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by John Brian Shannon | September 26, 2015
The world witnesses the underwhelming response to the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII.
The United Nations calls the Syrian crisis the worst humanitarian crisis in a quarter of a century, with half of Syria’s population displaced within Syria or fled to other countries. Some 310,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the crossfire of civil war.
“The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. And we think people should know more about it.
Of the 4 million refugees, the vast majority are women and children. And nearly 3 million of those children are out of school with no hope of returning to any formal education.” — See: The worst humanitarian crisis since World War II — PBS NewsHour
Since 1999 the socio-political structure in Syria has been deteriorating due to many factors and it has been too convenient for some commentators to blame Bashir Al-Assad the country’s democratically-elected leader for all of Syria’s troubles.
But things are rarely as they seem. This is true for the Middle East and North Africa nations (MENA) but is especially true in the case of Syria
For just one example, more than half of the people who live in the port city of Tartus, Syria are retired Soviet or Russian military people who chose to receive their pensions and live out their lives in warmer climes, as compared to say, Moscow or Siberia. I can’t blame them as it is a beautiful part of the world, full of important historical sites.
During the Cold War, thousands of Soviet Navy personnel had occasion to debark their ships while they took on supplies at the Russian Navy facility located just south of Tartus.
Not only that, but Soviet merchant ships unloaded everything from Lada cars to borscht, returning to Russia loaded with produce of every kind, especially figs, dates, olives and wine. The punishment for not returning to their ship on time was to be shot by the Soviets, so every sailor (whether Soviet Navy sailor or Soviet merchant mariner) took pains to return to their ship prior to sailing. Yes, really.
Over several decades this fraternization between Soviet/Russian citizens and Syrians turned Tartus into the wedding capital of the eastern Mediterranean with many thousands of marriages between Soviet sailors of every rank and background marrying the beautiful young women of Tartus.
When I visited Tartus in 1989 and again in 1990 as the Cold War was ending, I was struck by the fact that all of the road signs were written in the Syrian, Arabic and Russian languages only.
And similar was true in Syrian government offices where I also noted that everyone chatted easily in the Syrian and Russian languages — as I waited over an hour for an English-speaking government employee to arrive from a nearby town so that I could have my passport returned to me. Holding passports until the last day of a person’s visit was standard practice during the Cold War, as was the requirement for government officials to phone the local police to verify that no crimes had been committed before handing the passport back. Sorry about that speeding ticket.
Syria has sourced uncountable billions of dollars of Soviet and Russian military aircraft and other military vehicles through Moscow since WWII. Indeed, Syria was one of the first nations outside of the Soviet Union to receive the export version of the MiG-25 fighter/interceptor aircraft, a very advanced jet fighter for the time.
Petroleum trade between the two countries has likewise been brisk.
Suffice to say that the deep links between Syrian citizens and Russians span several decades and I’ve hardly touched on them.
Therefore, it is quite a natural thing that Russia should lend economic, military, and political support to its ally and we should not interfere in that profound and long-term relationship.
What has been tried for the past five years has not worked and will continue to not work
And the proof of that is that fully half of Syria’s population are internally displaced or have fled the country, living as refugees in neighbouring countries like Turkey which is on track to accept over 2 million Syrians in 2015.
In addition to that, some 3 million (non-Syrian) refugees have arrived in Turkey from Iraq and the Arab Spring nations in recent years.
Jordan says that more than one million Syrian refugees have arrived in 2015, while tiny Lebanon reports that 1-in-4 people within its borders are Syrian refugees.
JORDAN says it has taken in 1.4 million Syrians, although the UNHCR counts 629,266 registered refugees. Jordan prides itself on its hospitality toward these and other refugees, but the high numbers — about 20% of the population, based on government figures — have taxed the small kingdom, already struggling with strained resources such as energy and water. — LA Times
Europe opened its doors to 310,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 with Germany taking a huge share of that number, while Sweden offers almost automatic residency and a full social safety net to 80,000+ Syrians per year.
I’ll give the last word to the citizens of Iceland (total population 329,100) who went over the heads of their elected leaders with more than 11,000 private citizens offering their homes to Syrian families after Iceland said it would accept only 50 Syrian refugees
Kudos to the citizens of Iceland. Let’s hope this catches on.
- No Time to Lose in Syria (Project Syndicate)
by John Brian Shannon | September 12, 2015
We explore three different scenarios in the fight to defeat ISIS and other terror groups operating in Syria.
Now that Russia has entered the frame, it may change the Syrian crisis for the better, or it may trigger concern by some nations already in the fight, or by regional nations that must deal with the consequences of the Syrian civil war.
What could possibly go wrong?
1. Israel vs. Russia inside Syrian territory
Israel. That’s what could go wrong. It’s not the only thing that could go wrong in this dangerous situation but it would be irresponsible to overlook that particular potential for catastrophe.
The state of Israel could decide that its best interest would be served by inducing the Russian military to leave Syria by bombing the Russian airfield, supply depot, and barracks which are presently under construction near Latakia, Syria.
And to prevent retaliation by Russian naval forces, Israel would need to destroy any Russian Navy vessels in the Mediterranean or tied up at any of Syria’s ports. It would be unthinkable from a military standpoint to neutralize the Russian airfield/barracks and not destroy the Russian naval component.
That would lead to a wider war, one that would have Israel calling the United States instantly. Geopolitics could change in the space of 15 minutes.
If you don’t think that’s very likely, people who know their history will recall how quickly the world changed when Japanese aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Two hours of bombing that dramatically changed world history.
For its time, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a massive effort and was seen in Japan as a major success against the United States. Indeed, most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was parked dockside with their sailors enjoying shore leave. Consequently, many ships were either sunk or damaged although few casualties occurred as the dockyards were largely empty at the time of the attack.
Just as few foresaw the attack on Pearl Harbor, few are of the opinion that Israel would launch a preemptive attack against Syria’s ally Russia, taking out the Russian airfield in Latakia, Syria or those Russian vessels docked in Tartus, Syria or sailing in the eastern Mediterranean.
It’s not like Israel hasn’t attacked ships or aircraft from other nations in the past.
The USS Liberty incident stands as proof of Israel’s willingness to attack foreign vessels that might be in a position to attack Israel, regardless of how unlikely an attack may be.
The USS Liberty was a U.S. Navy supply and communications ship of no significant size nor capability, a WWII relic that posed no real threat to Israel. Yet, because it appeared in the sea during a time of conflict between Israel and Egypt, it was neutralized by a combined force of Israeli fighter jets, fighter bomber jets, and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, because in the opinion of the relevant Israeli military commanders, the Liberty represented a threat.
If you’re of the opinion that Israel won’t act against something they perceive as a threat, then history says you’re wrong.
The opinions of observers who say there’s no threat to Israel posed by the Russian airbase, or of increased Russian Navy activity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, or of increased Russian troop numbers in Syria, are irrelevant.
The only relevant opinions are those who press bomb-release buttons in Israeli bomber-jets.
2. The U.S. vs. Russia inside Syrian territory
As recently as Friday, the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Sergei Lavrov, asked the U.S. to cooperate with Russia in Syria, saying on Friday that “we are always in favour of military people talking to each other in a professional way” as one-military-to-another operating in the same country it is “important for the avoidance of undesired, unintended incidents”.
Russia called on Friday for military-to-military cooperation with the United States to avert “unintended incidents” as it stages navy exercises off the coast of Syria, where U.S. officials believe Moscow is building up forces to protect President Bashar al-Assad.
The United States is using Syrian air space to lead a campaign of air strikes against Islamic State, and a greater Russian presence raises the prospect of the Cold War superpower foes encountering each other on the battlefield.
John Kerry the U.S. Secretary of State said, “We would welcome constructive efforts by Russia against ISIS, but that cannot be a function of continued support to the Assad regime. The most productive thing that they can do is to stop aiding the Assad regime.” — Reuters
3. The U.S. and Israel vs. Syria and Russia inside Syrian territory
Only a few dedicated think-tank fellows are missing sleep over that one.
But in a war zone, events happen in seconds and then the politicians race to catch up with what has happened during the night.
It’s at least conceivable that the U.S. or Israel decide to show their colours to Syria or Russia and a number of fighter jets are shot down in less than a minute — even before a telephone call can be placed between the various politicians to resolve the issue, and by then the initial attack and the guaranteed-to-be-devastating-counter-attack is already over.
A parallel situation could occur at sea with any number of ships being attacked and counterattacking within seconds of the first shot being fired.
Many ships could be sunk in the space of 15 minutes (which is about the same amount of time it takes to properly brief a decision-maker/politician) on the many events that are occurring simultaneously.
If there aren’t clear communication links between the various forces fighting ISIS in Syria, and if each group follows different rules of engagement, it’s a recipe for disaster
If the ultimate goal is ‘a world war over Syria’ we’re running headlong towards it.
It’s an insult to the intelligence of people everywhere that any nation would refuse to participate in and abide by the standard communications and rules of conduct in conflict zones, especially when so much is at stake.
Secretary of State for the United States, John Kerry, and his State Department spokesman John Kirby, risk far too much for too little. Risking a wider conflict in an attempt to belittle the Russians is feckless at best and criminally irresponsible at worst.
Without a proper communications plan, there’s no doubt that an incident between the various military units operating in Syria will occur at some point.
Lives will be lost. Of that, there’s no doubt. Citizens of one or more countries will become enraged and demand a response, and consequently the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about (a.k.a. the so-called war economy) will be back to full production again!
An astonishing lack of diplomacy enabled the Syrian crisis to occur and now we’re willfully blocking standard communication plans. What next?
Let us hope that superior minds overturn this seemingly deliberate march towards conflict between superpower U.S.A. (perhaps with Israeli involvement) on the one hand, vs. Syria and Russia (a former superpower but still extremely powerful) with Iran and China assisting.
It’s the worst B-movie script that I’ve seen. And we’re on course towards catastrophe if the present script is allowed to continue…
- War has forced half of Syrians from their homes. Here’s where they’ve gone. (CNN) “One of every five displaced persons in the world is Syrian.”
- Should we cry or rejoice as Russia steps up in Syria? (CBC)
- Russia calls on US to co-operate with its military in Syria (Reuters)
- Russia-Israel military coordination talks on Syria to open Tuesday [October 6, 2015] (Reuters)
- After Syria coordination talks with Israel, Russia beckons to Turkey, U.S. (The Star)
by John Brian Shannon | June 09, 2015
Q: Why are hundreds of thousands of people fleeing North Africa?
A: Because of the Western inspired, aided, and abetted, Arab Spring (failure)
The ‘Arab Spring’ was supposed to depose dictators or very nominally democratic regimes in North Africa, and replace them with forward-thinking democratic leaders and democratic societies.
Which sounds great on paper doesn’t it? Especially in the proposal stages one could be forgiven for backing such a plan.
Good intentions towards the north African nations simply weren’t followed-up by EU leaders in the aftermath of the Arab Spring — and that is why hundreds of thousands of economic refugees are landing in Europe now.
I’d expect *millions* more, if conditions in the failed Arab Spring nations don’t improve — even though hundreds have died at sea to date — thousands more still make the crossing every day. It says a lot about the living conditions that these people are leaving behind.
Prior to the Arab Spring, relatively small numbers of people risked everything to cross the Mediterranean.
As the West was the main cheerleader lending military aid and action against north African dictators, and lent moral and financial support to promote overthrowing north African dictators — the West bears responsibility for the situation which is now playing out.
Some call it an *unfolding crisis* and one that looks likely to get much worse every decade. While others call it *poetic justice* the sort that mediocre post-Arab Spring policy is responsible for.
Instead of the EU devising policies to deal with the ever-growing symptoms, it’s time to quickly transform EU policy in the region to a proactive one where there is no need for millions of north Africans to leave their countries for the EU.
If you don’t think *millions* of people might migrate to the EU as economic refugees, take a look at Egypt’s present population (84 million) which is about the same as Germany’s present population at 82 million.
But in 2050 the population of Egypt will be 121 million people, while Germany’s population in 2050 will be 72 million.
If bad economic conditions in the former Arab Spring nations don’t soon improve, it won’t only be millions of Egyptians flooding the EU, it will also be millions of other north Africans too!
It’s time to take a serious look at creating stable and nominally democratic governments in north Africa (and that’s only half of the equation, obviously) combined with huge employment growth in a region where youth unemployment surpasses 50 percent.
Breeding grounds for future terrorists, much?
Something that could be done quickly but isn’t being done to solve several growing problems at once — is to install millions of solar panels and tens of thousands of wind turbines in the north African nations to power southern Europe.
We have the technology to run undersea power cables (this is done in many regions in the world) and solar and wind power is now at parity with fossil fuel power generation (assuming the subsidy levels are the same)
Creating hundreds of projects across the Arab Spring countries would stimulate those economies, lower youth unemployment, lower the lure of extremist ideology for poor and unemployed youth in that region, and work to reduce migration to the EU from north African nations.
Perhaps by orders of magnitude.
Trying to design policy to deal with ever-growing symptoms is a fool’s errand, while designing policy to solve many of the underlying north African and related EU problems is the obvious path.