Peace picks September 26-30

  1. The Role of Law in the Fight Against International Terrorism |Monday, September 26 | 8:30am – 4:30pm | George Washington Law | Click HERE to register
    Join GW Law’s International and Comparative Law Program, American Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (AFHU), Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Law (HU Law), and Minerva Center for Human Rights (HU Minerva) as they examine issues arising from the changing nature of terrorist acts. Alberto Mora, former General Counsel of the US Navy and the recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, will present the opening address. The luncheon address will be presented by Michael Chertoff, former US Secretary of Homeland Security.
  2. After Mosul: Rethinking Iraq | Monday, September 26 | 11:00am – 12:30pm | Woodrow Wilson Center | Click HERE to Register
    ISIS has occupied Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, since the early days of June 2014. The victory in Mosul was both symbolically and materially very significant for ISIS. The group not only obtained large caches of military equipment from a defeated Iraqi army, but occupying such a large city made it a visible contender for power in the region. Now the Iraqi army, with the help of the United States and others including the Kurdish peshmerga, is getting ready to recapture the city. This panel will explore the impact of ISIS’s occupation of the city on its inhabitants, what the recapture of the city will mean for Iraq, and the city’s future relations with the rest of Iraq. Featuring Amatzia Baram, Professor emeritus for Middle East history and director of the Center for Iraq Studies, University of Haifa, and former public policy scholar, Wilson Center, Abbas Kadhim, Senior Foreign Policy Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS-Johns Hopkins University, and President, Institute of Shia Studies, and Wladimir van Wilgenburg, Middle East Analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, Judith Yaphe, Adjunct professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University.
  3. When Should the U.S. Use Force Abroad? | Monday, September 26 | 11:45am – 2:00pm | American Foreign Policy Council | Click HERE to Register

    Debate Panel I
    : What lessons should we learn from America’s use of force in Iraq and how should those lessons inform future decisions on future military missions abroad? Speakers: Phil Giraldi, PhD., former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer, and current Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, Michael Doran, PhD. previously senior director in the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, and currently a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. Debate Panel II:  This panel will review the major uses of force since Viet Nam. Panelists will discuss a) when military force is justified and the arguments against its use ; b)  multilateralism; c) the views of the American public, and d) the War Powers Resolution and the role of Congress in authorizing the use of military force. Speakers: Jeffrey Bergner, PhD. former Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs (2005-2008) and former staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Sen. Lugar R-IN), Gerry Warburg, former House and Senate Democratic leadership aide on defense, intelligence and foreign policy, and current professor at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.
  4. A Vision for the Future of Syria | Tuesday, September 27 | 11:15am – 12:30pm | Atlantic Council | Click HERE to Register
    Prime Minister Riad al-Hijab and the Syrian High Negotiations Commission (HNC), an umbrella organization for the Syrian opposition, released its vision for the future of Syria in London on September 7, 2016. This framework detailed three phases consistent with the 2012 Geneva Communiqué: negotiations initiated with a nationwide ceasefire and release of prisoners, a transitional period for rebuilding institutions, and a third phase welcomed by free elections for a new president.
    Weeks after this announcement, Syria is experiencing an incomplete, fragile, and faltering reduction of violence facilitated by Washington and Moscow. Nonetheless, a path toward negotiations and other key components of the HNC vision remain elusive, and the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in question.
    Please join us on September 27 for a discussion with Prime Minister Riad al-Hijab to discuss these and other issues. Dr. Hijab will detail the HNC framework for transition in Syria, after which Hariri Center Director Ambassador will moderate a discussion on the vision’s receptivity and the challenges to its implementation.
  5. Civil Society in Eastern Europe and Eurasia: Thriving or Just Surviving? | Tuesday, September 27 | 9:30am -11:00am | Woodrow Wilson Center | Click Here to Register
    Is the trend to restrict civil society, visible in Russia and neighboring countries, getting worse?  In some of the countries of the former communist world, it has become more difficult for civil society to operate freely, while in others, civil society plays a strong role promoting reform and responding to regional challenges. These are just some of the divergent trends identified in USAID’s 2015 Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index(CSOSI), which assesses the health of the civil society sector against key indicators in 24 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia.
    Practitioners and scholars will discuss these trends, what it means for civil society leaders and activists in these countries, and what can be done to put civil society in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia on a more secure and sustainable path.
  6. 7th Annual Turkey Conference | Friday, September 30 | 9:00am – 4:00pm | Middle East Institute | Click HERE to RegisterThe Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute is pleased to present the 7th Annual Conference on Turkey on Friday, September 30, 2016. The conference will assemble three expert panels to discuss the impact of the recent coup attempt on Turkey’s internal political-military dynamics as well as the country’s relations with its Western allies and regional partners. Register now to attend three expert panel discussions on these and other issues facing Ankara. Registration is free and open to the public. Additional panelists and moderators to be announced.


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The epitome of resolve

AP has published the Syria cease-fire deal that the US government refused to make public. It is instructive, even though the cessation of hostilities is in tatters as Russian and Syrian government forces have launched major attacks focused on Aleppo.

The deal was more or less as anticipated and described in the press: it entailed an effort to stabilize at least parts of Syria by ending attacks on non-extremist forces, thus permitting them to receive humanitarian assistance. Had this happened as agreed for a week, the US and Russia would have jointly targeted extremist forces (ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra and others) while the Syrian air force would have stood down from attacks in designated areas.

Special provisions would have allowed relief to arrive from Turkey to Aleppo in sealed trucks. Checkpoints on the Castello Road north of Aleppo were to be monitored initially by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and later by the UN. The area near the road was to be demilitarized, with both government and opposition forces pulling back. Syrians were supposed to be allowed to leave Aleppo, including fighters with weapons. At least one other route was to be opened into Aleppo.

The joint Russian/American military action against extremists depended on the delineation of areas controlled by Nusra and opposition groups, starting right away but more “comprehensively” once the joint implementation center responsible for coordinating attacks on extremists was established. The Russians have been claiming that the Americans failed to fulfill their commitment to delineation, which also requires separation of more moderate forces from the extremists.

Why hasn’t it worked?

Some blame the failure on a lack of monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. To be sure, this is a complicated agreement with many moving parts that might have been marginally more successful had there been some sort of third-party monitoring.

But fundamentally it hasn’t worked because the parties haven’t really wanted it to or don’t have the leverage required. The Syrian government has the military advantage around Aleppo and wants to finish off the opposition that has controlled parts of the city for years. The Russians, having doubled down on their support for Bashar al Assad, are in no position to undermine their surrogate. The Americans have not provided sufficient support to the opposition to wean it from the extremists, who provide a good deal of the tooth in fighting against the regime.

Secretary of State Kerry is still trying to revive the cessation of hostilities. Foreign Policy has classified this as the textbook definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. But Kerry isn’t nuts. His problem is President Obama, who thinks there is nothing he can do that will improve the situation.

My Republican colleagues see this as a failure of resolve. I don’t. All American presidents since the fall of the Berlin Wall have resisted interventions. All eventually undertook one or more, against their better judgment at the outset. What distinguishes Obama is that he is more resolved, not less. But he is resolved to avoid the slippery slope to “owning” Syria, whereas his critiques wish he would start down it. This is the epitome of resolve, not its failure. Remember: this is a man with two teenage daughters who has spent almost eight years in the White House without a whiff of scandal.

I believe there are still things the President can consider doing about Syria: expanded sanctions, stand-off attacks on helicopters that drop barrel bombs or Syrian aircraft that violate the cessation of hostilities, an ultimatum to get Hizbollah and other Iranian surrogates out of Syria, non-declared attacks on Syrian government command and control. Without these alternatives, Secretary Kerry will not be able to deliver the negotiated political solution that is his avowed goal.

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Reconciliation Syrian style

At a roundtable discussion in Washington DC earlier this week, knowledgeable people discussed the local reconciliation and evacuation strategies applied to besieged areas of Syria, including the recent evacuation of the Damascene suburb of Darayya.

On August 28, the Syrian government took full control over Darayya following negotiations with the Darayya Reconciliation Committee and evacuated its civilian population to makeshift centers in Damascus and its fighters to Idlib in northern Syria. This manner of ‘reconciliation’ with Damascus has occurred in a number of cities and towns in Syria. The government uses this approach to establish its authority in opposition held areas.

The process is essentially a negotiation between the Syrian government and an appointed body within the besieged area called the reconciliation committee and composed of local elites. Often local Sharia courts or local councils are repurposed to serve as reconciliation committees. The committee negotiates with the government on behalf of the area that it represents. So long as the reconciliation process is occurring, the Syrian government will provide supplies and minimal services to civilians in the besieged area.

By sending convoys of food and other supplies to the besieged areas, the Syrian government effectively prevents local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from providing substantial humanitarian aid to these areas. If local NGOs, which are usually backed by international NGOs, do provide aid and services, Damascus considers it a violation of the reconciliation process and will cease negotiations and recommence airstrikes. Thus, local NGOs are unable to carry out their missions and often lose the support of the international NGOs as a result.

Once an agreement is reached, the government will transfer all the “unreconciliables” in the area out to either Idlib or Damascus.  These unreconciliables usually consist of fighters, humanitarian workers and political activists, though in the case of Darayya the entire population was transferred. This practice of population transfer allows opposition fighters who were fighting losing battles to move north where they can join the fight for Aleppo, one of the most hotly contested areas in Syria.

While it appears that Damascus has the upper hand in these negotiations, the besieged communities hold considerable leverage. The Syrian army has a manpower problem. An effective siege requires a significant number of troops. The longer the besieged area can hold out, the weaker the army will get. Additionally, areas are often targeted because they hold a strategic resource or infrastructure that the government desires. The reconciliation council can leverage that resource to get a better deal out of the negotiations.

An analyst recommended that local NGOs should consider embedding in existing bodies (such as a religious charity or a local business) in order to operate in besieged areas. He also recommended that when considering how to assist besieged areas, we shouldn’t only look at whether the people in these areas are having their day-to-day needs met, but also whether they can sustainably provide for themselves once the government convoys stop coming.

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Hidden heroes

Middle East Institute summer interns put this together:

Have faith! There is middle ground.

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Possible responses

The Syrian government side ended the still-born ceasefire the Russians and Americans initiated last week with a bang: a double tap attack on a Syrian government-approved aid convoy, destroying half the trucks involved and killing at least a dozen aid workers, including Syrian Red Crescent leaders. We can hope the Russians were not responsible. This is more likely Bashar al Assad’s intentional response to the Coalition attack on Syrian forces near Deir Azzour that mistakenly killed several dozen Syrian troops. According to the Americans, they had informed Russian counterparts in advance of that target and received no objections until after the fact.

Double tap attacks are not accidental but are intended to kill rescue workers when they rush to the site of a previous attack. The State Department spokesperson expressed outrage. That is not enough. An attack of this sort is intended to send a message: Bashar is saying that he is prepared to do anything, even prevent relief supplies from being delivered and kill Syrian Red Crescent workers, to regain control of Aleppo, where the supplies were headed. The eastern quarters of the city, which the opposition controls, are under massive bombardment.

The message back so far is that Washington will do nothing to respond. Moscow, so outraged by the attack on Syrian forces near Deir Azzour that it called a special UN Security Council meeting Saturday night, has said nothing about the attack on the aid convoy. Secretary Kerry is saying that the ceasefire agreement now widely violated is with Russia, not Syria, so he is holding Moscow, not Damascus, responsible for getting it back on track.

It isn’t going there unless Washington decides to up the ante. What can it do?

The most obvious response would be to destroy (on the ground) the planes that attacked the UN convoy or the helicopters that subsequently dropped dozens of barrel bombs on eastern Aleppo. This would not require putting US aircraft at risk. It can be done with cruise missiles and need not be acknowledged. The President would need to sign a covert action finding, thus avoiding reliance on the existing Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that applies only to Al Qaeda and its derivatives. The problem with this idea is that the Syrians and Russians may escalate further in response, attacking non-extremist opposition forces and possibly even US special forces on the ground inside Syria.

On the diplomatic side, the US should be calling for a meeting of the UN Security Council to underline that this incident is at least as bad (in fact far worse, since it was an intentional attack on unarmed civilians with authorization to do what they were doing) as what happened at Deir Azzour. Just asking Moscow to get Damascus back into line with the ceasefire is clearly a non-starter. Quick passage and signature of additional sanctions (already pending in Congress, but delayed last week at White House request) on the Syrian government would be likely to generate a better response.

The International Syria Support Group met this morning in New York and may meet again this week. But it is hard to see how that group can do much more than encourage Syria and Russia to renew the ceasefire. That would not be an adequate response.

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New nadir

The extraordinary exchange of charges and countercharges between US UN Ambassador Samantha Power and Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin Saturday night put in doubt both the wisdom and practicality of implementing the still unpublished agreement their two foreign ministers have reached on cooperating against extremist forces in Syria.

Visibly angry Power denounced the Russians for calling an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to protest an apparent US mistake while having continually ignored Syrian military and Russian air force attacks on schools, hospitals, and civilians:

A calmer Churkin suggested that the US action was intentional and intended to protect the Islamic State:

Churkin ignored the US CentCom statementwhich said that the strike in question was informed to the Russians in advance. Power and Churkin each walked out of the Security Council while the other was speaking.

In the meanwhile, humanitarian aid deliveries from Turkey to Aleppo appear not to have begun, because of Syrian government refusal to issue the necessary permits.

All this bodes ill for the latest effort to restore the ceasefire in Syria and start coordinated US/Russian attacks on extremists. No doubt Secretary Kerry–who has said he has no alternatives–will try at the UN this week to revive the ceasefire he negotiated so tenaciously, but I see little indication it will work for more than a short period. The Russians and Syrian government are already back to indiscriminate (or maybe it is discriminate?) bombing of civilians, including with anti-personnel weapons.

There have been many low points in Syria during the past 5.5 years, but we may have reached a new nadir.

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