(From ‘The Australian’ 11 March 2022 – cartoon by Johannes Leak)
There’s a very good article by Roy Gutman from The Daily Beast, published in February this year, about the moral underpinnings – or lack thereof – of the United Nations and the US and other powerful countries’ failure to take effective action against the massacres of the Assad regime.
The killings have gone on for many years now, from about 5,000 deaths in 2011 when the Syrian popular revolt broke out to many more thousands each year – around half a million killed so far. More than 6 million have been displaced within Syria, and an additional 5 million have fled the country.
Gutman refers to the failure of the UN and US and allies to take effective action against the Assad regime as a ‘Srebrenica moment’.
He writes that, 23 years (in 1995) ago:
‘… the world sat mostly mute, watching events unfold in and around the small village of Srebrenica in a remote corner of eastern Bosnia. No government was ready to lift a finger to save the population of some 27,000, at least half of them displaced from other areas.
‘At a critical moment, the United Nations Protection Force decided not to bomb Bosnian Serb forces marching on the town. That was taken as the all-clear for Gen. Radko Mladic to capture Srebrenica, expel the women and children, and exterminate the male population of some 8,000’.
In all, about 100,000 were killed during the Bosnian war but the killings were ultimately halted when a NATO force of 60,000 peace-keeping troops occupied the region. Prior to that, there had been NATO air strikes to enforce and defend ‘safe zones’. This is one of the interventions Syria has needed for several years, desperately. A No Fly Zone imposed by the US and NATO, and anyone else willing to help.
In 1994, a year prior to Srebrenica, more than half a million Rawandans were massacred over a hundred day period. Again, there was no effective intervention on the part of the powerful west. We just watched, deplored what was happening, a French military force established a ‘safe humanitarian zone’ in part of Rawanda which saved around 15,000 people, but we did nothing to stop the actual genocide.
In 2013, former US president Bill Clinton reflected on the failure of the US government (during his presidency) to intervene in the genocide as one of his main foreign policy failings. He estimated that 300,000 lives could have been saved by US military intervention.
Following such tragic events, it seemed that an internationalist sense of responsibility was developing – an understanding that ‘we are all one’, that we share a common humanity and that the massacre of people anywhere is an issue for all of us, that separation by oceans or continents is irrelevant. And most importantly, that when all else fails, such as diplomatic pressure and sanctions, military intervention can be the best humanitarian option.
In 1999, the NATO bombing campaign to protect Kosovor Albanians from ethnic cleansing did not have the approval of the United Nations but it averted a much greater bloodbath. The aim of the military campaign was to end the violence and ethnic cleansing policies of the Milosevic national-socialist government, the withdrawal of all military, police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo, the stationing of a UN peacekeeping presence in Kosovo, unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons, and the establishment of a political framework agreement for Kosovo in conformity with international law and the Charter of the UN.
The NATO led force is still there, with a strength of 4,600.
While the pseudo-left protested against the military action, in defence of ‘national sovereignty’ and against US imperialism (as though it was in any way an imperialist venture), the UN itself was moving ahead of such antiquated and pernicious thinking and in 2005 adopted in principle the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ or ‘R2P’.
‘The Responsibility to Protect – known as R2P – refers to the obligation of states toward their populations and toward all populations at risk of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. R2P stipulates three pillars of responsibility:
‘Pillar One: Every state has the Responsibility to Protect its populations from four mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
‘Pillar Two: The wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility.
‘Pillar Three: If a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter’.
R2P was and is a step in the right direction, as it openly challenges the previously sacred nation of ‘national sovereignty’.
Roy Gutman points out that Eastern Ghouta’s population is 15 times that of Srebrenica’s. While the people in Eastern Ghouta were being attacked by Syrian Army ground forces backed by Russian air power, the US had 2000 troops to the north-east fighting Daesh (ISIS). The result was that 1,700 civilians perished in Eastern Ghouta, and the regime again deployed chlorine gas and probably sarin gas against the rebel-stronghold. The city has become a wasteland, suffering more than a thousand aerial attacks. Hospitals, schools, markets, bakeries and mosques were targeted. (Hardly worth making the point, at it’s so obvious, that Daesh/ISIS has no air power, neither do the pro-democracy rebels).
Gutman quotes a US colonel, John Thomas, of the US Central Command’s public affairs office, as saying ‘CENTCOM has no part in anything in Syria other than the defeat of ISIS’.
That was the case in early February, when the article was written, but since then – two weeks ago – US president Trump called Assad an ‘Animal’ and called for his overthrow.
Daesh is largely defeated. It’s bizarre plans for a Caliphate, headquartered in Raqqa, shattered by military force in October last year. It is beaten in Mosul, Iraq, as well.
Call it what you may: internationalist solidarity against fascistic regimes, or R2P. Military intervention is urgently required to overthrow the Assad regime to end the slaughter, to allow the return of refugees and displaced Syrians, and to assist the Syrian people in building an inclusive democratic system.
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Many thanks to Joel Newman and Open Borders: the Case for permission to run this piece.
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I had hoped that the Syrian civil war would produce, against the odds, a democracy which protected the diverse ethnic groups who live in the country. Either non-jihadist democratic Syrian rebels would prevail and be charitable towards those who have supported the Assad government, or an agreement between the rebels and the Syrian regime would transition the country toward democracy.
None of this has materialized, Syria is devastated, and with the oppressive Assad regime firmly in control of the western portions of the country, political progress appears impossible.
According to David Lesch, writing in The New York Times, most Syrians now live in extreme poverty, the unemployment rate is over 50%, half of Syrian children are not enrolled in school, typhoid, tuberculosis, and other diseases are endemic, hundreds of thousands are dead, and millions are injured. Different forces, including the Islamic State, control different parts of the country, and fighting likely will continue between these groups. Hundreds of billions of dollars would be needed to rebuild the country, and Mr. Lesch believes that other countries will not step up to provide reconstruction money.
Not surprisingly, almost five million Syrians have fled their country, not including millions of others who have been displaced within Syria. Almost a million have migrated to Europe. About 18,000 Syrians have been resettled in the U.S., and about 40,000 Syrians have gone to Canada. Most of the refugees are stranded in Turkey (about 2.5 million), Lebanon (about 1 million), and Jordan (about a half million), with limited opportunities to resettle elsewhere.
It is past time for the U.S. and Canada to allow the millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to immigrate to their countries. In addition to the fundamental moral reasons that oblige countries to open their borders to almost all immigrants, there are several compelling reasons why there should be swift acceptance of these refugees.
First, while multiple nations and groups have been involved in the Syrian war, the U.S. bears some responsibility for the catastrophe. Since the U.S. has the world’s mightiest military, it always has the option to intervene and have an impact on a conflict. In Syria, the U.S. intervened by providing some support to rebels fighting the Assad regime, but the intervention never was forceful enough to quickly resolve the conflict.
According to Philip Gordon, who worked on Middle Eastern affairs at the U.S. National Security Council from 2013 to 2015, the U.S. has only prolonged the Syrian war: “… our policy was to support the opposition to the point that it was strong enough to lead the regime and its backers to come to the table and negotiate away the regime. And that was an unrealistic objective…I think it is fair to say that we ended up doing enough to perpetuate a conflict, but not enough to bring it to a resolution.”
The U.S. could have disabled the regime’s air force, as Senator McCain has recently advocated, especially before the Russian military became directly involved in the conflict. That might have saved the lives of many civilians targeted by Syrian aircraft and perhaps led to a settlement between the rebels and the government. (I recognize that direct military action doesn’t always lead to positive outcomes, considering the results in Iraq and Libya.)
In addition, other actions short of direct attacks on the Syrian military could have been undertaken to protect civilians, as Nicholas Kristof has noted. These include creating safe zones in Syria protected by the U.S. military and destroying military runways so Syrian warplanes couldn’t be employed. Accepting Syrian refugees would be some compensation for the U.S. failure in Syria to resolve the conflict and protect civilians.
Second, Syrians in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are struggling. (Some refugees are also struggling in Greece.) Many children are not able to go to school, it is difficult for adults to get work, and the refugees are becoming impoverished. Some Mercy Corps teams “have seen families living in rooms with no heat or running water, in abandoned chicken coops and in storage sheds.” The desperation of the refugees is reflected in the attempt by many of them to reach Europe by making risky sea crossings, during which some have perished.
The host countries are apparently unwilling and/or unable to incorporate the newcomers into their societies. According to Mercy Corps, in Jordan and Lebanon, “weak infrastructure and limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain.”
As to Turkey, one observer stated: “It remains unclear how the embattled country – which is also dealing with declining GDP, multiple attacks, and a war against Kurdish fighters in the southeast – will be able to accommodate nearly three million refugees, the vast majority of whom are young adults and children seeking jobs and education.” The U.S. and Canada, with wealthier economies, more political stability, and a tradition of incorporating immigrants, would provide a better refuge for the Syrians than the Middle Eastern countries.
Third, the rapid migration of Syrian refugees to Canada and the U.S. could diminish the threat of terrorism. It is risky to continue the Obama policy of allowing very few Syrian refugees to enter or maintain the Trump policy, which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from the country. The longer Syrian refugees are stuck in their host Middle Eastern countries, the greater the risk that they will become radicalized.
According to a Brookings Institution article, “the risk of radicalization is especially heightened where IDPs and refugees find themselves in protracted situations: marginalized, disenfranchised, and excluded. Finding solutions for displaced populations should be an urgent priority for humanitarian reasons but also as a security issue.” (See also here. )
While ideally the Obama administration’s thorough vetting of refugees for admission into the U.S. would continue, its sluggish nature makes it imprudent to maintain. A faster screening process must be implemented in order to bring the refugees into economically advanced, mostly tolerant North America, where they could thrive and become more immune to radicalization.
In addition to rescuing the refugees from potentially radicalizing conditions in the Middle East, there is another mechanism by which admitting them might prevent terrorism. In a previous post, I suggested how open borders could help protect receiving countries from terrorism, including by freeing up resources for screening immigrants for terrorist threats, by improving government relations with Muslim immigrant communities which could assist with stopping terrorism, and by providing more Muslim immigrants who could join Western intelligence agencies. Similarly, admitting Syrian refugees from the Middle East could generate goodwill among the American and Canadian Muslim communities, perhaps resulting in an increase in the number of Muslims willing to assist in preventing terrorism.
Evidence of this may be found in the German government’s recent admittance of over a million immigrants, many of whom are Syrian refugees. This may have earned Germany more support from its Muslim community in efforts to prevent terrorism, according to Robert Verkaik, writing on CNN‘s website. He notes that
“In October last year, two Syrians managed to capture a terror suspect in Leipzig who was planning a bomb attack on German airports… And in November last year, a German Muslim man who had returned from fighting ISIS in Syria provided information to German security services that led to the arrest of a major extremist cell. These examples show that the German security services, in common with agencies across Europe, critically rely on intelligence passed on by members of its Muslim communities”.
He also seems to suggest that a Muslim informant warned the security services about the suspect before the attack on the Berlin Christmas market last year.
Many people are concerned that Syrian refugees could commit acts of terrorism in the U.S. However, they should consider that about half of the refugees are children, who “don’t fit the typical profile for terrorists.” And, as noted elsewhere, most Muslims are peaceful. (Some Syrian refugees are not even Muslim.) Furthermore, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute has determined, based on historical data, the statistical chance of being killed by a foreigner committing a terrorist act in the U.S.: 1 in 3.6 million per year. For the risk of being killed by such an act by a refugee, the risk is 1 in 3.64 billion per year. If the 9/11 attacks are excluded, “21 foreign-born terrorists succeeded in murdering 41 people from 1975 through 2015.” Nowrasteh’s conclusion is that “foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event.” Its risks are minuscule when compared to other causes of death.
It is also notable that, as co-blogger Hansjörg points out, the German experience with the recent influx of Muslim refugees belies the predictions by restrictionists that their admittance would result in lots of terrorist acts there. Hansjörg notes that the number of lethal Islamist terrorist attacks in Germany (ever) is in the low single digits. There is minimal risk involved for Canada and the U.S. to accept millions of Syrian refugees, even without consideration for the aforementioned ways their admittance could actually help prevent terrorism.
Furthermore, it might be better for the Syrian refugees to go to North America than to some European countries. Many argue that the U.S. does a better job than European countries at integrating immigrants. One writer notes that “the conditions of Muslims in some European countries can create fertile breeding grounds for extremism, whereas societies with more-integrated Muslim populations like the United States are less susceptible.” (See also here, here, and here.) David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, states: “Europe is coping poorly with its large population of alienated, under-employed, and in some cases radicalized Muslim immigrants and their children. It seems then the zenith of recklessness to make that population larger still.”
Another writer even suggests that radical Muslims in Europe will infect Syrian refugees with their ideology, although he proposes vigorous integration efforts rather than exclusion from Europe.
At the same time, some are sanguine about European integration of its Muslim residents. Shada Islam of Friends of Europe asserts: “Make no mistake; while extremists of all ilk may decry multi-cultural Europe, the process of adaptation, accommodation, integration, of Europe and Islam is already well underway… Europe’s once solely security-focused approach to dealing with Muslims has been replaced with a more balanced view that includes an integration agenda and migrant outreach programmes.”
Similarly, co-blogger Hansjörg, who lives in Germany, states that “on the whole, my personal impression is that integration works quite well also in Europe. There is a tendency, especially in the US (but also in Europe from those who are critical), to present this as a story of severe problems, divides that cannot be bridged, etc. I don’t think that is true (not to say there are not some problems).”
Finally, admitting millions of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Canada may not be very disruptive in other respects.
A study for the Centre for European Economic Research on the recent migrant influx into Germany has found that there are “no signs of quick and clear deleterious effects in Germany post ‘migrant crisis’ involving, as the authors conclude, ‘more than a million’ migrants entering Germany in 2014-15 on native employment, crime, or anti-immigrant politics specifically linked to the presence of migrants on the county level.” In the U.S. it is notable that “eleven percent of Syrian immigrants to the U.S. own businesses, according to a new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. That compares to four percent of immigrants overall and three percent of people born in the United States.” According to one Syrian immigrant, self reliance is emphasized in Syrian culture, a trait that is compatible with American culture. Moreover, a research director at the Fiscal Policy Institute states that Syrian immigrants in the U.S. have generally been successful and could help the refugees adapt to life here.
The economic impact on the U.S. actually could be positive.
People throughout the U.S. welcome refugees because they know from experience the beneficial effect that refugees have on communities, according to David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee. He writes that “to take one example, over the course of a decade, refugees created at least 38 new businesses in the Cleveland area alone. In turn, these businesses created an additional 175 jobs, and in 2012 provided a $12 million stimulus to the local economy.” In Rutland, Vermont, the mayor has advocated resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq in his city to help address a declining and aging city population. Population loss there could lead employers like General Electric to leave the city. (A 2013 post looks at efforts by various American cities to attract immigrants in order to help their economies.)
In summary, allowing millions of Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. and Canada not only would be morally warranted, it could minimize the risk of future terrorism, relieve the suffering of many, and enrich both countries. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction, with Trump ordering an indefinite stop to the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. The longer he blocks their entry, the greater the perils for both the refugees and the West.
(Joel Newman has a bachelor’s degree in history from Pomona College and works as a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon, USA).
This is Henry Kissinger’s take on the situation in the Middle East and Syria, followed by some critical ‘scattered random notes’ by Arthur Dent who says: “Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states”. (Republished with permission from Strangetimes).
A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse
With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.
By Henry A. Kissinger Oct. 16, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET
The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.
In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.
That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.
ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.
Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.
The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.
These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.
On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.
American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.
Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.
American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.
The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.
Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.
American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.
A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?
Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.
But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.
Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:
So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.
The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.
The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.
As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.
The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.
The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.
Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
October 20, 2015 at 12:09 am
I can only manage scattered random notes at the moment.
1) Kissinger’s ghostwriters appear to be practically unintelligible. This seems to be the pattern more generally so it is hardly noticeable. Presumably the article is supposed to suggest “A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse”. So one ought to be able to figure out that what the proposed start and end points are from carefully reading the article.
2) As far as I can make out the starting point might be:
“For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.”
Plainly Russia isn’t doing that and the article does clearly state that “The U.S. has already acquiesced…” to what Russia IS doing. So how could this be a starting point for a path?
3) Again my best guess for the proposed route is:
“…it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces…The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.”
My guess at the proposed starting point appears naturally enough in the middle of this jumble and has been replaced with an ellipsis.
I am not sure which “imperial forces” the ghostwriters are talking about, but “preferable” surely refers to a goal rather than a route towards achieving it? “The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula” presumably refers to Kissinger’s paymaster, the House of Saud who are elsewhere described as an American ally in the Iraq war which they in fact opposed, as did Kissinger and almost the entire US foreign policy establishment.
But what on earth is it proposed they should do, along this “route”? Somehow “evolve” an administration in “reconquered territory”. So are they expected to do the reconquering? At the moment the Russians are not attacking Daesh but are in fact attacking the Salafi forces the Saudis are arming and financing.
The route of this “path out” starts nowhere and returns there.
4) My best guess at the end point is:
“As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.”
So Alawite “regions” still run by the regime that has displaced nearly half the population of Syria are supposed to somehow form a federal structure with the Sunnis they have been mass murdering?
5) How is this miracle to be achieved?
“The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.”
Presumably implementing military assurances without actual troops means something like periodically redrawing “red lines”!
A “Westphalian state” presumably refers to the agreements among continental European rulers between May and October 1688 based on the principle that the religion of the ruler was to dictate the religion of those ruled.
The British were not a party to it and instead invited a Dutch Protestant army to enforce the opposite principle that the religion of the people would dictate the religion of the realm.
Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states.
The continent lagged behind the British by more than a century and it took two more world wars to thoroughly settle the issue, but the age of rulers is now over in Europe. Democratic revolution is the only path out of the Middle East Collapse.
In Britain that took more than four decades, just to get past the “Divine Right of Kings”, long before anything resembling actual democracy. That tumultuous period included periods of revolutionary military dictatorship, counter-revolutionary partial restoration and foreign invasion.
One thing about Syria is as absolutely clear as the Kissinger article isn’t. Foreign combat troops on the ground are necessary. They are needed to end, not “degrade” both Daesh and the Assad regime and to prevent mass murder of the Alawi and other minorities when the Assad regime is ended. The war will not be ended from the air, whether by America’s “coalition” or the Russians, with or without “conversations” with Iran.
If America won’t do it, Europe must.
It could take more than a year to build an expeditionary force with Syrian refugee volunteers led by British and French officers. But it could be done if necessary.
The fact that there is no sign or hint of that happening suggests that something quite different from what appears may in fact be going on.
One sentence in the article actually makes sense. It seems to come out of nowhere and lead nowhere, but here it is:
“In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule.”
One could add that neither Russia nor Iran nor anyone in the Assad regime have much reason to believe there is any remote possibility of continuation for even a few years, let alone indefinately. This much is as blindingly obvious as the fact that when Nixon and Kissinger resorted to the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi they were faced with accepting defeat within weeks, not years. (So blindingly obvious that most people were blind to it until the Paris peace agreement a few weeks later and remained only dimly aware the US had been defeated until Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city and STILL thought the US might be trying to establish imperial rule over Iraq in 2003 despite that being three decades after its defeat in Vietnam).
What may well be required, not only for Russian purposes but also by others who could easily frustrate Russian purposes, is the retention of Bashir Assad as a figurehead presiding over a regime in Damascus from which the die-hards of the Assad regime who actually run the regime and its war on the Syrian people had been removed.
Even Turkey and Britain acting alone could easily have frustrated whatever Russian purposes might be by now by simply closing the Dardanelles and the Straits of Gibralter. This “curious case of the dog that did not bark” indicates it is not just the dithering Obama that is acquiescing in what they believe Russia is up to.
For my part I would rather they hurried things up by immediately closing the Mediterranean and announcing a No Fly Zone enforced by British, French and other forces based at and near Cyprus.
But one way or another it certainly is not going to be “the sovereign states of the Arabian peninsular” who end up ruling Syria. It will be the Syrian people.
As for Egypt and Jordan assisting the House of Saud in such an endeavour, Jordan is in fact supporting the southern front, while the Egyptian fascist military dictatorship has sealed its more rapid doom by coming out openly for its fellow fascists in the Assad regime, against the interests of its main sponsors, the House of Saud as well as further outraging its own people.
There are already enough Hezbollah, Russian and Iranian forces in Syria to “stabilize” the “legitimate government” led by “President Assad” against anyone who wants to keep fighting a lost war. There is also enough Russian jamming equipment deployed to make it difficult to bring any “destabilizing forces” back to Damascus in time to prevent any governmental changes there.
The southern front is not being bombed by the Russians and the Germans have offered peace keeping troops. Hezbollah has been given 75 tanks for its own palace guard. The stage is set for something to happen.
First survey (of Syrian refugees in Germany) shows Syrians are fleeing from Assad, not Isis. Nearly all want to go home. Republished from the diary.thesyriacampaign.org
Syrian refugees don’t want to stay in Europe. But unless politicians start listening to why they’re fleeing and what needs to happen for them to go home, many more will come.
Here are six key results from the first ever survey of Syrian refugees in Europe (full results below):
1. Most Syrians are fleeing from Assad, not Isis
Contrary to what you might read in the papers, it’s not the media-grabbing brutality of Isis that most people are fleeing from. It’s the much larger scale, state organised violence of the Assad regime that is driving most people from their homes.
70% are fleeing the violence of the Assad regime and its allies (32% Isis, 18% Free Syrian Army, 17% Al Nusra, 8% Kurdish forces).
2. Most fear arrest or kidnap by the Assad regime
All armed groups have been involved in detention and disappearances in Syria, but none to the extent of Bashar al-Assad’s government, as thousands of leaked images of torture in state prisons prove.
86% say kidnapping or arrest was a threat to their personal safety. 77% of them fear it from the Assad regime, 42% Isis, 18% Al Nusra, 13% Free Syrian Army and 8% Kurdish forces.
3. Nearly all Syrians want to go home
It might seem that the people struggling in boats across perilous waters or jumping over barbed wire fences really want to be in Europe. But they don’t. Syrians want to go home to the country they know and love. The problem is with the violence raging they can’t.
Only 8% said they’d want to stay in Europe indefinitely
4. Assad needs to go for Syrians to return home
While Russia and others are asking countries to unite with Assad to fight Isis, it’s important to note that the majority of Syrian refugees will not go back while he remains in power. Syria needs peace and an end to dictatorship.
52% said that Bashar al-Assad would need to leave power before they would return home
5. Stopping the barrel bombs would help more stay in Syria. Much more than increased aid
Stop the barrel bombs with a no-fly zone
The vast majority of refugees said they feared Assad’s barrel bombs – the improvised metal barrels packed with explosive and scrap metal that government helicopters drop from miles up in the sky onto civilian neighbourhoods.
These barrel bombs and other aerial attacks are the number one killer of civilians in Syria – the barrels alone have killed more than 2,000 children since the UN banned them in 2014. They routinely destroy hospitals, schools and homes. Syrians living under the barrel bombs find it difficult to forget the terror, even once they have fled to safety.
To stop the refugees pouring over Syria’s borders we have to stop the bombs. More aid isn’t the answer.
73% said barrel bombs were a threat to their personal safety. 58% said a no-fly zone would help more stay in Syria, only 24% said the same for increased aid.
6. The cause of today’s situation is Assad’s military response to peaceful demonstrations
So much has changed in the last four and a half years in Syria yet still an overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees hold Bashar al-Assad responsible for today’s events. According to most of those surveyed, Assad’s decision to use military force against peaceful protesters demanding freedom and dignity in 2011 is the cause of today’s violence.
79% said it was the Bashar al-Assad’s military response to the demonstrations that led most to the situation today.
What should Europe do?
To reduce the number of Syrian refugees to Europe and to help create the conditions for their return, European politicians should:
1. Enforce a stop to the bombs. There are various initiatives from no-fly zones, no-bombing zones and safe zones which while all different in their implementation, would prevent the biggest killer of civilians in Syria today: Bashar al-Assad’s aerial attacks and barrel bombs. Europe needs to get serious about stopping the bombs.
2. Push for a peaceful transition of power away from Assad. There is no military solution to the conflict and there is international agreement that a transition to a new government is the only way to end the violence. The longer that takes, the more people will be driven from their homes.
It goes without saying that Europe should open its borders to those fleeing war – that’s a human imperative.
European leaders need to realise that unless they do more to constrain the violence of the Assad regime and make more effort to stop the war, the waves of refugees will not stop. The UN has predicted another million will be displaced in Syria before Christmas, and that was before Russia joined in the fighting.
To solve the refugee crisis, we have to stop the Syria crisis.
This survey interviewed 889 Syrians living in Germany between 24 September 2015 and 2 October 2015 using a standardised questionnaire. Interviews were held in 12 centres housing arriving refugees, other refugee accommodation and refugee registration points in Berlin, Hanover, Bremen, Leipzig and Eisenhüttenstadt. Researchers from the Berlin Social Science Center were involved in the conception, implementation and evaluation of the survey. Full results are available here.
The Assad regime is still in power, killing seven times more civilians than Isis. World leaders have to act to stop the bombs from the sky. We can survive sniper fire, chemicals but the barrel bombs are unbearable. A no-fly zone or creation of safe zones would save lives instantly. And I would be the first person on the way home.
– Abo Adnan, Syrian refugee in a German refugee camp
I’m writing this to you from a refugee camp in Germany. All the Syrians here are so grateful for the welcome people have given us but we want to live in Syria, not Germany.
I was 22 when the fighting started in 2011. I was living in a neighbourhood called Ghouta, a short drive from Damascus. A year after the uprising the regime of Bashar al-Assad placed Ghouta under siege – this means nothing comes in or out – no food, no medicine, nothing. A year after that the regime attacked us with chemical weapons and more than a thousand were gassed to death. For years they have also dropped barrel bombs and missiles on us from regime aircraft. Normally we got struck eight times a day. How could we continue to survive that hell on earth?
I had to cross twenty checkpoints on fake documents to make it out of Syria. Each time your heart stops as you know that there is a chance you will be arrested and taken away. I made it out and survived a death boat. I have survived so many ways a human being can be killed.
At home I was a medical student. We had so many attacks I assisted more surgeries than most surgeons do by the time they retire. My dream is to only have to perform ‘normal surgeries’, what I trained for, not picking shrapnel from bombs out of children’s limbs.
We cannot go back while the war continues which is why we are asking for you to do everything you can to stop the war. All your governments agree there needs to be a political transition in Syria but no amount of words have made it happen. The Assad regime is still in power, killing seven times more civilians than Isis.
World leaders have to act to stop the bombs from the sky. We can survive sniper fire, chemicals but the barrel bombs are unbearable. A no-fly zone or creation of safe zones would save lives instantly. And I would be the first person on the way home.
Right now everybody in Europe is talking about us refugees. But not many are listening to us. Please sign this petition to Europe’s leaders asking them to do more to stop the bombs and help us return home:
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the root cause of the conflict in Syria and, by extension, the refugee crisis that is now hitting Europe, as Syrians flee their homeland in their millions.
Planet Syria, a network of more than 100 civil society groups working across Syria, briefed MPs and journalists at the Houses of Parliament in London before a parliamentary foreign affairs select committee meeting on Syria.
The panel assembled by Planet Syria argued that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was the root cause of the conflict in Syria, and, by extension, the refugee crisis that is now hitting Europe, as Syrians flee their homeland in their millions.
“We asked activists how the world can help… People on the ground are specifically asked for a no-fly zone,” Mustafa Haid, a spokesperson for Planet Syria and the chairperson of Syrian nonprofit Dawlaty, told al-Araby al-Jadeed.
“We came to deliver their message, people under the barrel bombs are asking for this,” Haid added.
The imposition of a no-fly zone would almost certainly involve a barrage of bombing raids against Assad’s many airbases, refuelling infrastructure, storage hangars and other facilities spread around the country. Such operations are rarely casualty-free.
Haid, as well as his fellow spokesperson Assaad al-Achi, an economist before he became an activist, relayed their own experiences in Syria.
They also highlighted the damage caused by barrel bombs, which were described by Human Rights Watch in August as a greater threat to Syrian lives than the Islamic State group that has ravaged parts of Syria and Iraq.
“Syrians have described to me the sheer terror of waiting the 30 seconds or so for the barrel bomb to tumble to earth from a helicopter hovering overhead, not knowing until near the very end where its deadly point of impact will be,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said.
The British parliament rejected a move by Prime Minister David Cameron for military action against Assad in 2013, a vote that eventually weakened US President Barack Obama’s resolve to attack the Syrian regime, following a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians in Damascus.
Activists, however, argue that prior inaction by the international community and the non-implementation of various UN resolutions against Assad have led to the current catastrophic situation, and that a no-fly zone would not involve Western troops fighting on the ground.
The following is reprinted with permission of Syria Needs a No Fly Zone, a site that I highly recommend.
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Recently Ed Miliband, along with all other members of the Shadow Cabinet, including Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, signed the Anne Frank Declaration:
Anne Frank is a symbol of the millions of innocent children who have been victims of persecution. Anne’s life shows us what can happen when prejudice and hatred go unchallenged.
Because prejudice and hatred harm us all, I declare that:
- I will stand up for what is right and speak out against what is unfair and wrong
- I will try to defend those who cannot defend themselves
- I will strive for a world in which our differences will make no difference – a world in which everyone is treated fairly and has an equal chance in life
Since then, Ed Miliband has been talking about his August 2013 decision to block joint UK-US action in response to the Assad regime’s mass killing of civilians with Sarin chemical weapons. He said that this choice proves he is “tough enough” to be prime minister: “Hell yes.” Many of his supporters seem to agree, and “Hell yes” t-shirts have been produced, celebrating Ed Miliband’s toughness in helping get a mass-murdering regime off the hook.
Not that they see it in quite that way. Jamie Glackin, Chair of Scottish Labour, denied that there was any connection between Ed Miliband’s “hell yes” phrase and the August 2013 chemical attack: “It’s got nothing to do with that. At all.”
But it has everything to do with that. Ed Miliband’s chosen anecdote to show toughness was to point to the time he prevented action against a mass-murdering dictatorship, one that gave refuge to a key Nazi war criminal, that has tortured its citizens on an industrial scale, that is inflictingstarvation sieges on hundreds of thousands of people, that has driven half of the population from their homes, four million of them driven out of the country as refugees, and that has continued killing civilians in their tens of thousands since Ed Miliband said “no” to action.
Anne’s life shows us what can happen when prejudice and hatred go unchallenged.
When asked about the consequent events in Syria, Ed Miliband shirked responsibility. “It’s a failure of the international community,” he said. But we are the international community. The UK is a key member of the international community, one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and one of only three functioning democracies amongst those five. When Ed Miliband blocked UK action, the consequences were critical.
I will try to defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Anne Frank was 15 when she was killed in the Holocaust. The Anne Frank Trust is holding a #notsilent campaign to mark the 70th Anniversary of her murder on the 14th of April. You can also read more about her at the Anne Frank House museum’s website.
According to a November 2013 report by the Oxford Research Group, Stolen Futures: The hidden toll of child casualties in Syria, 128 children were recorded amongst the killed in the Ghouta chemical attack: 65 girls and 63 boys.
Something of two of those girls, Fatima Ghorra, three years old, and her sister, Hiba Ghorra, four years old, is told by Hisham Ashkar here.
The names of 54 of the girls killed are listed by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. For some, clicking on a name will give a little more information, such as a photograph of one in life, or in death, or their age.