Monday, November 24, 2014

Stopping the Syria Contagion

WASHINGTON, DC – Syria’s civil war has become a wretchedly complicated problem. As the parties prepare to meet in Geneva for the second round of United Nations-sponsored peace talks, the government has launched vicious barrel-bomb attacks on Aleppo and other cities; more moderate Islamist rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, are openly at war with Al Qaeda affiliates; and Al Qaeda-linked groups are now fighting among themselves.

Meanwhile, the war’s spillover effects are worsening. The fighting has heightened instability in the region; US and European citizens are streaming into Syria to take up jihad; and there is a growing consensus that the post-World War I Middle East boundaries are coming undone. Indeed, the viability of Syria, a multi-ethnic state, is being threatened by multiple armed groups supported by external sponsors – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia, the United States, Turkey, France, and many private donors – who themselves have conflicting aims.

Here are three ways to simplify the equation and maximize the chances that the parties to the Geneva II peace conference will be able to agree on more than the desirability of someday holding a Geneva III.

First, the most important contribution that this conference can make to the possibility of a negotiated settlement and a political transition in Syria is to change the principal parties’ incentives. In the run-up to Geneva II, each party has sought to strengthen its hand at the negotiating table by killing as many adversaries and holding or regaining as much ground as possible. The task now for would-be peace brokers is to halt that dynamic by agreeing on criteria for participation in whatever elections will eventually be held, regardless of whether President Bashar al-Assad remains in power until then.

Those criteria must include the parties’ willingness to allow humanitarian aid to flow to all Syrian civilians under their control and an end to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including systematic targeting of medical personnel, starvation of populations under siege, and executions of war prisoners. Here the UN must reaffirm its “responsibility to protect” doctrine, not as a justification for military intervention, but as a fundamental principle agreed by all countries: governments must protect their citizens. If Assad’s Ba’ath party cannot uphold that responsibility, it forfeits its own legitimacy as a participant in any future government.

Second, the international community must re-establish the basis for its engagement. When the Syrian conflict began, it was an internal matter, with UN involvement limited to humanitarian and refugee issues. But now the conflict has spread across the Middle East, destabilizing Lebanon and Jordan and threatening to fracture Iraq. The UN Security Council is charged with addressing breaches or threats to international peace, a criterion that is now clearly met.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia thus has an obligation to act; it (and China) can no longer hide behind the argument that the UN should not be engaged in Syria’s internal affairs. At a time when the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi put Russia squarely on the international stage, the US and other Security Council members should plan a series of resolutions that confront the Kremlin with the choice of meeting its responsibility or applying its own leverage to bring the conflict to an end.

Finally, the single most important step that US President Barack Obama could take is to put the credible threat of force back on the table. In three years of increasingly bloody conflict, the only diplomatic success was achieved when Assad believed that he faced US missile strikes. He suddenly saw the desirability of getting rid of his chemical weapons.

But most experts believe that military force is off the table. The US public sharply rejected Obama’s planned missile strikes to punish Assad for the repeated use of chemical weapons, and a recent Pew poll indicates that a majority of Americans believe that the US “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.”

Obama’s job, however, is to look beyond opinion polls, particularly when it comes to safeguarding national security. The US has withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq, but the gains so painfully won are being reversed. Al Qaeda is back and is fighting for its own proto-state in western Iraq and eastern Syria, which is far closer to Europe and the US than the caves of Afghanistan.

Perhaps Obama thinks that he or his successor can deal with that threat down the road. If Al Qaeda operatives begin threatening the US from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the US will just take them out with drones, as it has done in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. But if he is willing to contemplate using force against Al Qaeda without international authorization in the future, why not use drones now to strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition and force Assad into serious negotiations?

The threat of cruise-missile strikes last September was enough to send Al Qaeda members in Syria scrambling for the hills. A strike designed to destroy Assad’s air force and prevent him from dropping bombs full of nails on his people would concentrate his mind on a diplomatic solution.

Obama should announce that the US is committed to a political solution in Syria, and that his government will do whatever it can to bring about such a solution through next week’s peace conference and follow-up action. But if a ceasefire has not been achieved in the next three months, the US should work with regional organizations and all friends of the Syrian people to authorize a set of military strikes on Al Qaeda-linked forces and on the killing machine that Assad’s government has aimed at civilians.

The Obama administration should make the case for this to the American people in terms of straightforward US security interests. After all, if Geneva II fails, Geneva III will not be about Syria alone. It will be about how to end a war raging across the entire Middle East.

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    1. CommentedPaul Mathew Mathew

      US media blacks out Seymour Hersh exposé of Washington’s lies on sarin attack in Syria

      The American media has blacked out an account by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh demonstrating that President Barack Obama and the US government lied when they claimed to have proof that the Syrian government carried out a sarin gas attack last August on areas near Damascus held by US-backed “rebels.”

      Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and other top officials declared categorically that the August 21 attack on Eastern Ghouta, which reportedly killed hundreds of people, had been carried out by the Syrian military. They, along with the leaders of Britain and France, sought to use the gas attack to stampede public opinion behind their plans to attack Syria, cripple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and install a puppet government.

      The rebels who comprise Al Qaeda and Al Nusra fanatics are supported and armed by the CIA --- it looks as if the rebels were behind the CW attacks which the US has tried to pin on Assad.

      Dig deeper Ann - guess why the US is censoring Hersh? Duh - could it be that the CIA gave the rebels the sarin -- and told them to lob it at a civilian target? Could it be that the shadow government aka the totalitarian nightmare ordered the murder of women and children using poisonous gas?

      If I were them I'd most certainly not want this Hersh article released - because it would lead to some very uncomfortable questions involving crimes against humanity.

      But of course these men are above the law --- even if this went further and they were exposed -- do you you think a single one of them would face the hangman (like Saddam)

      Oh no --- Mr Obama the stooge that he is (just as all US presidents and politicians are stooges) would shoulder the blame --- if anyone were prosecuted it would be him.

      They'd nail him to a cross and burn him if they had too.

      Keep in mind these are the same gangsters who run the NSA and have the goods on every single one of us.

      As an American friend of mine said that other day when he saw the hersh censorship --- what sort of people are capable of ordering the gassing of children -- the murder of children --- to achieve their political goals?????

      Who are these monsters that run America?

    2. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      We live in a global world.
      This global world is interconnected and interdependent.
      Contagion, domino effect is the process that is happening in such systems by default, like a systemic infection of the whole body when a local infection breaks out.
      Such things cannot be treated in isolation, with "wise, great men" brokering deals, or "global policemen" policing.
      A Global world has global problems and global problems require global solutions.
      And global solutions can only be achieved through wide, mutual, round table negotiations, arriving to widely accepted, mutual agreements including all the directly and indirectly affected parties. Only such agreements can be sustained as all participants would feel they own the final product as they actively participated in producing it.
      It seems this starts to become clear as for the Geneva II meeting more and more interested parties are invited, so the initial direction is good.
      It is very important that the meetings will be conducted in an open, transparent manner, without 'secretive", "back-room" diplomacy the "great brokers" are still using.
      It is a process the whole world has to go through some radical, fundamental changes, our whole attitude to each other and to the global system has to change.
      Today we are all equal cogwheels in this global system and we simply cannot turn the way we want, only in a way the whole system benefits from.

    3. Commentedyancey simon

      This is another of the aptly named Slaughter's pro war rants to maintain the destabilization of the middle east for the benefit of Israel and Saudi Arabia. It is a continuation of the scheme hatched by "W" and her fellow neo-cons that has rendered immeasurable misery throughout the region already. This isn't scholarship---it doesn't pass the smell test.

    4. Commentedcatalina none

      I sincerely doubt Obama's administration will ever make a change. they have done more damage than good for Syria. all this wishy washy attitude gave Assad green light to massacre more people. it is a shame. now Syria is the stomping ground for all extremists . too late to intervene in anything. Geneva 2 is already a loss.

    5. CommentedPaul A. Myers

      Change the chess board or stay off the chess board. It would seem the US either goes in and decapitates the Assad regime and then holds a peace conference with the survivors, who would still be significant, and the various rebel forces, or stays out.

      If not feasible, continue to monitor from the sidelines. Ms Slaughter got it correct in her first sentence; Syria is a "wretchedly complicated problem."

      Some sort of "dribble your way in" intervention is almost a sure loser. (And this is the kind of intervention the Washington elite always seems to favor; do something but not enough.)

    6. CommentedPaul Mathew Mathew

      Anne- Marie - are you aware that an MIT professor has released comprehensive research showing that the chemical weapons in Syria MUST have been fired from rebel territory - due to the range of the weapons deliver system?

      The US is arming the rebels so ----- connect the dots Anne.

    7. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Indeed, Ms Slaughter, a ceae-fire should be on top of the agenda, when the warring parties meet in Montreux for the Geneva II-conference in Switzerland. Your three proposals to resolving the Syrian crisis are not all tangible.
      1) If the UN is to "reaffirm its Responsibility To Protect doctrine", it is uncertain, whether China and Russia would support such a resolution. The "R2P" - Resolution 1973 - in the case of Libya in 2011 had enraged Russia, because it had led to regime change and the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. In light of the situation in Libya today, Russia has a strong case to argue against a possible regime-change in Syria.
      2) There is no appetite in China to be engaged in the Syrian conflict. It is part of Beijing's foreign policies not to interfere in a country's domestic politics. Russia has a stake in the Middle East and has seen it as its backyard for centuries. Instability in the region would pose a huge threat to the already volatile Caucasus.
      3) It is most unlikely that President Barack Obama would "put the credible threat of force back on the table". The American public objects strongly to putting boots on the ground in Syria or elsewhere in the Arab world. History tells that a military action could always end up as a nonstarter.
      Does Ms Slaughter believe that the Al Qaeda would have their "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria"? Indeed the scenario of a breakup of the country is not unrealistic. In this respect, the "use drones to strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition" would make sense if the Sunnis have broken away from Assad and his Alawites. This would make it easier for Western forces to help the moderate rebels to fight the jihadists.

    8. CommentedRogelio Villajos

      Let me see if I understand it... first, you sell weapons to rebels, and then, you say government is not protecting its citizen.... seriously?

    9. Commentedsteve from virginia

      Good grief!

      Another plug for US military intervention, it never stops. The US is involved in wars all over the world right now and it isn't accomplishing anything. Let the Syrians solve their own problems let the various faction 'supporters' bankrupt themselves in Syria including Russia and China. We have done so to ourselves starting in Korea and then in Vietnam. It is high time for the leadership to learn when cut losses.

      BTW; it is likely the US is operating in Syria right now, the US strategy is to export instability from the US so as to import fuel consumption. The world burns so Americans can roll around in giant SUVs and pickup trucks. So much for 'humanitarian war'.

    10. Commentedhari naidu

      Compared to Solana, Slaughter doesn't even mention Iran and its pivotal role in facilitating ceasefire in Syria, as a first stage of Geneva II.

      Hawks in US Congress are holding Obama/ Kerry hostage to further sanctions resolution on Iran...and it all smells like Bibi/AIPAC have taken over US Congress, including beltway think-tanks...reminds one of Paul Wolfowitz and his declarations before GWB regime's invasion of Iraq.