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4 alternatives to bombing Syria
With an up-or-down vote on military intervention looming, some politicians are offering more-nuanced options
 
Does a viable alternative to the White House's bombing campaign exist?
Does a viable alternative to the White House's bombing campaign exist? (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama has called on Congress to approve a military strike against Syria, and lawmakers, fresh off a brief recess, are expected to begin voting as early as this week on a White House–drafted resolution authorizing such a response.

Yet the resolution offers only a stark choice between two options — to strike or not to strike — and ignores other proposals for resolving the Syrian dilemma. While the White House may be focused on that dichotomy, other politicians have in recent days floated their own ideas for dealing with Syria. Here are four:

1. Assad hands over his weapons
Most notably, Secretary of State John Kerry remarked that Syria could avoid retaliation if it turned over all of its chemical weapons. The off-the-cuff comment wasn't an official statement of policy, and Kerry wrapped it up by remarking that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "isn't about to do it, and it can't be done."

Nevertheless, Russia, Syria's strongest ally and a staunch opponent of military intervention there, seized on the idea, with Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov saying, "If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus."

After talks with Russia, Syria reportedly agreed to the idea in theory. However, it remains uncertain if all parties will sign off on the plan. The White House said Monday it would take a "hard look" at the proposal, and Obama suggested in a round of TV interviews Monday night that he was open to the idea — and had even discussed it recently with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"If we can exhaust these diplomatic efforts and come up with a formula that gives the international community a verifiable, enforceable mechanism to deal with these chemical weapons in Syria, then I'm all for it," he told PBS.

However, he added that he felt the need to "maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure," which he said was necessary to push Syria into agreeing to such a proposal in the first place.

2. Assad hands over his weapons, Part II
Another option being pushed by Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) would involve, like the White House plan, a vote on the use of force. But their version would come with more strings.

Called the Chemical Weapons Control and Accountability Resolution of 2013, the measure would demand that Syria relinquish all chemical weapons within 45 days, or face the threat of military action. It would also require the White House to give Congress a detailed explanation of the "diplomatic, political, economic, and military policy" behind any strike, and to offer a long-term strategy for dealing with Syria before going on the offensive.

Manchin has billed the resolution as a "sensible alternative" to the White House–drafted plan, which does not offer Assad a chance to relinquish his chemical weapons stash.

3. Assad feels an economic bite
House liberals are also expected to soon release their own dovish alternative, according to The Washington Post's Greg Sargent. Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) will reportedly introduce in the next few days a resolution that would bolster economic sanctions against Assad, call for renewed international diplomacy, and punish Syria through the International Criminal Court.

That plan would essentially take military intervention off the table, instead forcing the White House, in concert with the international community, to find a diplomatic solution.

Though that's a typically liberal position, House Democrats may have some help pushing such a diplomacy-first plan in the form of war-weary Republicans. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has been working with Manchin to craft a bipartisan compromise that favors a long-term political solution over an immediate military one.

4. Assad faces a war crimes tribunal
In a similar vein, a fourth proposal comes from Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who last week introduced a bill calling on the U.S. to establish a war crimes tribunal to prosecute Assad and members of his government. As with the forthcoming proposal from House Dems, Smith's idea emphasizes the need for a unified international response to address war crimes allegations with a gavel, not bombs. The bill would have the U.S. "declare that it is a requirement of basic justice" that alleged war crimes be "investigated and prosecuted."

Unlike the reported Democratic-backed plan, Smith's proposal does not discuss other punitive measures like sanctions, but rather focuses solely on international prosecution.

Calling it a "non-lethal" alternative to the White House's bombing campaign, Smith said his plan would be a more effective way to directly hold Assad and others accountable for their alleged crimes.

"Already President Obama has said he won't target Assad with missiles," Smith told The Washington Post. "Instead we'll target 20-year-olds who might be on an air force base. I find that strange, that we're not looking for regime change. Let's go after the actual perpetrators."

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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