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The Syria Campaign: Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17, 2014 — American bombs aren't yet falling on Syria, but on Tuesday Chuck Hagel suggested they soon will.
14 Million Refugees Make the Levant Unmanageable: David P. Goldman, PJ Media, Sept. 8, 2014— There are always lunatics lurking in the crevices of Muslim politics prepared to proclaim a new caliphate; there isn’t always a recruiting pool in the form of nearly 14 million displaced people (11 million Syrians, or half the country’s population, and 2.8 million Iraqis, or a tenth of the country’s population).
Assad Policies Aided Rise of Islamic State Militant Group: Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 22, 2014 — The Islamic State, which metastasized from a group of militants seeking to overthrow the Syrian government into a marauding army gobbling up chunks of the Middle East, gained momentum early on from a calculated decision by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go easy on it, according to people close to the regime.
I Was Gassed by Assad: Qusai Zakarya, Foreign Policy, Aug. 22, 2014 — Every time I see President Barack Obama speak on television, I have horrible flashbacks.
House Approves Obama’s Iraq-Syria Military Strategy Amid Skepticism: Ed O'Keefe & Paul Kane, Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2014
Israeli Official: Syria Kept 'Significant' Chemical Weapons: Jerusalem Post, Sept. 18, 2014
Chlorine Used as Weapon in Syria War, Group Says: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, Sept. 10, 2014
Faith, Fanaticism and Fantasy in the Middle East: Clifford May, National Post, Sept. 18, 2014
Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent: George Friedman, Real Clear World, Aug. 26, 2014
Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17, 2014
American bombs aren't yet falling on Syria, but on Tuesday Chuck Hagel suggested they soon will. "This plan includes targeted actions against ISIL safe havens in Syria, including its command and control, logistics capabilities and infrastructure," the Secretary of Defense told the Senate. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, added that the attacks "will be persistent and sustainable." Let's hope so, because no campaign to destroy the Islamic State can succeed without waging a campaign on both sides of an Iraqi-Syrian border that the terrorist group long ago erased in the name of its caliphate. The Islamic State's capital is in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which it has held for over a year. It has recently scored major military victories against Bashar Assad's regime and moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), particularly in the embattled city of Aleppo.
Those ISIS victories are a reminder that time isn't on America's side in this fight, even as the Administration contemplates a long war. That's especially true if President Obama wants to avoid helping the Assad regime and its allies in Hezbollah and Iran. Mr. Obama is three years late in making a serious attempt to train and equip the FSA. Now that he's at last publicly promised U.S. support, he needs a military strategy that helps them win. Attacking the Islamic State advances that goal, and not only because of its military gains against the FSA. As the Journal reported Tuesday in an online video of life in Raqqa, the Islamic State rules in totalitarian fashion, complete with public crucifixions. The brutality has created conditions similar to those that preceded the Sunni Awakening in Iraq in 2007—the revolt by ordinary Sunnis and their tribal leaders in Anbar province against al Qaeda. The awakening would not have succeeded without the aid of U.S. forces, which were available in adequate numbers thanks to President Bush's surge. Nothing similar can happen now because of President Obama's short-sighted pledge to put no U.S. troops on the ground. But a devastating air campaign against the Islamic State might at least weaken the group sufficiently to embolden a revolt and send new recruits to the FSA. The model here is the air cover NATO gave to Kosovars as they fought Serbian aggressors in 1999 in the Balkans.
Defeating the Islamic State will also require attacks on the Assad regime. Sunnis will not support the campaign against Islamic State if they think our air strikes are intended to help the regime in Damascus and its Shiite allies in Beirut and Tehran. Assad had previously helped the Islamic State by releasing its fighters from his prisons and supplying it with oil in order to isolate the FSA and consolidate his political base among Syria's Alawites and Christians. Yet now he claims he is the only plausible alternative to the Islamic State. The U.S. will have to ensure that the Islamic State's losses benefit the FSA and not Assad. The best way to start would be for the U.S. to end the siege of Aleppo, where FSA forces are trapped both by the Islamic State and Assad's forces. Saving the city—Syria's largest—would end a humanitarian calamity and provide a major psychological boost to the FSA.
Sooner rather than later the U.S. will also have to do what Mr. Obama wanted to do a year ago and bomb Assad's airfields. His air force consists mainly of training aircraft dropping primitive—but devastating—munitions, some of them loaded with chlorine gas. Air power is one of his principle advantages over the FSA, and removing it would make Assad more likely to negotiate with the FSA rather than risk falling to Islamic State. Mr. Obama first promised to train and arm the FSA a year ago, but that effort was microscopic and half-hearted. That helps explain why neighboring Arab states like Jordan abandoned the effort or began aiding jihadist groups instead. They will help now only if they believe Mr. Obama is serious.
Some conservatives are criticizing any intervention in Syria, but House Speaker John Boehner is right to support Mr. Obama's funding requests, no matter GOP doubts about Mr. Obama's strategy and resolve. The Republicans who opposed Mr. Obama's short-living plan to intervene in Syria a year ago have been discredited by events. That walk-back gave Islamic State time to expand and take more territory. The political lesson is that the GOP should not be the midwife for Mr. Obama's weakness, much less as a pretext for his inaction. In foreign policy the best politics is to support the right policy. The U.S. is taking sides in Iraq and Syria against two entrenched enemies of American interests. Our key allies are the Kurds, the parts of the Iraqi military that aren't dominated by Iran's militia, and the moderate Sunnis in Syria and Iraq. They must win on the ground to defeat ISIS. Early action in Syria might have spared us this predicament, but that's all the more reason to act decisively now.
David P. Goldman
PJ Media, Sept. 8, 2014
There are always lunatics lurking in the crevices of Muslim politics prepared to proclaim a new caliphate; there isn’t always a recruiting pool in the form of nearly 14 million displaced people (11 million Syrians, or half the country’s population, and 2.8 million Iraqis, or a tenth of the country’s population). When I wrote about the region’s refugee disaster at Tablet in July (“Between the Settlers and Unsettlers, the One State Solution is On Our Doorstep“) the going estimate was only 10 million. A new UN study, though, claims that half of Syrians are displaced. Many of them will have nothing to go back to. When people have nothing to lose, they fight to the death and inflict horrors on others. That is what civilizational decline looks like in real time. The roots of the crisis were visible four years ago before the so-called Arab Spring beguiled the foreign policy wonks. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian farmers already were living in tent camps around Syrian cities before the Syrian civil war began in April 2011. Israeli analysts knew this. In March 2011 Paul Rivlin of Tel Aviv University released a study of the collapse of Syrian agriculture, widely cited in Arab media but unmentioned in the English language press (except my essay on the topic). Most of what passes for political science treats peoples and politicians as if they were so many pieces on a fixed game board. This time the game board is shrinking and the pieces are falling off.
The Arab states are failed states, except for the few with enough hydrocarbons to subsidize every facet of economic life. Egypt lives on a$15 billion annual subsidy from the Gulf states and, if that persists, will remain stable if not quite prosperous. Syria is a ruin, along with large parts of Iraq. The lives of tens of millions of people were fragile before the fighting broke out (30% of Syrians lived on less than $1.60 a day), and now they are utterly ruined. The hordes of combatants displace more people, and these join the hordes, in a snowball effect. That’s what drove the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648, and that’s what’s driving the war in the Levant. When I wrote in 2011 that Islam was dying, this was precisely what I forecast. You can’t unscramble this egg. The international organizations, Bill Clinton, George Soros and other people of that ilk will draw up plans, propose funding, hold conferences and publish studies, to no avail. The raw despair of millions of people ripped out of the cocoon of traditional society, bereft of ties of kinship and custom, will feed the meatgrinder. Terrorist organizations that were hitherto less flamboyant (“moderate” is a misdesignation), e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood (and its Palestine branch Hamas), will compete with the caliphate for the loyalties of enraged young people. The delusion about Muslim democracy that afflicted utopians of both parties is now inoperative. War will end when the pool of prospective fighters has been exhausted. That is also why ISIS is overrated. A terrorist organization that beheads Americans and posts the video needs to be annihilated, but it is not particularly difficult. The late Sam Kinison’s monologue on world hunger is to the point: they live in a desert. They may be hard to flush out of towns they occupy, but they cannot move from one town to another in open ground if warplanes are hunting them. That is what America and its allies should do.
More dangerous is Iran, as Henry Kissinger emphasized in a recent interview with National Public Radio. Iran’s backing for the Assad regime’s ethnic cleansing of Syrian Sunnis set the refugee crisis in motion, while the Iraqi Shi’ites’ alliance with Iran persuaded elements of Saddam Hussein’s military to fight for ISIS. Iran can make nuclear weapons and missiles; ISIS cannot. If we had had the foresight to neutralize Iran years ago, the crisis could have been managed without the unspeakable humanitarian cost. We cannot do the killing ourselves, except, of course, from the air. We are too squeamish under the best of circumstances, and we are too corrupted by cultural relativism (remember George W. Bush’s claim that Islam is “a religion of peace”?) to recognize utterly evil nihilism when it stares us in the face. In practice, a great deal of the killing will be done by Iran and its allies: the Iraqi Shi’a, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Assad regime in Syria. It will be one of the most disgusting and disheartening episodes in modern history and there isn’t much we can do to prevent it.
Wall Street Journal, Aug. 22, 2014
The Islamic State, which metastasized from a group of militants seeking to overthrow the Syrian government into a marauding army gobbling up chunks of the Middle East, gained momentum early on from a calculated decision by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go easy on it, according to people close to the regime. Earlier in the three-year-old Syrian uprising, Mr. Assad decided to mostly avoid fighting the Islamic State to enable it to cannibalize the more secular rebel group supported by the West, the Free Syrian Army, said Izzat Shahbandar, an Assad ally and former Iraqi lawmaker who was Baghdad's liaison to Damascus. The goal, he said, was to force the world to choose between the regime and extremists. "When the Syrian army is not fighting the Islamic State, this makes the group stronger," said Mr. Shahbandar, a close aide to former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said Mr. Assad described the strategy to him personally during a visit in May to Damascus. "And sometimes, the army gives them a safe path to allow the Islamic State to attack the FSA and seize their weapons." "It's a strategy to eliminate the FSA and have the two main players face each other in Syria: Assad and the Islamic State," said Mr. Shahbandar. "And now [Damascus] is asking the world to help, and the world can't say no."
The Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, has emerged recently as a major threat to the entire region and beyond. Its seizure of territory in neighboring Iraq triggered American airstrikes, and its execution this week of kidnapped American journalist James Foley prompted President Barack Obama to vow to continue the U.S. air war against the group in Iraq and to relentlessly pursue the killers. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the group can't be defeated without choking off its operations in Syria. This account of how the Islamic State benefited from the complex three-way civil war in Syria between the government, the largely secular, moderate rebels and the hard-core Islamist groups was pieced together from interviews with Syrian rebel commanders and opposition figures, Iraqi government officials and Western diplomats, as well as al Qaeda documents seized by the U.S. military in Iraq.
The Assad regime now appears to be shifting away from its early reluctance to engage the group. In June, Syria launched airstrikes on the group's headquarters in Raqqa in northern Syria, the first large-scale offensive against the militant group since it rose to power a year ago. This week, Syria flew more than three dozen sorties on Raqqa, its biggest assault on the group yet. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, denied that Damascus supported the Islamic State early on and praised his government's battlefield response to the group, pointing to dozens of recent strikes on the group's headquarters. "Our priorities changed as these groups emerged," Mr. Ali said in an interview at his office. "Last month it was protecting Damascus, for example. Today it is Raqqa." Speaking of the Islamic State aggression that has decimated the more secular FSA, he said: "When these groups clashed, the Syrian government benefited. When you have so many enemies and they clash with each other, you must take advantage of it. You step back, see who is left and finish them off."
Mr. Shahbandar said the Islamic State's recent success forced the Syrian government and its Iranian allies to ramp up their military assaults, hoping the West will throw its weight behind Damascus and Tehran to defeat the extremists. Such cooperation would put the U.S. and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia in an uncomfortable position, after years of supporting the FSA and demanding that Mr. Assad step down. There are some signs that the opposing sides might be willing to work together. In Iraq, the U.S. began arming Kurdish Peshmerga forces this month, while the Iranians sent advisers. The Syrian government facilitated the predecessor to the Islamic State—al Qaeda in Iraq—when that group's primary target was U.S. troops then in the country.
In 2007, U.S. military forces raided an al Qaeda training camp in Sinjar, northern Iraq. They uncovered a trove of documents outlining Damascus's support to the extremists, according to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which publicly released the records. The Sinjar records detailed the flow of extremists from across the Middle East to the Damascus airport. Syrian intelligence agents detained the fighters as they landed in the capital, holding them at the Sadnaya military prison on the city's outskirts. If deemed a threat to the country, they would remain imprisoned, the records indicate. But if their intentions were solely to fight U.S. troops in Iraq, Syrian intelligence would facilitate their flow across the border, the records show. Making that journey were many Saudis and Libyans—the same nationalities that today bolster the ranks of the Islamic State. Mr. Maliki's former spokesman, Ali Aldabbagh, said in an interview that he attended heated meetings in Damascus during which Baghdad asked Mr. Assad to stop the flow of al Qaeda militants across the border. He said Syria brushed off the requests. "The Assad regime played a key role in ISIL's rise," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf at a news conference earlier this month. "They allowed for a security situation where ISIL could grow in strength. The Syrian regime fostered the growth of terrorist networks. They facilitated the flow of al Qaeda foreign fighters in…Iraq." The Assad regime denies providing any support to the groups.
By the time the U.S. military withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, the militant group was nearly decimated. It regrouped in northeast Syria as the revolution was becoming a civil war. It was led by a charismatic figure from Samarra, Iraq, who goes by the name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In May 2011, after the first protests broke out in Syria, the Syrian government released from the Sadnaya military prison some of its most high-value detainees imprisoned for terrorism, the first in a series of general amnesties. At least nine went on to lead extremist groups in Syria, and four currently serve the Islamic State, statements from the extremist groups and interviews with other rebels show. Mr. Ali, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, said Damascus had released only common criminals in the amnesties, who were then offered money by extremist groups to fight against the government. "When Syria released these people, they hadn't committed terrorist crimes," he said. "They were just criminals. In 2011, there were calls for freedom and accusations that Damascus was imprisoning people, so we hosted several amnesties [to demonstrate] our goodwill."
Bassam Barabandi, a diplomat in Syria's foreign ministry at the time who has since defected, offered a different explanation. "The fear of a continued, peaceful revolution is why these Islamists were released," he said. "The reasoning behind the jihadists, for Assad and the regime, is that they are the alternative to the peaceful revolution. They are organized with the doctrine of jihad and the West is afraid of them."…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—ED.]
Foreign Policy, Aug. 21, 2014
Every time I see President Barack Obama speak on television, I have horrible flashbacks. My eyes are burning, I struggle to breathe, and when I inhale, the air stabs my lungs like a thousand daggers. A young child lies glassy-eyed in my arms, I load him into a truck, and then the world turns sideways and goes black.
Then, someone is shaking me, kissing me, crying over me. Suddenly, the world comes back into focus, and I see my friend, shouting: "You're alive! You're alive!" I am a survivor of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons attacks of Aug. 21, 2013. One year ago today, my heart stopped for 30 minutes after I inhaled nerve gas launched by Assad regime forces on my hometown of Moadamiya, a suburb of Damascus. The scene outside my front porch that morning was like something from Judgment Day: Neighbors I had known my whole life were running, screaming, and writhing in agony as an invisible killer claimed their lives.
Today, a year later, I remember my dear friends with sadness, knowing that the man who killed them was spared punishment for the atrocity he committed that day. But the worst sadness of my life did not come the day my friends died. It came three weeks later, while watching a livestream of President Obama. I learned from that speech that the United States would make a deal with Russia to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, instead of striking at Assad for his atrocities. I had to translate this news into Arabic for my friends — we cried harder than we had on Aug. 21, because we knew that Assad now had a green light to kill all the Syrians he wanted, so long as he did not use sarin gas. The past year has played out as I feared. Assad may have relinquished most of his sarin gas, but he has also found a new weapon to replace it, which also kills invisibly on a massive scale. Americans might recognize this weapon because fanatics from the self-styled "Islamic State" recently used it to kill Yazidis on Mount Sinjar. That weapon is starvation. Over the past year, Assad has killed hundreds of civilians in rebel-held areas across the country by denying them food, water, or medicine until they succumb to starvation. As with the Islamic State's pretend "caliph," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Assad's only goal with starvation is to inflict unbelievable pain and suffering on innocents until they assent to his bloody rule.
In my hometown, there are few extremists. Emissaries from al Qaeda who came to our town to scout for recruits left Moadamiya after concluding in one day that we were "apostates." We are locals fighting for democracy in Moadamiya — and for this reason, Assad is slowly starving us to death. I was in Moadamiya until February, and I saw the full impact of Assad's "starve and surrender" weapon myself. In October 2012, Assad's forces commenced a total siege on Moadamiya, blocking all food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies from entering the town. While we initially found sustenance from a bumper crop of olives, food began to run out as winter set in, and residents were reduced to eating weeds and stray animals. Once more, I held infants in my arms as they lay glassy-eyed and dying, this time from malnutrition. I consoled parents on the deaths of their young children — such as my friend Abu Bilal, who was a grocer before the siege but could not even save his own daughter during it. Another friend of mine was desperate to get medicine for his dying daughter, but was caught by regime intelligence. We found him with his throat slashed and the skin peeled off his entire body. These are daily realities for tens of thousands of Syrians. Entire towns are slowly dying of starvation, and the U.S.-Russian chemical weapons deal made it possible. I know that the United States can save my friends and family in Moadamiya, just as it saved the poor Yazidis on Mount Sinjar.
Obama recently dismissed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as "former doctors, farmers, [and] pharmacists," incapable of fighting Assad and the Islamic State at the same time. I know the FSA fighters in my hometown, and the president couldn't be more wrong to write them off: Before I blacked out a year ago today, I watched with my own eyes as they repelled a massive attack by Assad troops in full chemical gear. The "farmers and pharmacists" of the Free Syrian Army have defended Moadamiya from everything Assad has thrown at them, and they deserve America's support. Last November, I initiated an indefinite hunger strike to draw attention to the horrific daily realities in my hometown. The hunger strike garnered international attention, and Congressman Keith Ellison even fasted for a day in solidarity. But it also drew the attention of regime authorities, who began to seek ways to kill me. With death possibly just around the corner, I entered into "negotiations" with the regime and managed to trick Ghassan Bilal — the chief of staff for Maher al-Assad, Bashar's brother and feared enforcer — into thinking that I was ready to work with him. This allowed me to escape to Lebanon, and from there to Turkey, before I finally found refuge in the United States.
Since coming to the United States, I have been shocked at how little citizens of the world's most powerful nation discuss global affairs. But I have also been pleasantly surprised by Americans' generosity and love of liberty. I see statues all over Washington celebrating the American Revolution — a revolution that could not have happened without the many farmers and doctors who took up arms. I am confident that, once Americans realize what is happening in Syria, they will come to the aid of the Syrian "farmers and pharmacists" who power our revolution as well. Obama must realize that we are fighting for our liberty, and that his inaction while we are being slaughtered will go down in history as a moral stain on his presidency.
House Approves Obama’s Iraq-Syria Military Strategy Amid Skepticism: Ed O'Keefe & Paul Kane, Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2014—The House on Wednesday approved President Obama’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to counter the growing threat of the Islamic State organization, even though lawmakers in both parties remain deeply skeptical about its chances for success.
Israeli Official: Syria Kept 'Significant' Chemical Weapons: Jerusalem Post, Sept. 18, 2014 —Israel believes Syria has retained caches of combat-ready chemical weapons after giving up raw materials used to produce such munitions under pressure from foreign powers, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.
Chlorine Used as Weapon in Syria War, Group Says: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, Sept. 10, 2014—A toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used as a weapon to attack Syrian villages in April, an international watchdog agency confirmed on Wednesday.
Faith, Fanaticism and Fantasy in the Middle East: Clifford May, National Post, Sept. 18, 2014 —“God created war,” theorized Mark Twain, “so that Americans would learn geography.” That’s as true today as it was two centuries ago. How many of us would be able to find Yemen, Somalia and Mali on a map if not for the conflicts raging in those lands?
Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent: George Friedman, Real Clear World, Aug. 26, 2014—Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
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