Day: October 13, 2017

What to do in Syria now

Ibrahim al Assil, a founder of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement, a fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and a nonresident fellow at the Orient Research Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, wrote a notable op/ed for the Washington Post this week. Here is his email teaser, which he has kindly given me permission to publish: 

Syria entered a new reality in the last few months. However, there are significant misconceptions that can alter the future of Syria if not taken into consideration. I’m writing to share my piece for the Washington Post today, titled Syria’s civil war is a long way from over — and here’s why that’s important. I discuss the ideas below:

– Assad has not yet won. What he has done is to prevent anyone else from winning.

– Syria can’t be stabilized under Assad’s leadership. The conflict will erupt again unless a political settlement is achieved.

– Aid to Syria should be sent directly to local communities and those who are in need. This will prevent Assad from weaponizing the aid, and it will ensure that the aid actually reaches the people who need it most.

– The military campaign is not enough to defeat ISIS. Without addressing the root causes that brought about the rise of the terrorist movement, any “defeat” is only short-term. The US should help stabilize those areas and support the civil society and local governance initiatives.

– The US and the EU should help Syrians start to rebuild their communities after ISIS while preventing Assad from cashing in on his Pyrrhic victory.

This to me makes a lot of good sense. It also runs contrary to US inclinations. President Trump has made it clear he wants to defeat ISIS militarily and get out, without taking any responsibility for the state-building required to prevent it from returning. 

Self-defeating would be my term for that approach: it would allow Assad to attempt to retake, with help from his Russian and Iranian allies, those areas in the north, east, and south that are still out of his control, it would allow the Turks to attack the Kurds who have been vital to America’s success against ISIS, it would virtually ensure the reignition of a rebellion against Assad’s heavy-handedness. 

Protecting the remaining opposition-controlled areas and enabling them to govern inclusively and effectively would, by contrast, illustrate to Syrians a realistic political alternative, counter the Iranian expansionism, and help to prevent a return of jihadi extremism. Too sensible by half for Trump, but a real option the US could be contemplating. 

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It’s Friday the 13th

The week has already been tumultuous. President Trump has

  • dissed Puerto Rico by suggesting it is not worthy of the Federal assistance Texas and Florida are still getting,
  • thrown the talks about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement into chaos that threatens to cause their collapse,
  • decided to withdraw the US from UNESCO because we owe the organization millions while demonstrating that he does not believe in the First Amendment commitment to press freedom that is a pillar of the organization,
  • continued to threaten to decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal while the rest of the world and his principal advisers have concluded that Tehran has met its obligations,
  • issued an executive order designed to further undermine the affordability of health insurance for those Americans who need it the most,
  • gotten into a spat with NATO ally Turkey that has eliminated visas for Turks to come to the US and Americans to go to Turkey, and
  • prompted the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to suggest, believably, that the White House is an adult day care center without proper supervision.

Even for Trump, this is an unusual amount of unmotivated and unjustified chaos. No American administration can manage this level of random acts of spite and provocation.

A few Democrats in the House have started to think about articles of impeachment, but that is the least of Trump’s worries right now. No Republicans have demonstrated any real interest in impeachment, or even in supporting a 25th Amendment challenge to Trump’s ability to perform the functions of his office. They are simply too frightened of sinking their own boats along with his.

The world is showing a good deal of maturity in dealing with the madness in Washington. Even Kim Jung-un for now appears ready to stop at childish name calling. The Iranians have indicated they will retaliate against the US if the President decertifies their compliance. But at the same time they appear ready to maintain the nuclear deal with the Europeans. That is smart: it will wean Europe from support for the US and weaken America in its efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, making it harder once the Iran nuclear deal gets ready to expire to extend its terms.

I can’t really think of a lot more things Trump can do to weaken the US, but I’m sure he can. We are all waiting for his noon-time speech on Iran, which will enumerate a long list of its sins, but so far in the White House public affairs preparations there is no sign of anything more substantial. Trump is mostly bark and little bite. But a dog who barks enough will lose a lot of friends.

It’s Friday the 13th, but unlikely to be much worse than the days that immediately preceded it.


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