Any keen observer of the turmoil in Syria suggests that following the defeat of ISIS there is only a political solution to end the civil war in Syria, and the US has no choice but to work with Russia and Iran.
Thus, to preserve America's leading role, President Obama must include Russia and Iran in the search for a solution and develop a new strategy that the US's regional allies can also embrace:
First, developing a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS will have to include the introduction of ground troops. Every military strategist contends that ISIS cannot be destroyed from the air alone, and Iraqi troops cannot defeat ISIS without significant additional ground troops from other countries.
The composition of such ground troops is a sensitive issue, but it is time for the Obama administration to accept the reality on the ground and negotiate with Russia and Iran as well as Saudi Arabia on the composition of such a force.
Certainly this is easier said than done, but the ultimate goal of defeating ISIS serves all parties' interests, which overrides their differences. (Incidentally, it has been reported that Iranian and Russian troops are already fighting against the rebels and ISIS).
Second, as the fight against ISIS continues, the effort of ending the civil war must simultaneously and vigorously be pursued by all the powers involved. The US can certainly exert pressure on the rebels, while Russia and Iran can force Assad to end his hostilities.
Third, all the powers involved must work together to help form a transitional (five to seven years) representative government. Since neither Russia nor Iran would abandon Assad unless they secure their continuing interests and influence in Syria, Assad will have to initially be included. That said, the makeup of the government must reflect the demographic composition of the country, including the Alawites.
Fourth, the US can reach an agreement with Russia and Iran that would require Assad to retire "voluntarily" after one or a maximum of two years and be provided safe passage to any country that will accept him along with his top political, military, and internal security officials who have blood on their hands.
Fifth, to avoid the mistakes the US made in Iraq, the current Syrian bureaucracy, internal security, and military must remain in place to prevent new chaotic developments that could potentially erupt. Indeed, many extremist groups who have their own agenda will not accept any new political order and will do whatever it takes to torpedo it.
Sixth, a comprehensive plan should be developed to effectively deal with the massive refugee problem. The solution cannot be found based on how many refugees the European community and the US can absorb. Whether they admit three or four hundred thousand refugees, it pales in comparison to the nearly five million refugees that would seek to resettle back in their own country.
To that end, the idea of a no-fly zone must now be revived and seriously considered so that the continuing influx of refugees can find temporary homes, lifting some of the burden off Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, who have collectively absorbed more than four million refugees.
It is time for the international community to live up to its moral obligation to resettle the Syrian refugees and raise the amount of money necessary, which is a tiny fraction of what is being spent on militaries (the Iraq war alone cost in the vicinity of $2 trillion).
While all countries' first obligation is to safeguard their national interests, Russia, Iran, the US, EU, and the Arab states must realize that the continuing destruction of Syria, the growing number of deaths which has exceeded 300,000, the displacement of more than 12 million Syrians, and the unavoidable spillover to neighboring countries will eventually come back to haunt them if it has not already.
This is not a perfect formula and many would think it is based on unrealistic assumptions far beyond the realm of possibilities. I agree, it is not perfect and there is no formula that will fully satisfy all the players involved. I must ask though, what is the alternative? Is there a viable solution that will preclude Russia and Iran?
Russia and Iran are deeply embedded in Syria; they cannot be dislodged and will always remain a player in shaping Syria's future. The US has little choice but to accept this simple reality.
President Obama should use his speech at the UNGA to articulate a new policy to bring an end to Syria's civil war and a new initiative to ending the plight of the Syrian refugees. He will not be able to do so, however, without inviting the full support and cooperation of Russia and Iran, whose leaders are likely to focus on the Syrian crisis during their speeches to the General Assembly.