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by John Brian Shannon | September 23, 2014
The truism, “The only constant in the universe is change” is one that nobody can deny. Even the stars change, eventually burning out after shining brightly for 10-50 billion years, depending on the size and composition of the star at its formation.
The same is true with politics. Civilization is constantly changing, individual societies within our civilization evolve — and to hopelessly complicate matters — all of the societies are evolving at different speeds and began from different starting points.
No doubt that all nations are on a path of enlightenment, it’s just that none of them occupy the same position on the path. Some are ‘behind’ us and some are ‘ahead’ of us, to put it in undiplomatic terms.
No matter. We do our best, and sometimes history has been kind to us and sometimes not, thereby making each country what it is today. Each nation is the sum total of its history.
There are no ‘perfect politics’ there are no ‘perfect political systems’ and there are no ‘perfect politicians’ — nor is perfection often found anywhere in the universe. Even so-called ‘perfect diamonds’ have microflaws in them.
The fact that we try to improve, is everything. Where we are today or tomorrow is much less important.
Striving to be better, means that eventually we will be better. And there is that learning curve which makes progress exponential once a certain point is reached.
We Celebrate Political Successes, But We Are Necessarily More Concerned With Political Failures
When faced with political failure at the international level, the result is often war. At best, nations will ‘agree to disagree’ for a time, until enlightened political thought (diplomacy) takes hold and solves the situation, thereby making that problem obsolete.
Within countries, political failure can ultimately lead to civil war. However, things can and usually do go on for some time in a state of fog or brimming discontent before it erupts into civil strife.
The one thing to take away from this, is that unless things are ‘getting better’ — they’re getting worse.
It’s a poor Captain who doesn’t alter course when the boat is being pushed backwards by the sea or the weather. One makes the necessary adjustments and the journey continues. There is no other choice.
“All War Represents the Failure of Diplomacy” — Tony Benn
When we have war it’s because we disagree with other political actors in other countries. This holds true for the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and so on.
When there is a lack of tolerance and insufficient diplomacy, then begins war.
It’s important to remember that all of this isn’t fated to happen. At any point in time, one side or the other is fully capable of changing their position and ending (or preventing) the conflict. A simple phone call can convey a change of heart and many lives can be spared death or the endless misery of lost family and friends.
Politics is Never Static
In the Middle East example, things which were once thought immovable are shifting.
Iran, yes that Iran, is talking to the UK about participating in the effort against ISIS. Arab nations are teaming up with the Europeans and the North Americans to fight ISIS in Iraq.
It’s important to note that while Iraq has invited Western nations inside its borders to assist the fight against ISIS, Syria has (so far) not invited any nation to fight ISIS inside Syria.
It’s a trust issue. Otherwise, Syria would gladly welcome any assistance in the fight against its supreme arch-rival ISIS. To underscore this point, the first IS in the acronym ISIS stands for Islamic State, while the second IS stands for Inside Al-Shams (Al-Shams is Arabic for the word ‘the Syria’) making Syria the prime target of ISIS, as they seek to establish an Islamic State in Syria by deposing the government of Syria.
Would the government of Syria like our help? You bet they would! Their very lives and future are at stake.
So why aren’t we invited inside Syria to fight ISIS?
In simple terms, it’s a failure of diplomacy. We’ve failed to convince Syria of our good intentions towards Syria and towards the millions of innocent Syrian people (many of whom are now running for the Turkish border at full speed) to escape the ISIS thugs.
The Enemy of My Enemy, is My Friend
Iran sees this truism and looks willing to participate in fighting ISIS to a standstill, if not complete defeat.
Why not to the point of complete defeat? Because without full Syrian involvement, there will be no victory over ISIS, only a never-ending beating them back into Syrian territory.
Iran is giving some good advice to Washington, and that advice goes like this; As ISIS is primarily based inside Syria, the ISIS entity will never be defeated unless a coalition can be invited into Syria for the sole purpose of routing ISIS — and just so that everyone is clear on this, Iran doesn’t mean allowing the coalition to take liberties with the situation and engaging in regime change while we’re in Syria.
The Iranians are experts in the region and they want the end of ISIS as much as anyone — and they feel that to win will require the support of the Bashar Al-Assad government.
It’s too late to begin ‘reinventing the wheel’ by starting with a brand new government in Syria. Iran says we should work with what we’ve got: the Bashar Al-Assad government. We’ll have plenty of time to bicker about other things with Bashar Al-Assad — after ISIS is routed.
Which, even with the support of Iran, the Arab nations, the West, and good luck, all working together in perfect harmony should take about 10 years. Maybe 15.
Pathways to Progress against ISIS
It’s great to have purist debates about how to wage war. However, when the diplomats have failed the war must actually be fought.
Like so many things in life, you work with what you’ve got. Purist debates must sometimes wait.
Right now, in the battle against ISIS, we’ve got Iraq, the United States, Europe, the Arab States, the UK, Canada and Australia as major contributors. There are other nations that want to contribute and we thank them for their contribution as well.
Iran is suddenly looking like it might join the coalition. Let’s hope that happens and soon, as Iran, more than any other country in the region is poised to play a major role and is perfectly placed to do so much good in this fight.
However, Syria has not felt comfortable enough to willingly allow coalition warplanes to overfly their territory, nor to have any country’s troops on their soil.
And, at this point, who could blame them? Even their regional allies didn’t help them in their hour of need, which eventually led to the partial collapse of their nation.
So we work with what we’ve got, which is much, but even all of that together is not the optimum combination to solve this growing and morphing problem.
The present Syria policy vs. what could be
Only because the West couldn’t win the trust and acceptance of Syria (an example of failed diplomacy) we’ve been pursuing a secondary policy inside Syria, until such times as we can gain the approval of the Bashar Al-Assad government to enter the air and land space of the country, in order to help rout ISIS from Syria, which would nicely complement our effort to rid neighbouring countries of ISIS.
This “Plan B” is a good one, as far as Plan B’s go — strengthening militia groups and individuals (warlords) inside Syria that are already engaged in the fight against ISIS.
But it goes without saying that a “Plan A” would be the better choice. Of course, as I referred to above Plan A would necessarily include Iran and Syrian participation — without losing any of the existing coalition members.
That is the difference between what is (Plan B), and what could be (Plan A). Only the failure of the diplomats has prevented us from activating Plan A. For now we’re stuck with Plan B.
Not that we should blame the diplomats for this failure. Diplomacy takes time and it may yet yield worthwhile results.
Iran joining the coalition might help to co-opt Syria toward coalition membership, in fact the Iranian diplomats might just be the ones to clinch that deal for all of us, and for themselves too as they too have an extreme dislike of the ISIS entity.
Benjamin Netanyahu today criticized the Plan B approach in a CBC television interview
Which is fine. We’re all entitled to our opinions.
And few nations (besides Syria, which is by far the main target of ISIS) have as much to lose as Israel, so I don’t blame the Prime Minster of Israel for criticizing the Plan B approach of strengthening the Syrian enemies of ISIS. (Excellent and wide-ranging interview with Benjamin Netanyahu begins at the 3:10 mark — continues to the 17:00 mark)
Apparently, he feels that all groups in the Middle East should be weakened equally — so that all are equally weak in comparison to Israel — and that the policy of strengthening regional forces presently engaged in fighting ISIS inside Syria (and presumably in Iraq too) is a bad policy.
I well understand the Israeli viewpoint that any group with guns and ammunition in the Middle East represents a threat to Israel. In Netanyahu’s view, those same fighters, once ISIS is defeated, could (in Netanyahu’s mind) conceivably turn to fight Israel.
And, in the absence of vision and leadership for the region and by the region, that’s a possibility. But with proper diplomacy and an inclusive vision for the region that all Middle East nations can feel comfortable with, no MENA nation need ever fear any other MENA nation or group.
The PM of Israel is looking at the situation through the prism of what has been, while I look at what could be
Were politics a static environment, PM Benjamin Netanyahu would win this point easily.
But politics is anything but a static environment, it is fluid and dynamic and as time moves forward we can begin to tailor regional politics to the needs of the countries in the region. And that means Israel too.
If one person in a house is unhappy, all will be unhappy. If one country in a region is unhappy, all will be unhappy. Tell me I’m wrong on this. But I know that you can’t. All of us know this truth and especially in a small region like the Middle East it applies equally to all of the nations.
Forming a coalition against a common enemy (in this case ISIS) where all of the members of the region become members of that greater coalition to fight their common enemy and eventually winning, is the best medicine for the failed diplomacy of the 20th century. Which is what started the whole Middle East problem in the first place.
The thinking of the early 20th century created the map we see today in the Middle East and all that has come since, both good and bad. Using 21st century thinking to make obsolete the problems inherited from a previous century, should be the visionary and leadership goal for the region.
To improve the existing paradigm we will need the cooperation and diligent efforts of all of the players in the region. There can be no leaving-out of Syria, nor of Iran. Whatever the new vision is, it must include the 23 million Syrians and the 38 million Iranians, or it simply won’t work, nor would it deserve to.
If Iran and Syria aren’t included in this herculean task of routing ISIS from the region and contributing to the future Middle East vision, eventually ISIS would win on account of their brutal tactics and their expertise at national destabilization wherever they operate.
For the Middle East, the rise of ISIS affords the best opportunity in decades to rise to meet the challenges of our time instead of shrinking back, and to work together to forge a new and better reality for all of the citizens of the Middle East.
Inclusiveness, tolerance, respect, and a common vision must be the way forward for the entire region.
Leaving Syria, Iran, Israel, or any other regional country out of that common and good future — and you are simply using the same old recipe — but attempting to bake a different cake.