands being Al Qaeda.

It’s always been a goal of an organization like Al Qaeda to achieve and to attain weapons of mass destruction.

Which is also why Jones worried about Iran achieving the ability to produce such weapons. He said that if the regime in Tehran build a nuclear weapon, it “would export it to nonstate actors” and “might trigger a nuclear arms race in the Gulf.”

Saudi Arabia, an American ally across the Persian Gulf and the world’s second largest oil exporter, has warned that it may seek a nuclear weapons capacity of its own if rival Iran attains it.

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