by John Brian Shannon | September 27, 2015
A unique opportunity presents itself tomorrow when President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia addresses the UN General Assembly and later meets with U.S. President Barack Obama.
The question on everyone’s mind is;
Will that *opportunity* turn into an *action plan* that lowers the death toll, casualties, and displacement of Syrian citizens?
Certainly it would look like a Win-Win for both President Putin and President Obama if they put their political differences aside and announce a plan forward — one that involves working together to ‘beat back’ the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) to the point that it no longer threatens the sovereignty of Syria, its long-suffering citizens and neighbouring countries.
Presidents need successful outcomes in order to accrue political capital to boost their political momentum — which they can then use to further their foreign or domestic policy goals.
But for President Putin it is especially important to make the most of this opportunity as the Russian economy is in crisis mode due to the dramatic fall in oil prices over the past months, while President Obama must always work to counter the GOP narrative.
It’s theirs to lose
One way that both leaders could leave the UN in Win-Win fashion is to ink an agreement (a map) showing exactly where in the skies and on the ground that Russia and the U.S./EU nations will and won’t operate in Syria.
Combat Area Operations Agreement
This is a simple way to guarantee that Russian and Western fighter jets don’t accidentally or otherwise, engage each other within Syrian territory. (“You take the North and we’ll take the South. Now, where do we draw the combat operations line?”)
The same applies to ground-based units.
Mutual Agreement to Support Moderate Forces in Syria
One way to drown out the terrorists is to continually work to strengthen moderate forces in the country. Whether combat groups or civilians who want a return to stability and are proactively working toward that end, such people can have a dramatic effect as their numbers are infinitely larger than the ISIS hooligans trying to take control of Syrian towns and cities.
Whether U.S.A.-supported moderates or Russian-sponsored moderates — each of those are enemies to ISIS.
Of course, a constantly updated Who-Is-Who list needs to be kept, so that everyone works off the same page.
Agreement to Prevent Israeli Involvement in the Syrian Conflict
As this would trigger even more trauma for the region resulting in thousands more casualties and millions more refugees, it is important to have a unified policy.
Not only that, but a significant military force must be dedicated to preventing terrorists from crossing into Israel from Syria.
No good will come of trouble along Israel’s northern border and either Russia, the U.S., or a major (and majorly funded) UN peacekeeping/active patrol force must control a 20-mile wide strip of land across the southern Syrian frontier.
It is unthinkable to not do this, as the consequences of multiple attacks across the border would surely complicate and enlarge the war. (What happens if Israeli fighter jets cross into Syrian airspace in full rage mode to hit back at a terrorist Katushya rocket base, and suddenly encounter Russian Air Force or Syrian Air Force fighter jets?)
Internally Displaced and Refugee persons Handling Agreement
A unified approach to handling internally displaced persons in Syria and how to handle those persons wanting to leave the country to become refugees in neighbouring nations, is of paramount importance.
It’s one thing for thousands of people to leave a country by road, it’s quite another when military units are emplaced there expecting a major tank or infantry battle to break out at any minute, along the very path that Syrian citizens are fleeing!
And in the case of large swathes of land full of unmarked landmines left over from previous decades (millions of mines) it is important to prevent civilians from crossing those sections of land.
Both Russia and the Western powers must notify each other of mined areas in well in advance of approaching civilian convoys (whether they are travelling on foot or by vehicle) and obviously, that information must be kept secure from ISIS.
Mutual Support along Common Corridors or near Demarcation Lines
If U.S. forces (for example) get the best of ISIS and they retreat, the very obvious place for them to run is across the line of control into the Russian or Syrian controlled zone. And the reverse is true for ISIS fighters are fleeing Russian or Syrian military units/combat aircraft.
But when preexisting agreements are set up, ISIS fighters will (quite unknowingly) run into a trap — just when they think they’ve escaped their pursuers.
Agreement to Support the Democratically Elected Leader of Syria
Whether some in the West like it or not, Bashir Al-Assad is the democratically elected leader of Syria and significantly, he is the only game in town. There isn’t anyone remotely qualified nor imbued with a power base sufficient to replace him. Like it or not, Assad is going to be the President of Syria for many years to come.
Even ISIS, as successful as it has been on the field of battle couldn’t pull off running a government. Winning a series of paramilitary battles is one thing — governing a country is a different thing altogether.
Regime change isn’t an option in Syria’s case regardless of how appealing that may sound to those in GroupThink office cubicles around the world. What looks good on paper from 5000 miles away can seem truly hallucinogenic to those on the ground in Syria and to those with any experience in the region.
We are stuck with Assad for some time. There is no other option unless the EU agrees to accept 10 million Syrian refugees. Therefore, we better learn how to work with him.
President Obama should be encouraged to instantly fire any federal government employee (including military members) who indulge in the utter fantasy of regime change in Syria. It is so unrealistic a goal, that to waste any time speculating on it should immediately brand the person making the suggestion as sophomoric and functionally illiterate on the topic of Syria.
Where do we want Syria to be in Five Years?
We’ve seen what the past five years have brought.
“If we keep on doing what we have been doing, we’re going to keep on getting what we’ve been getting.” — Jackie B. Cooper
No sane person, no culture, no nation, wants to see another five years of murder, rape, mayhem and destruction for the people of Syria.
Practically any other option is better than that, and we must all reconcile ourselves to the fact that change must come to the Syrian situation. No amount of wishing away the past is going to make the presently-failing plan suddenly begin to work and achieve our goals.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” — Albert Einstein
Therefore, it is time to take-Russia-on as a full and valued partner to a sustainable solution in Syria, knowing that we will be dealing with Bashar Al-Assad for the next decade, and with a view to lowering the total amount of trauma, death, and destruction in that country every day.
If we can’t work together, ISIS wins
If the U.S.A., Russia, and some of Europe’s leading nations can’t agree on mutually-agreed solutions to solve the Syrian crisis, then I respectfully suggest that the present world order has far bigger problems than ISIS.
If the ISIS leadership is allowed to infer that they can defeat great powers by playing them off one-against-the-other it will embolden ISIS far beyond the limited goals they’ve set for themselves in Iraq and Syria.
Differences in approach must be set aside to allow the U.S.A., Russia, the EU, and Syria to work together to marginalize the deviant ISIS group, or we and future generations may experience a never-ending stream of such conflicts.
- War has forced half of Syrians from their homes. Here’s where they’ve gone (CNN)
- Russia steps up Syria support ‘to stop fall of Assad’ (Al Jazeera)
- Putin says Russia’s aim in Syria is supporting President al-Assad (The Globe and Mail)
- Exclusive: Syrian army starts using new weapons from Russia: military source (Reuters)
- Russia Surprises U.S. With Accord on Battling ISIS (New York Times)
- Russia-Israel military coordination talks on Syria to open Tuesday [October 6, 2015] (Reuters)