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by John Brian Shannon | October 1, 2015
All war is brutal. Whether civil war, insurgency, guerrilla war, conventional or nuclear, all are brutal. And in war, no one weapon is worse than another. If you die or are injured by being blown to fragments by artillery, mines, barrel bombs or conventional bombs dropped by aircraft — you’re just as dead or injured as by machine-gun fire.
Too many commentators are trying to make negative political points about the Assad regime by citing Syria’s use of ‘barrel bombs’ — to convince us that those are the ultimate in inhuman and horrific weapons. As if getting killed by a ‘barrel bomb’ is somehow much worse than getting killed by a mine or by machine-gun fire.
Characterizing some bombs as ‘worse’ than other bombs, etc. takes our focus away from the underlying reasons for the conflict and how we might solve it.
What we should be concentrating on is how many innocent people are getting killed or maimed, how many refugees are being created, and how many months will it take to solve the Syrian conflict
And as is always the case, military people are well supported by their organizations and get paid to engage in warfighting, while civilians are (obviously) vastly unprepared to deal with war.
Consequently, many of them do the intelligent thing and leave the conflict region when they are able. This puts huge strain on neighbouring nations as they struggle to accept millions of refugees. Turkey is on track to surpass 2 million by January, 2016 and other nations in the region have accepted hundreds of thousands.
Syria: The Path to Civil War
By using deductive reasoning, we can safely assume the civil war now raging inside Syria is due to the many anti-coalition fighters who fled the 2003-2011 Iraq War, once they realized they couldn’t beat the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Such fighters were then able to live and operate virtually ignored in Syria (and Lebanon) as anti-coalition sentiment was running high in the region in the aftermath of the Shock and Awe invasion due to the Syrian people seeing only the results of, and hearing the accounts of, the Iraq War from fleeing Iraqi civilians.
A similar situation on a smaller scale occurred during the Arab Spring months.
Ergo, both the Iraq War and Arab Spring added to anti-Western sentiments in the region
This created a robust ISIS force practically out of thin air — with tacit support from Syrian citizens and the citizens of other nearby nations.
- Was there an ISIS before the Iraq War? No.
- Was there an ISIS during the Iraq War from 2003-2011? No.
- Was there an ISIS before the Arab Spring of 2010? No.
- Was there an ISIS during the Arab Spring? No.
Therefore, the ISIS entity was born in ‘the Arab Street’ which is the name for the collage of meeting places where Arab peoples meet, sometime after the Iraq War of 2003-2011 and after the 2010 Arab Spring.
Religion has nothing to do with it
Just as religion had nothing to do with WWI, WWII, or any recent war, this isn’t a religious war although various sides will always try to employ religion (the Crusaders, Osama Bin Laden) or the occult (Hitler) to serve their own interests.
We should ignore the cant and focus on clear examples of criminal and terrorist behavior. Murkiness isn’t our ally in the fight against terrorism
Trying to charge a person in court for being too ‘religious’ is impossible — as there is no such criminal charge.
However, if a person kills 25 people in a criminal act (whatever their political or religious views) we can deal with it in the courts in a very clear manner, and it becomes a clearer ‘sell’ to citizens in the court of public opinion — who after all are the ones footing the bill for our military operations in Syria.
Focusing so much attention on such things as the types of bombs employed by any side and by overly focusing on the religious aspect, we remove our focus from the criminality of what ISIS or other fighters are actually doing in Syria, Iraq, and in the Kurdish territories.
(Although it must be said that the Kurds have their own terrorists and they too must be careful when pointing fingers at ISIS, as some Kurds have been at the terrorism game for decades)
I’ll grant you that the Syrian response to ISIS and other groups has been heavy-handed
But no more than Shock and Awe was to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein.
We the West, created the conditions necessary for the creation of ISIS and other similar groups that left Iraq and the Arab Spring nations for Syria and Lebanon upon realizing they couldn’t match coalition firepower.
Now we are picking away at them piecemeal from the air, while the Russians have partnered with President Bashar Al-Assad to preserve the Syrian government with both the Russians and Syrians taking the fight to any group threatening the peace inside Syria until a sustainable cease-fire can be agreed.
If we attempt to exterminate all the ISIS fighters in Syria (with the Russians helping in regions of the country that we can’t access) we will simply drive ISIS fighters to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Egypt and into other Arab nations
Which will allow the West to claim that we’ve ‘won’ in Syria — in the same way we claim to have ‘won’ in Iraq.
Does anyone really think, for an instant, that Iraq is better off now than under Saddam Hussein?
It certainly isn’t. If you believe otherwise, I dare you to travel to any Iraqi city and proclaim it loudly in any public square. (And, by the way, it was nice knowing you)
If a massive (Iraq War style invasion) occurred in Syria today, many ISIS fighters would leave Syria, taking their tales to the people of each country in the region thereby gathering evermore pro-ISIS support and congealing centres of power across the MENA region.
Using military power to exterminate ISIS in Iraq and Syria means that we will set up a paradigm of continual ISIS movement and evermore ISIS recruiting in more countries
Therefore, although we can paint an “X” on certain ISIS members or groups, once we begin to ‘win’ against ISIS in Syria, they will just melt away to other nations gathering evermore support in every city they visit. Just as they did during the Iraq War.
That is not the path to victory against ISIS
In the case of highly mobile fighters and an ideology that we ‘enabled’ by attempting to exterminate ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we will simply help to grow the anti-Western sentiment throughout the Middle East.
The only path to solve the ISIS question is to use diplomacy to convince ISIS of the need for an ISIS homeland (a piece of very northwestern Iraq and very northeastern Syria) and that we are willing to help make that happen in exchange for laying down their arms.
ISIS presents a case where the more we fight (an ideology) the more members it will attract. And that is something the world doesn’t need.
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)
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)