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Syria: A Meeting of the Minds – or Five More Years of War?

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.

Syrian Crisis Map 2015. Image courtesy of the UNHCR.

Syrian Crisis Map 2015. Image courtesy of the UNHCR.

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.

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Syria: Map of ISIS and coalition action in Iraq and Syria | Aug 8 to Sept 30 2014

Syria: Map of ISIS and coalition action in Iraq and Syria Sept 30, 2014 | 30/09/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Iraq airstrikes map as of September 30, 2014

Iraq airstrikes map as of September 30, 2014. Source: Institute for the Study of War, US Central Command

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  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • It captured broad swathes of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a “caliphate” in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers
  • The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria

ISIS: Defining Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS

ISIS: Defining Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS | 28/09/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Since ISIS has ramped up its actions in Iraq and Syria, Western nations have reacted by militarily attacking concentrations of ISIS fighters and their weapon stockpiles.

The military action is a logical second step. The first step would have been to be work the diplomatic angle all throughout the Iraq War — and even moreso after the coalition largely vacated the country in 2011.

Weak diplomacy by the West, post-Iraq War, led to the very power vacuums that caused the formation and rapid rise of ISIS. Power vacuums are always filled, that’s human nature.

What diplomats do, is ensure that qualified people attain positions of power, and not only qualified, but people who recognize the value of peaceful societies and are willing to devote significant efforts towards negotiating politically and economically sustainable outcomes.

Ergo, the West is back in Iraq and the U.S. Air Force is flying counter-terror missions over northern Syria. There are now 1.2 million new refugees inside Iraq and hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Kurdish refugees. All of whom are now streaming across the Turkish border every week.

ISIS forces 100,000 Syrian Refugees to Turkey in 48 hours on September 23/24, 2014.

ISIS forces 100,000 Syrian refugees to flee into neighbouring Turkey over a 48 hour period on September 23/24, 2014.

Over a 10-day period in September, some 500,000 refugees fled across the border into the vastly overwhelmed UNHCR camps in Turkey bringing the total Iraqi/Syrian/Kurdish refugee count in Turkey to 1.5 million as of October 1, 2014

With no sign of letup it must be said. Refugee numbers look set to increase as ISIS fighters tear most of northern Syria to pieces along with some lightly-defended areas of northern Iraq.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said they are preparing for the flight of the entire 400,000 population of Kobane, a Syrian town surrounded by approaching ISIL fighters on the three sides.

Assistant Professor Erkan Ertosun, a lecturer at the faculty of economic and administrative sciences at Ankara’s Turgut Özal University, speaking to Samanyolu Haber TV station on a live broadcast, said:

“The Syrian refugees living in streets, abandoned buildings or construction areas were able to withstand those conditions during summer. When winter arrives, they will no longer be able to support those conditions.”

As well as accommodation problems, the Syrian refugees face difficulties about communicating with local people, finding jobs and healthcare issues.

In accordance with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s instructions, the refugees in Turkey have been given “guest” status rather then that of refugee due to Turkey’s open-door policy toward Syrians at the Turkish border.

Ertosun claimed that Turkey’s open-door policy toward Syrian refugees may lead to irreversible problems, adding;

“This is the most critical refugee problem in the history of the country.”Today’s Zaman

Combined with coalition bombing campaigns we might see refugee numbers surpassing 1 million per month beginning soon.

Is Canada a ‘clone’ of the United States, or do we have our own Foreign Policy?

Canada is a sovereign nation and although it maintains friendly ties with many nations, there should be nothing stopping the Prime Minister of Canada and his FM from deciding on an independent course of action. It’s been happening all along throughout Canada’s history, and we were charting our own course even before Canada made the switch from being a colony of Great Britain, to being a full-fledged country.

Multilateralism,  Multiculturalism, and growing the Interdependence between nations

It was Canada that had the world’s fourth-largest Navy in WWII, Canada was a charter member of the League of Nations, and later a founding member of the United Nations. Canada helped to found the Commonwealth of Nations (later called the British Commonwealth, or Commonwealth) with the British monarchy as its head and helped other countries (even India, a republic!) to join that Commonwealth.

It was Canada that developed the concept of peacekeeping and we’ve led the world in the fight against the use of land mines. We spirited American hostages out of revolutionary Iran and we have sustained many peacekeeping operations bringing stability to conflict regions and preventing wider wars.

Our efforts in this have been unparalleled and all Canadians should rightfully feel proud of our contribution and we must respect the sacrifice of our troops. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson won a Nobel Peace Prize for diffusing the Suez Crisis in the 1950’s by single-handedly convincing the UN to send in a Canadian-led peacekeeping force to end the crisis by separating the combatants.

Canada was also a founding member of NATO and is solely responsible for “Article 2” of the NATO constitution (also known as ‘the Canadian Article’ of 1949) which reminds members that the alliance should not be purely military in nature, but should involve peacekeeping operations and humanitarian aid.

One answer to the problem of U.S. domination was to avoid bilateral arrangements with the Americans where possible and to involve Canada in multilateral organizations (e.g., the Commonwealth or United Nations), where U.S. influence would be somewhat diffused. Most Canadians welcomed the UN, which the Canadian government took a vigorous part in creating. But Prime Minister McKenzie King, mindful of his own lifetime battle to remove Canada from the trammels of British imperialism, was dubious of a world to be dominated by the Great Powers. King’s advisers, wanting to find some way for Canada to play a significant role in the world, advanced the concept of the “middle power”—that is, a state strong economically though perhaps not militarily. The idea in practice meant that Canada should concern itself primarily with economic policy in world affairs and with aid to developing countries. Canada decided to use its considerable knowledge of nuclear fission not for military purposes but exclusively for peaceful and economic ones. — Encyclopedia Britannica

Simply doing ‘whatever the Americans do’ is not foreign policy!

If Canada wants to continue to be taken seriously as a world power then it must continue to present notable and worthwhile initiatives on the world stage — as it has done all along. A lack of our own clear and decisive foreign policy means that we simply allow ourselves to become America’s ‘cabin boy’ and based on our past successes, we deserve better than that.

Which takes leadership. Sometimes, fearless leadership.

How can Canada contribute best, using unique Canadian strengths and attributes, to the efforts underway in Iraq and Syria — and to the growing refugee problem in Turkey?

The UNHCR is overwhelmed as hundreds of thousands of refugees cross into Turkish territory every week. The other major Western powers have plenty of warplanes, whether Canada contributes six CF-18’s to the effort or not, is of little consequence to the overall situation!

What can make a huge difference and again allow Canada to ‘punch above its weight’ as it has done in previous decades is to ‘own the humanitarian aid effort’ that is presently taking place in Turkey

Canada has huge airlift potential, it has specially trained personnel that can set up ‘tent cities’ it has enormous stores of food aid and other aid that it can send, and it can even transport aid from other countries to the troubled zones.

The goal here isn’t to displace the UNHCR, just that so much more assistance is needed than what has been delivered thus far. And with hundreds of thousands of people arriving each week, the need is growing fast.

What good are coalition efforts as ISIS slowly gets destroyed over the next 24 months and millions of citizens of Iraq and Syria flee to Turkey — only to die of lack of care — after having reached a so-called ‘safe haven’?

That’s coming — whether we like it or not. Whether coalition bombers continue their campaign or not, ISIS will be driving people from Iraq and Syria. Perhaps millions of people. Some 1.5 million refugees from those two countries are already settled inside Turkey. Another 500,000+ have arrived in the past 2 weeks, and almost certainly another 400,000 on the way.

By the end of November, Turkey may be be hosting 3 million people fleeing terror from two different countries.

All of this places severe strains on the very real human beings caught in this traumatic situation, it also permanently strains the resources of the Turkish government and the UNHCR.

Canada, as one of the founding members of the UN must put its money where its mouth is, and contribute!

Not only will Turkey and the UNHCR require additional assistance in the coming weeks and months, but Canada should push for a UN-backed resolution allowing for a robust force of Canadian peacekeeping troops to protect such refugee encampments from ISIS fighters who will shoot at refugees across the Turkish/Syrian border — and there is no reason it wouldn’t be approved by the UN and by fellow NATO-member Turkey.

The logical place for 6 CF-18’s and a squadron of Canadian rescue helicopters is on the Turkish side of the border protecting a 50-mile-wide strip of land wherever and whenever the refugee camps come under cross-border attack (and at some point, they will) from ISIS fighters.

It’s time for Canada to again ‘punch above its weight’ and handle the part of the overall effort which cannot be handled by the coalition due to their particular commitments

Leadership. Commitment. Multilateralism. Humanitarian Assistance. Unconventional solutions to common problems. Historically, those are the things that Canada is known for in the international space. We should stick to what we do best and let other countries (in this case, the coalition) do what they do best.

I wish the Americans, the Brits, the French, and other coalition members well in their fight against ISIS. But somebody needs to help the refugees already in Turkey, plus the recent arrivals, and sufficient help must be preplanned to help more hundreds-of-thousands soon to cross into Turkey — otherwise, the whole coalition effort to save Iraqi and Syrian civilian populations is mostly in vain, isn’t it?

It looks like it’s time to make our unique contribution. Therefore, let us excel as always.

The world needs ‘more Canada’ and this is another chance to show the world who we are.

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