WHILE OBAMA FIDDLES: SYRIA BURNS, RUSSIA & IRAN MAINTAIN ASSAD, & TURKEY ATTACKS U.S.-ALLIED KURDS

The Only Syrian Solution: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 5, 2016— Barack Obama’s efforts to reach a Syrian cease-fire deal with Vladimir Putin went nowhere again on Monday, with the president citing “gaps of trust” with his Russian counterpart.

The Betrayal of Syria’s Kurds: Ben Cohen, Algemeiner, Sept. 2, 2016— From Moscow to Washington, we are told that the principle enemy in the Middle East is the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization.

A Bad Defense for a Mistaken Policy: Frederic C. Hof, Atlantic Council, Aug. 29, 2016— More than half of Syria's pre-war population now falls into one of the following categories: dead; dying; disabled; tortured; terrorized; traumatized; sick; hungry; homeless.

The "Other" Palestinians: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Aug. 31, 2016— It seems as though the international community has forgotten that Palestinians can be found far beyond the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

 

On Topic Links

 

What's Ankara Doing in Syria?: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 1, 2016

How the Turks deceived the Americans on Syria: Alex Fishman, Ynet, Aug. 31, 2016

Syria’s Civil War: Stage for Greater Chinese Involvement in the Middle East?: Mordechai Chaziza, Rubin Center, Sept. 5, Third Lebanon-Israel War: Not ‘If’ But ‘When’: Eliana Rudee, Observer, July 15, 2016

 

 

 

THE ONLY SYRIAN SOLUTION

Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 5, 2016

 

Barack Obama’s efforts to reach a Syrian cease-fire deal with Vladimir Putin went nowhere again on Monday, with the president citing “gaps of trust” with his Russian counterpart. So what else is an out-of-ideas administration to do except immediately return to the same failed cease-fire negotiations—only this time with more cowbell?

 

To date, there have been 17 major peace initiatives for Syria in a little more than five years. These include the Annan plan of 2012; the Brahimi plan from later that year; Genevas I, II, and III; the “Vienna Process”; the “Four Committees Initiative.” Every name smacks of failure. The result is close to five million refugees, some eight million internally displaced people and 400,000 dead. Why does Mr. Obama think that a new cease-fire deal will succeed where all previous ones have failed? My guess is he doesn’t, but then again a policy of diplomatic gestures is what you’re left with when you give up on a policy of military leverage. The gesture toward a humanitarian cease-fire for the besieged city of Aleppo is merely of a piece with the president’s other empty declarations, like his 2011 demand for Bashar Assad to go and his 2012 chemical weapons red line.

 

Mr. Obama will leave office in 136 days, and the new administration will need its own Syria policy. The first and most essential step: Renounce the “fundamental principle,” laid down last year by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that “Syria should be a unified country.” The war in Syria is a complex business, significantly involving four foreign states—Russia, Iran, Turkey and the U.S.—and at least five major nonstate militias, along with the Assad regime itself. But at its root the war is a zero-sum struggle for power. Either Mr. Assad wins absolutely or his opponents do. No government can long accept a compromised sovereignty. If Syria is to remain a unified country in principle, its warring factions will fight for as long as they are able to make it unified in fact.

 

The opposite of absolute victory in Syria is absolute annihilation, which is why it was foolish of the Obama administration to predict that the Assad regime, champion of a four-million-strong Alawite minority, was going to crumble the way the Gadhafi regime did in Libya. The brutality of Mr. Assad’s forces is merely the reflection of what they fear will be done to them. The more brutal they are, the more brutal they must become.

 

How to move beyond the logic of win or die? The best option is to partition the country. The idea isn’t new, and critics point out that partition plans have been known to fail, that drawing boundaries is messy, that new borders won’t necessarily solve (and could aggravate) internecine rivalries, and that outside actors—Turkey above all—would have the grounds and the means to object. All this is true, but it needs to be weighed against the likely alternative, which is some variation of the diplomatic efforts now taking place. Will advocates of the current course admit they have failed when the fatality rate rises to 500,000? Or does it have to go all the way to one million?

 

The point of partition isn’t to solve all of Syria’s problems. It’s to shrink them to more manageable dimensions. A future Alawite state along Syria’s Mediterranean coast might ensure the political survival of the Assad dynasty. But it could be a secure ethnic homeland, free from the brutal entanglements of the rest of Syria, especially if it has security guarantees from Russia. A Kurdish zone, joined to Iraqi Kurdistan, would be viewed as a threat by the Turks. But it could be a safe haven for civilians if defended by U.S. air power.

 

As for the rest of Syria, pacification would require a limited but decisive NATO intervention to rout ISIS from its strongholds, equip and aid the Free Syrian Army so that it can lift the siege of Aleppo and march on Damascus, and enjoin Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to deploy a long-term Arab stabilization force. The prospect for any of this happening is directly correlated to the perception of American seriousness—a perception that will only materialize once Mr. Obama leaves office.

 

It’s true that for each of these points there are reservations and doubts. Can the Turks accept an extended Kurdish state? They already do with Iraqi Kurdistan, and the U.S. could mollify Ankara by insisting the Syrian Kurds sever ties with the Kurdish PKK guerrillas in Turkey. Would the Assad regime’s patrons accept a rump Alawite state? They might, if the alternative is utter defeat. Will ISIS be easy to defeat, and the rest of Syria easy to pacify? No, but ISIS and its terrorist cousins will have to be destroyed sooner or later. In the 1990s the world was confronted by a similar spiral of horrors in the Balkans. The U.S. belatedly intervened with military force and local proxies to achieve decisive political results. What was once Yugoslavia is today seven separate countries. The foreign-policy achievement of the Clinton administration could yet be the model for its successor.

 

 

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THE BETRAYAL OF SYRIA’S KURDS

Ben Cohen

Algemeiner, Sept. 2, 2016

 

From Moscow to Washington, we are told that the principle enemy in the Middle East is the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization. At the same time, the outside powers that have intervened in Syria’s horrendous conflict are waging a phantom war against IS as a cover for separate military campaigns that end up empowering these very same barbarians.

 

We’ve known that the Russians and the Iranians have been following this strategy for at least three years. Both Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and the Islamist mullahs in Tehran have backed the regime of President Bashar al Assad to the hilt, with the tacit approval of the United States. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, the Obama administration’s determination to secure last year’s flimsy nuclear agreement with the Iranians meant that the “red lines” the president declared in Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons turned out to be a more anemic color. The Iranians got their deal and all the financial benefits that went with it, while the peoples of Syria and the entire region were forced to realize that, under Obama, the much vaunted American empire is actually what Chairman Mao [Zedong] once called a paper tiger.

 

Just as the war against Islamic State has, for Russia and Iran, been a war to keep Assad in power and extend the territory under his control, so it is with Turkey, which last week sent its troops over the border into Syria. The Turks say they are targeting IS, but in the same way that the Russians and Iranians have turned their firepower on civilian targets and non-Islamist rebels alike – strengthening IS by default – Turkey’s real agenda in Syria is to crush the burgeoning Kurdish national movement in the north and east of that country. The visceral hostility of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Kurdish aspirations has been well documented. In the wake of July’s failed military coup, Erdogan has banked the messages of support from foreign leaders, particularly in the United States, to launch a crackdown on the universities and the press, and to continue the demonization of Turkey’s own Kurdish minority as a fifth column threatening the country’s integrity.

 

Erdogan set the tone for his latest campaign against the Kurds at a rally in Istanbul a few days after the coup attempt, when the Turkish leader addressed a massive crowd waving banners with such IS-style slogans as, “Order us to die, and we will do so.” Erdogan’s call for national unity, however, did not extend to the Kurds, and the pro-Kurdish HDP party was deliberately excluded from the rally. As one of the leaders of the HDP, Figen Yuksekdag, pointed out in an interview with the Kurdish website Rudaw, the coup was carried out by the same Turkish military that had repeatedly attacked the Kurds. Now Erdogan, he added, is “kicking the HDP out of the political conversation in the country.”

 

On the military front, the Turks have long been concerned by the successes of the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, claiming that these fighters are indistinguishable from the militants of the PKK, who have been fighting Ankara’s rule in the south-east of Turkey for decades. The US it should be said, does not share this view, and regards the YPG as the most able and courageous fighters in that part of the Middle East. “[W]e draw clear delineation between the PKK and the Syrian Kurds, as I said, who are part of the many groups that are fighting against Daesh,” US State Department spokesman John Toner explained on July 2.” Toner added that Washington had been in dialogue with the Turks over its support “for those Kurdish forces who are, frankly, very capable forces fighting to remove Daesh from its foothold in northern Syria.”

 

And yet now that Turkey is attacking an ally of the US, the Obama administration is restricting itself to verbal criticism. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is one of several officials to have called on both Turkey and its local allies and the Syrian Kurds to concentrate on defeating IS, rather than each other. But Secretary of State John Kerry has already shifted the balance towards the Turks. Speaking at an August 26 press conference in Geneva with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Kerry played down the US relationship with the YPG, speaking of a “limited engagement” with “a component of Kurdish fighters on a limited basis.” These are, frankly, mealy-mouthed words, given the central role played by the Kurds in liberating the town of Manbij, just south of the border with Turkey, from IS. It also shamefully ignores that the YPG is the only military force in Syria to have carried out a humanitarian operation, rescuing thousands of sick and dying Yazidis in the Sinjar region from further massacres and other outrages, including the kidnapping of young girls, by IS terrorists in the winter of 2015.

 

On top of that, the US now looks like it has been blindsided by the Turkish offensive, thereby delivering another blow to America’s standing in the region. The State Department behaves as if it really believes that war against IS can be separated from the other challenges in the region, whereas a successful policy needs to deal with the unresolved issues that allowed IS to flourish in the first place. Chiefly, this means setting the removal of the Assad regime as a specific goal, and seeking a political solution that will permit all the nations and ethnicities in northern Syria – Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans among them – to live with a minimum of conflict. As long as Turkey carries out its aggression against Syria under the pretext of pushing the Kurds east of the Euphrates River, and as long as Iran and Russia continue to back Assad with impunity, Syria’s agony will continue.

 

We have been in this position many times before. Some might remember that in September 2013, Putin penned an op-ed for the New York Times in which he praised Obama for seeing the opportunity behind “the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction.”  We all know where that led us. The next American president will face a stark choice. Either succumbing to a regional alignment that now includes Turkey, which has abandoned its longstanding aim of demanding Assad’s removal, alongside Iran and Russia, or striking out on a different path to end Syria’s suffering and the extraordinary instability that goes with it.

 

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A BAD DEFENSE FOR A MISTAKEN POLICY

Frederic C. Hof

Atlantic Council, Aug. 29, 2016

 

More than half of Syria's pre-war population now falls into one of the following categories: dead; dying; disabled; tortured; terrorized; traumatized; sick; hungry; homeless. The regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the bulk of this rampant, remorseless criminality. The administration of Barack Obama, if it stays on its present course, will make it through noon, January 20, 2017, without having defended a single Syrian civilian from the Assad-Russia-Iran onslaught. This thoroughly avoidable result may well serve to define Mr. Obama—accomplishments at home and abroad notwithstanding—as a failed president.

 

President Obama has provided historians with important—and potentially damning—evidence in his various interviews on the subject of Syria. Describing the September 2013 red line climb down—a body blow to American credibility not lost on Russia's Putin—as his proudest presidential moment, will not likely attract critical acclaim in the decades to come. And White House spokesman Joshua Earnest continues to violate the first rule about climbing out of a hole: stop digging.

 

In his August 25, 2016 press briefing Mr. Earnest was asked about the administration's failure to protect Syrian civilians in the face of what he described as the Assad regime's "unconscionable use of violence against civilians." He clarified, using language that defines vacuity, the administration's policy as follows: "But our approach to the Assad regime has been to make clear that they've lost legitimacy to lead that country." Claiming, in a sentence that defines wishful thinking, that "Russia shares this assessment," Earnest suggested that the way forward toward ending mass murder is for Moscow to live up to its commitments and rein-in its homicidal client. He did not mention Russia's own growing portfolio of war crimes in Syria.

 

In fact the administration's policy toward Assad Syria (as opposed to ISIS Syria) rests on its desire to accommodate Iran—a full partner in Assad's collective punishment survival strategy—so that the July 14, 2015 nuclear agreement can survive the Obama presidency. In the case of ISIS, Earnest noted with evident pride that the United States has put boots on the ground in eastern Syria and is at war with a loathsome terrorist group. In the case of offering Syrian civilians not the slightest modicum of protection from Assad, however, Mr. Earnest had an excuse evidently not applicable to ISIS: Iraq 2003.

 

According to Earnest, "We've got a test case just over the border in Iraq about what the consequences are for the United States implementing a regime-change policy and trying to impose a military solution on the situation." Warming to the subject, Mr. Earnest went on to say, "And look, there are some people who do suggest that somehow the United States should invade Syria." Shame on a news media that consistently permits this dissembling to go unchallenged. Mr. Earnest, if asked, would be unable to name anyone counseling the invasion of Syria. Mr. Earnest would be unable, if asked, to explain why limited military measures designed to end Assad's mass murder free ride—such as that offered by the 51 dissenting State Department officers—amounts to "regime-change" and "trying to impose a military solution." Indeed, if challenged, Mr. Earnest would be required to retract his subsequent false claim that no critic of the president's Syria policy has ever offered specific, operationally feasible alternatives to a catastrophe-producing approach.

 

The point here is not to vilify Joshua Earnest. He does not dissemble as a free agent. He does so on behalf of a president unwilling to say something like the following: 'Look, I realize what a catastrophe Syria is. It's the premier humanitarian abomination of the 21st century. I know that Russia and Iran have enabled a despicable family and its gangster entourage to commit mass murder and state terror. I've read all of the intelligence about Russia deliberately targeting civilian hospitals. I can see the effects that mass migration from Syria is having on our European allies and even on us during this election year. I get it all: a lost generation of Syrian children, people being shelled, strafed, sexually assaulted, and starved to death by their own so-called government. What I want people to understand is that I've had to make the hardest of calls. I think the nuclear agreement with Iran prevented a war and opens a door. I'm afraid that if I use cruise missiles or supply anti-aircraft weapons to make Assad pay a price for mass murder, Iran's supreme leader—who sees Assad as an invaluable agent—will scuttle the nuclear deal. I may be wrong, but that's the call I've made. That's why I get paid the big bucks.'…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

                                   

 

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THE "OTHER" PALESTINIANS

Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute, Aug. 31, 2016

 

It seems as though the international community has forgotten that Palestinians can be found far beyond the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These "other" Palestinians live in Arab countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and their many serious grievances are evidently of no interest to the international community. It is only Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that garner international attention. Why? Because it is precisely these individuals that the international community wield as a weapon against Israel.

 

Nearly 3,500 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war in 2011. But because these Palestinians were killed by Arabs, and not Israelis, this fact is not news in the mainstream media. This figure was revealed last week by the London-based Action Group For Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), founded in 2012 with the goal of documenting the suffering of the Palestinians in that country and preparing lists of victims, prisoners and missing people in order to submit them to the databases of human rights forums.

 

Yet the "human rights" forums pay scant attention to such findings. They are indeed too busy to take much notice, wholly preoccupied as they are with Israel. By focusing their attention only on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, these "human rights" forums continuously seek to find ways to hold Israel responsible for wrongdoing, while ignoring the crimes perpetrated by Arabs against their Palestinian brothers. This obsession with Israel, which sometimes reaches ridiculous heights, does a great disservice to the Palestinian victims of Arab crimes.

 

If you take some numbers, according to AGPS, 85 Palestinians were killed in Syria in the first year of the civil war in 2011. The following year, the number rose to 776. The year 2013 saw the highest number of Palestinian victims: 1,015. In 2014, the number of Palestinians who were killed in Syria was 724. The following year, 502 Palestinians were killed. And since the beginning of this year (until July), some 200 Palestinians were killed in Syria. How were these Palestinians killed? The group says that they were killed as a result of direct shelling, armed clashes, torture in prison, bombings, and as a result of the besieging of their refugee camps in Syria.

 

Yet the plight of its people in Syria does not seem to top the list for the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. Pride of place on that list goes to assigning blame to Israel for everything the PA itself has caused. For PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials in the West Bank, the Palestinians in Syria simply do not rate. In fact, in a step that boggles the mind, the PA leadership is currently seeking to improve its relations with the Assad regime in Syria — the very regime that is killing, imprisoning and torturing scores of Palestinians on a daily basis.

 

In a move that has enraged many Palestinians in Syria, the Palestinian Authority recently celebrated the inauguration of a new Palestinian embassy in Damascus. "They [the PA leadership] have sold the Palestinians in Syria and reconciled with the Syrian regime," remarked a Palestinian from Syria. Another Palestinian commented: "Now we know why several PLO delegations have been visiting Syria recently; they sought to renew their ties with the regime and not ensure the safety of our refugee camps or seek the release of Palestinians held in [Syrian] prisons." Others accused the Palestinian Authority leadership of "sacrificing the blood of Palestinians." They pointed out that the Syrian regime, by permitting the opening of the new embassy, was rewarding the PA for turning its back on the plight of the Palestinians of Syria. The Palestinians complained that PA diplomats and representatives in Damascus, to whom they appealed in the past for help, have ignored their calls.

 

International media outlets regularly report on the "water crisis" in Palestinian towns and villages, especially in the West Bank. This is a story that repeats itself almost every summer, when some foreign journalists set out to search for any story that reflects negatively on Israel. And there is nothing more comfortable than holding Israel responsible for the "water crisis" in the West Bank. But how many Western journalists have cared to inquire about the thirsty Palestinians of Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria? Does anyone in the international community know that this camp has been without water supply for more than 720 days? Or that the camp has been without electricity for the past three years? Yarmouk, which is located only eight kilometers from the center of Damascus, is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. That is, it was the largest camp. In June 2002, 112,000 Palestinians lived in Yarmouk. By the end of 2014, the camp population had been decimated to less than 20,000. Medical sources say many of the residents of the camp are suffering from a host of diseases. These figures are alarming, but not to the Palestinian Authority leadership or mainstream media and "human rights" organizations in the West…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

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On Topic Links

 

What's Ankara Doing in Syria?: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 1, 2016—After its incursion into Syria, Turkey will have to decide whether to declare "Euphrates Shield" a success or to continue seeking to destroy the Kurdish-led SDF in the face of US opposition. The Turkish incursion into the north Syrian town of Jarabulus and its environs, which began on August 24, is the latest dramatic re-shuffling of the deck in a long and agonizing conflict.

How the Turks deceived the Americans on Syria: Alex Fishman, Ynet, Aug. 31, 2016—The Americans are now selling out the Syrian Kurds to the Turks—but we've already gotten used to their cynical foreign policy. What Israel is having a hard time getting used to, however, is the fact its biggest ally is completely disregarding Israeli interests in the Middle East.

Syria’s Civil War: Stage for Greater Chinese Involvement in the Middle East?: Mordechai Chaziza, Rubin Center, Sept. 5, 2016—Years of armed conflict and unrest have turned the security situation in Syria into a refugee crisis and humanitarian nightmare. The Syrian civil war has entered its sixth year, becoming one of the worst crises of the twenty-first century in the Middle East. From the start of the Syrian conflict, China has kept its distance and focused mainly on protecting its expanding commercial and investment interests in the region. Nevertheless, escalating violence from Syria in 2016 has pressured Beijing to move off the sidelines and take a more active role in the international efforts to bring peace and stability to the country.

Third Lebanon-Israel War: Not ‘If’ But ‘When’: Eliana Rudee, Observer, July 15, 2016 —In the Middle East, non-state actors, terrorist organizations, and regimes prepare for war long before it appears imminent. Considered inevitable, the only question is timing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Will Lead the United Nations?: John Bolton, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 7, 2016—Although few Americans are paying attention, the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon as United Nations secretary-general is well under way.