Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Syria Going Forward

Syria is again back on the radar, it never really went away even though many people hoped that it would resolve its self. Still interest in the Syrian conflict has waned, only 39 percent of those surveyed say they are following the violence closely, a 15-percentage-point drop since a CBS News poll conducted in March. Sixty-two percent of the public say the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and anti-government groups, while just one-quarter disagree. All options have grown increasingly complex in recent weeks as the Syrian regime has moved chemical stockpiles around the country. We have to now assume they are going to continue to do so, the Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey recently told Congress the military could not secure the entire chemical stockpile because it does not know where it's all located.

Currently I find myself weighing in on the side of doing more, not because it is our responsibility but because it may be in our best interest. I think we should do more but that does not mean we should jump in with both feet. This does not mean putting troops on the ground but establishing at least a partial no fly zone. It seems to be a case of you are damned if you do and damned if you don't, but this does not mean you should not try to do the best thing or the right thing. I advocate that we join a group of  Nations to knock down a few Syrian jets and helicopters, we would do this only after a very brief notice, meaning just a few hours. At the same time we put Assad on notice, we would have to make it perfectly clear that we were prepared to unleash more pain if they are stupid enough to retaliate. Smart missiles and drones should be enough to let Assad know this must come to an end.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other senior civilian officials at the Pentagon have sought updated military options in the last few weeks as suspicions and intelligence grew that the Syrian regime had used sarin gas on its own people. There are also specific new discussions with Israel, Turkey and Jordan about the "realities of the conflict." These discussions center around what to do if chemical weapons become a risk to their populations and also what immediate actions would have to be taken if the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were to suddenly fall. Many people feel that the real dangers in Syria today come less from Assad, or even Iran, and much more from increasingly potent Sunni extremist fighters. If the “rebels” win, as matters now stand, these people think that the jihadis  would be the real victors. U.S. strategy must focus on building this common ground, it is important that neither its European nor its regional allies give arms to groups suspected of being even slightly jihadi in nature.

Fears are growing that they’d swiftly create a terrorist state to menace Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. Stopping jihadis from taking over Syria could represent the only common goal between Syria’s ruling Alawites and the secular Sunni rebels. Shiite-related Alawites rightly fear an al Qaeda–like triumph in Syria as the worst possible outcome, with the mass killing of Alawites their No. 1 priority. The secular leaders of the Syrian rebels, clustered in the exile group known as the Syrian National Council, also must worry about the extremist threat they themselves would face if the Assad government fell now. Remember, most Syrian Sunnis don’t have a history of religious radicalism. They don’t want rule by Sharia any more than the Alawites do. It is important that our Arab friends already sending arms err on the side of great caution, such restraint would show the Alawites we care about their safety, a critical signal.

Currently much of the concern focuses on these chemical weapons rather than the 80,000 or more people that have died and the millions displaced and forced to flee, their lives ruined or disrupted. As the Pentagon has in recent days stepped up planning for potential military intervention in the Syrian civil war, it is important that we do not make thing worse. This means a focus on saving lives both over the short term as well as the long term. This means leaving open possibilities like negotiation. Assad can negotiate to fall back to his stronghold area and release the rest of the country to a peaceful existence. We might even go so far as to offer an award or to buy stores of chemical weapons, from any party that has them, but only in a way to promote peace and not as a sign of blackmail, this might mean in exchange for food or peacetime goods. One thing is clear, Assad can not remain in power in his current form.

Footnote; This is my second post on Syria, I first wrote about the conflict way back in February of 2012. I should note that while it appears North Korea has gone silent, do not be surprised if they again make a bid for attention or take advantage of the "Syria distraction"


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