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.
Pantelis Ikonomou, a former IAEA safeguards inspector, writes:
The nuclear threat is at a historical high. The North Korean crisis and US President Trump’s intention to decertify the Iran Nuclear deal are the tip of the iceberg.
Neither the Treaty on Non Proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT), nor the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its safeguards inspectorate nor numerous United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions could stop the world’s nuclear race in recent decades. The number of countries possessing nuclear weapons (NW) increased from five, which are the recognized nuclear weapon states and permanent members of the UNSC, to allegedly nine.
While the rationale for developing and deploying of NW has always been national security through deterrence, hence war prevention, the prospects for maintaining global peace are thinner than ever before.
Just to mention some of the risk factors related to the major nuclear threat:
- There are currently about 15,000 nuclear warheads in the arsenals of 9 countries (about 14,000 of them possessed by Russia and the US), capable of devastating our globe many times. Additionally, the nuclear material stored under various security conditions in civil and military facilities around the world is estimated to be sufficient to produce 240,000 nuclear devices. As of end 2016, about 204,000 of these are under IAEA safeguards.
- The NPT is not applied universally. Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not parties to the treaty, thus not legally obliged to its restrictions.
- The majority of states in the international community are disappointed in NW states for not fulfilling their NPT commitments on nuclear disarmament (NPT Art. VI)
- The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the continuing North Korean crisis, and the up to 15 years limited Iran deal have revealed glaring non-proliferation shortcomings.
- The failure of the 2015 NPT Review Conference in New York indicated clearly the international community’s distrust in a fair (without double standards) enforcement of international nuclear law.
- In July 2017 the UN General Assembly adopted by a vast majority a NW Ban Treaty. It is a legally binding instrument towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons that will enter into force after 50 signatures and ratifications.
- The 2017 Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to ICAN, a worldwide coalition of NGOs campaigning against NW. Notably, the same award was given in 2005 to the IAEA’s staff and Director General, basically for the Agency’s unbiased and courageous statements failed to deter the invasion of Iraq.
In such an adverse nuclear climate there are two leaders with a finger on the button, Kim Yong-un and Donald Trump, who according to prevailing assessments have dubious nuclear decision capability. This is the fact that creates the highest current risk of major nuclear threat.
Regarding the tough responsibilities of a US president to decide on pushing the nuclear button in a matter of minutes, with no checks and balances by Congress or anyone else, Bob Woodward recalls (The Washington Post, 12 Nov 2016): «In 2008, after then-President-elect Obama was given one sensitive intelligence briefing at a secure facility in Chicago he joked, “It’s good that there are bars on the windows here because if there weren’t, I might be jumping out.”
A historic period not only for US contemporary politics but for the direction of global developments might prove to be the period 15 October to 15 December 2017. President Trump will apparently submit in the next few days to Congress for approval his decision to decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal. Congress will either approve it or send it back with no action, for the president to implement, or not.
A unilateral decision to scrap the deal would mean that the US would not keep its commitments under an agreement reached not only with Iran but with China, Russia, UK, France and Germany and finally adopted by the EU and endorsed by the UNSC Resolution 2231 on 20 July 2015. Moreover, decertifying the Iran deal will mean that the US disrespects and disagrees with the assessments of the responsible UN organization, the IAEA, that Iran is in compliance with the agreement since implementation day 16 January 2016.
Such a decision will open Pandora’s box. Some negative consequences are obvious. It will cloud Iran’s nuclear and political future, worsen the North Korea crisis, degrade political and economic relations of the US with the other five agreement parties and the EU, and increase the international community’s distrust of the UN system, international law, and justice. It will also severely damage the authority of the world’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.
Mitigation and finally elimination of the highest risk factor related to the current major nuclear threat is the topmost task in any comprehensive nuclear security plan. It is therefore now a chief challenge to get the US to preserve global peace, in accordance with its leadership responsibilities.
It can be problematic to take the “Middle East” as a single entity–to speak of it generally risks ignoring nuances and dangerously simplifies conversations and engagements with the region. At the Brookings Institution’s “Middle East Crises and Conflicts – The Way Ahead” event, however, John R. Allen of the Brookings Institution argued that one of the United States government’s flaws was its divided outlook toward the region, seeing the countries in it as “separated blocks” rather than parts of a larger, interrelated region. Finding a balance between examining the region’s countries separately and seeing them as part of a whole is what Allen, Mara Karlin, Daniel Byman, and Federica Saini Fasanotti, all experts at the Brookings Institution, made an effort to do on Thursday, October 5. The panel was moderated by Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon.
Karlin gave an overview of the situation in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, a victory over ISIS would result in political reconciliation and stabilization. Iraq would go through reconstruction, a main component of which would be the return of the country’s refugees. Not included in this vision of Iraq’s future are the Kurds, who, envision a separate future for themselves, as expressed in the Kurdish referendum of September. The formation of an independent Kurdistan, however, would bring its own set of challenges, as it would be landlocked and surrounded by hostile neighboring countries.
While Karlin’s assessment of Iraq contained some hope, her assessment of Syria was grim, as she labeled it a “humanitarian catastrophe” even if the conflict seems to be nearing an end in which the Assad regime regains control over the majority of the country. Although he seems to have an advantage, Allen contended that Assad will not win, attributing Assad’s advantage to several factors. One was the disconnect between US strategy to defeat ISIS and its anti-Assad stance, which would have attracted more Syrian support but remains no more than a “policy aspiration.” Another shortcoming on the part of the US was its delayed support to the Free Syrian Army and Syrian Defense Force, as well as its failure to act upon its “red line” threats in 2013.
Shifting the focus away from the US, Allen said that the Gulf states have also been creating obstacles in Syria, as they are supporting opposing militias. Karlin agreed that certain events had made it more difficult for the opposition to succeed, citing the US response to the war in Libya and its failure to design a response that would be appropriate for the Syrian context. Karlin disagreed with Allen, however, in that she maintained that a victory for Assad seems realistic and upcoming.
Saini Fasanotti spoke about the numerous dimensions that characterize Libya’s present situation. The international community’s recent actions, including the appointment of Lebanese Ghassan Salame as the new UN special envoy to Libya, represent positive steps towards stabilization. However, she criticized the divisions that exist among both external and internal actors, considering they are Libya’s biggest obstacles. More generally, she suggested that efforts to achieve further stabilization in Libya could not be expected to follow other models in the region, as Libya “has never been a state since the Ottoman Empire,” referring to the colonization of Libya by Italy and even to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. He worked to increase the country’s divisions rather than to unify it, making Libya’s current goal the establishment of a unified, independent country, and not the restoration of one that existed previously.
Byman discussed the state of counterterrorism efforts in the region, beginning with some promising signs: Al Qaeda has been largely inactive and seems to have submitted to pressures exerted on it by international actors, and ISIS is losing battles in Iraq and Syria. However, Byman pointed out that while the US has the capabilities of defeating these groups, it has not historically been successful at supporting a transition for governments after such successes. The rapid rise of ISIS suggests that the idea necessary to form such a group are present, making the job of supporting states to gain stability more important. Shifting the focus to the West, Byman noted how terrorist groups in the Middle East have influenced policies and attitudes in Western countries, exemplified most clearly by the hostilities that Muslim communities are facing. The demonization of Muslims has also led the US travel ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries and its efforts to slow its refugee resettlement program.
Addressing the situation both in the Middle East and the West more broadly, Allen recalled the Arab Spring – which he suggested be renamed the “Arab Tsunami” – and reminded the audience of its negative consequences: the vulnerable positions that states have fallen into, the increasing social and economic difficulties, radicalization, and the refugee crisis. Refugees have particularly affected Europe, testing its social fabric and resilience and causing social and political divisions. Such repercussions have resulted mainly from the numerous attacks that Europe has witnessed since the beginning of the crisis, causing an increasing preoccupation with security precautions and a fear of refugees and immigrants.
Discussing policy options for the US, there was consensus on the need to prioritize economic assistance to the region as a whole. Karlin added that the US needs to be aware of the distractions that Iran and the nuclear deal have posed. Instead of the nuclear deal, Karlin argued, Iran’s role in destabilizing countries in the Middle East should be the US focus. In Libya, Saini Fasanotti urged the West to adopt a “bottom-up” approach, reiterating her views on Libya’s nationhood (“in a nation that does not exist, you cannot look at the top”). She emphasized the importance of giving citizens a role and a choice, responsibilities that they were not granted under the Ottomans, Italy, or Gaddafi.
Byman pointed to the dangers of the approach that the West has taken in dealing with refugees, especially the poor treatment of refugees in Europe despite the welcoming front exhibited by accepting large numbers, which h argue, has caused radicalization to occur in most cases inside Europe and not outside of it. He also referred to the West’s failure to treat all types of violence equally. Not taking right-wing violence seriously further isolates and demonizes refugee and immigrant groups. Saini Fasanotti suggested that Europe in particular needs a “real strategy” to effectively welcome and integrate refugees, referring to her personal experience in Italy and the increasing hostility towards refugees that she has witnessed.
Ed Joseph, my colleague at the Johns Hopkins School of Advance International Studies, writes:
Can Rex Tillerson save his job? Even after his striking, defiant statement last week, reaffirming his loyalty to Donald Trump, the odds are against him. He committed the cardinal sin of publicly distancing himself from his boss (over Charlottesville). The President has repeatedly needled and undermined his Secretary of State in tweets. Aside from his travails with the White House, even Tillerson’s admirers have criticized his weak, rudderless performance at Foggy Bottom.
Though time is running short, it’s not too late for Tillerson to turn it around. To do so, he needs a clear, unadulterated victory – a smaller, more modest version of what Dick Holbrooke got at Dayton or what Madeline Albright achieved in Kosovo. As long as Tillerson cedes the credit to his boss, all will be forgiven (though not forgotten) provided he brings the Administration a triumph – particularly one that allows Trump to claim he prevailed where his predecessors failed.
And there is one international dispute tailor-made for Tillerson’s keen attention – an issue that has defied the efforts of prior Administrations, that confounds major European capitals, and that can be resolved swiftly, provided Tillerson is willing to expend political capital and take some risk: Greece’s longstanding objection to Macedonia’s name.
Since Macedonia’s independence in 1991, Greece has insisted that its northern neighbor’s name, ‘Macedonia’, is infringement upon Greek patrimony (stemming from Alexander the Great), and an affront to the Greek region which carries the same name. Athens imposed a punishing embargo on its fledgling neighbor for three years after independence. In 1995, the legendary Holbrooke negotiated an end to the blockade and extracted Athens’ formal commitment not to block Skopje’s membership in international organizations — provided Macedonia entered under its temporary name ‘former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.’
But in 2008, Greece blocked Macedonia’s entry into NATO as ‘fYROM.’ In 2011, the International Court of Justice ruled (by a fifteen to one majority) that, by doing so, Athens had violated its obligations. Greece has ignored the ruling. Macedonia – which has been willing to join NATO under its temporary name — remains marooned in the southern Balkans. Without a NATO or EU perspective, the country is left weakened and prone to crisis. A violent conflict that would draw in its neighbors is a clear possibility, particularly now that Russia is engaged in the country and poised to exert malign influence.
In short, solving the name dispute is a significant US interest. However, no envoy since Holbrooke has managed to make any progress on the question. George W. Bush and his State Department tried, and failed, to get Macedonia into NATO at the Alliance Summit in Bucharest in 2008. The Obama Administration ignored the issue, largely consigning the entire Balkans to indifferent Europeans who likewise failed to make any effort to resolve the name dispute.
Fortunately for Tillerson, circumstances are as favorable as they’ve ever been for a breakthrough. Both Greece and Macedonia are emerging from exhausting, multi-year crises that have sapped their countries’ respective appetite for drama. Neither country’s Prime Minister – Alexis Tsipras in Athens or Zoran Zaev in Skopje – is facing elections just yet. And while both leaders must inevitably cast a wary eye on the opposition, their real focus is on achieving the demonstrable progress needed to stay in office. What’s more, relations between the two capitals have improved. The Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers recently and cordially discussed the name issue — a clear sign the matter is potentially ripe for resolution.
The key to a deal is Greece, by far the more powerful party. Skopje has the law and international opinion on its side; otherwise, it is small, weak and the only side suffering from the dispute.
Thankfully, Washington has leverage over Athens. After three searing international bailouts obtained at the price of draconian reforms, Tsipras is desperate to rid Greece of the harsh financial supervision that has been imposed at the behest of its nemesis, Germany. However, the just-completed German elections have complicated that aspiration. Disappointing results for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party mean that she is now likely to bring hardliners into her government who adamantly oppose relaxing conditions on Greece.
Effectively, Washington has become a key player in this Greek drama. There is no chance for Greek debt relief unless Washington maintains its current level of funding to the IMF — something the Administration has yet to confirm. At the same time, Tsipras also wants a ‘Strategic Partnership’ with the US as another sign that the country has paid its dues, implemented difficult reforms and now deserves to be treated with respect. All this makes Tsipras desperate for a full-fledged summit with Trump this year, a topic already raised with Washington last month.
Tillerson needs only to convince his boss, Trump, author of ‘The Art of the Deal’, to exploit his leverage and insist on full resolution of the Greece-Macedonia name dispute as the price for the meeting and terms that Tsipras seeks. Tillerson should make it clear that the credit will rest with the President, while Tillerson does the heavy lifting.
And there is every reason to believe that Tillerson can succeed, as long he learns from the mistakes of his predecessors:
o Bush and his State Department failed to exploit the deadline of the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit. Tillerson can make it clear to Greece and Macedonia that ‘this is it’, i.e. that this issue will be resolved by the end of this year, full stop.
o Bush’s envoys failed to threaten Athens and Skopje with any credible penalties. Tillerson must make it clear to Athens that if it balks, Tsipras gets no meeting – and Washington will make Macedonian membership in NATO a core Administration priority, while giving Skopje privileged standing with Washington. If tiny Skopje dares try to take advantage of the situation, then the Secretary must threaten vulnerable Zaev with publicly naming and shaming him for screwing up Macedonia’s best chance to end its isolation.
o Tillerson should consult with the long-time UN negotiator on the issue, Matthew Nimetz, but make it clear that after more than two-decades, it’s time to bring the matter to a close. As long as Tillerson is personally invested – and agrees to meet with the parties personally –coordination will be easy. Nimetz will share the full range of solutions available to resolve the entire matter; Tillerson needs only to select one and sell it to the parties.
o Most of all, Tillerson should ignore the US Ambassador to Athens, or any former US Ambassador to Athens, or Greek officials or others who plead that that “this is not the time to press for a solution.” That attitude is precisely the reason this problem has festered for so long.
After a career in the oil business, few know better than Rex Tillerson that taking calculated risk can bring handsome rewards. To save himself from a humiliating return to Houston, it’s time for the Secretary to take some risk in the pursuit of a worthy, and plausible, objective.
- The Kurdish Crisis: Baghdad, Erbil, and Institutional Reform in Iraq | Tuesday, October 10 | 11:00 am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The ongoing tension between the Kurdistan regional government and the federal government in Baghdad are generating new concerns about the long-term stability of Iraq. Critical issues relating to energy, security, and institutions must be addressed in order to prevent further conflicts and promote economic development. Please join us for a discussion on these topics. The panelists will address the energy aspects of the crisis, the security dimensions, the prospects for institutional reform, and the role the United States should play to help resolve the conflict. Panelists include Dr. Harith Hasan Al Qarawee of the Atlantic Council, Amb. Stuart Jones of the US Department of State, Dr. Denise Natali of the National Defense University, and will be moderated by Amb. Frederic C. Hof of the Atlantic Council.
- The Path Forward for Dealing with North Korea | Tuesday, October 10 | 10:00 – 1:30 pm | Brookings Institution | Register Here | On October 10, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies and the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings will host leading U.S. experts and former officials to identify actionable policy steps the White House and Congress should take to address the growing threat from North Korea. Panel presentations will focus on Kim Jong Un’s outlook and objectives, the history of negotiations with North Korea, and comparative case studies, including the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and recent negotiations with Iran. Former Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines will deliver a keynote address, sharing insights from her experiences and offering thoughts on the path forward for dealing with North Korea. The first panel, “Who is Kim Jong Un?” will feature moderator Ryan Hass of the John L. Thornton China Center, as well as panelists Jung H. Pak of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Evan Osnos of the John L. Thornton China Center, and Jean H. Lee of the Wilson International Center for Scholars. The second panel, titled, “Lessons From Historical Case Studies,” will be moderated by Jung H. Pak and will feature Jake Sullivan of Yale Law School, David S. Cohen of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Jonathan D. Pollack of the John L. Thornton China Center, and Author and Journalist Michael Dobbs.
- Drones Under Trump | Wednesday, October 11 | 2:00 – 3:30 pm | Stimson Center | Register Here | The use of armed drones and the expansive authority to use lethal force claimed by the U.S. government remain some of the most controversial aspects of U.S. counterterrorism policy. Though the Obama administration introduced limited policy constraints on the use of force aimed at increased protection of civilians, and reforms designed to increase transparency near the end of its tenure, the Trump administration appears to be rolling back these policies. Thus far, the Trump administration has expanded operations outside “hot battlefields” and delegated more strike authority to the military. Reports suggest that the new administration is proposing to go even further by loosening the limited policy constraints on the use of force and may seek to broaden the CIA’s role in conducting lethal strikes. These actions and proposals raise renewed concerns about the prospect of endless war and increased secrecy, and underscore the need for meaningful accountability and oversight of U.S. lethal operations abroad. Please join the Stimson Center and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic for a panel event on issues surrounding U.S. drone policy under the Trump administration. The panel will discuss and evaluate past U.S. practice, analyze recent developments, and assess the Trump administration’s approach to the use of force, transparency, and accountability. Panelists include Waleed Alhariri of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, Alex Moorehead of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, Luke Hartig of the National Journal’s Network Science Initiative, and Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Center.
- From Mosul to Brain Science to Tech: Creating Peace in a Violent World | Wednesday, October 11 | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | As violent conflict erupts across the globe and the institutions that have kept peace for 70 years strain under the pressure, the demand for sustainable peace and security only grows. The Iraqi city of Mosul searches for a way to recover from the brutal rule of ISIS. Half a world away, Colombia is exploring ways to finance the terms of its historic peace accord. Technology, people power, and brain science are part of an array of possible solutions. Join the first day of the 2017 conference of the Alliance for Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Oct. 11, as experts explore new ideas for preventing and resolving violent conflict. The event will consist of a keynote address and seven panels, which include “Next Steps for Peace in Mosul,” “Innovative Approaches for Financing Peace,” “Transforming Violent Conflict: Where People Power Meets Peacebuilding,” and Stabilizing Conflict-Affected Areas: Policy Challenges, New Opportunities, and Lessons from the Past.”
- Where Are U.S.-Pakistan Relations Headed? | Wednesday, October 11 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | For decades the United States and Pakistan have worked as strategic partners despite differences in priorities, but today this relationship is at a crossroads. The Trump administration seems poised for a confrontation with Pakistan over its alleged protection of Taliban and Haqqani Network insurgents. China’s support of Pakistan, increased Russian and Iranian engagement in the region, and India’s apparent deeper involvement in Afghanistan further complicate Washington’s bilateral relationship with Islamabad. The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host an expert panel to examine these developments and the stakes for the United States and Pakistan in preserving their relationship. MEI’s director for Afghanistan and Pakistan studies, Marvin Weinbaum, will moderate the event featuring Daniel Markey, Shuja Nawaz, Joshua White, and Moeed Yusuf.
- How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West | Wednesday, October 11 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | Hudson Institute | Register Here | Recent global events show that the post-Cold War flow of money and values was not a one-way affair. The West is witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own democratic system. This destructive import of corrupt practices comes not only from post-Soviet kleptocratic regimes like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, but also from China and other countries around the world whose ruling elites now possess far-reaching financial and political interests in the West. Join Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative for a discussion of Ilya Zaslavskiy’s report, “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West.” After opening remarks by Mr. Zaslavskiy and responses by Jeffrey Gedmin and David Kramer, two expert panels will explore the development of corrupt norms and the true nature of contemporary kleptocratic regimes, as well as the methods they deploy to undermine Western democracy – and what can be done to fight back. Panelists will include Louise Shelley of George Mason University, Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ambassador Richard D. Kauzlarich of the Center for Energy Science and Policy and George Mason University, and Paul Massaro of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Charles Davidson of the Kleptocracy Initiative will moderate.
My colleague and friend Geoff Aronson argues that
- Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies are not only winning the war in Syria but will gain from participating in the country’s reconstruction;
- The U.S. and Europe should not refuse reconstruction assistance in an effort to encourage regime change but should instead pitch in.
This perspective is mistaken on factual, political, and moral grounds.
Both Russia and Iran, while welcome in Syria, lack the at least $200 billion Syria requires for reconstruction and have told Damascus so. They will no doubt ante up something in an effort to ensure Assad stays in power and is beholden to them, but their contributions will fall far short of even the minimum needs.
Assad has made it clear that only friendly states will be welcome. For the moment, that seems to mean China as well as Russia and Iran. But is China willing to pay the bills Russia and Iran cannot? The gains to Beijing from doing so are not at all clear, since Syria has limited oil and gas resources, much of which remain for now outside the government’s control.
Let’s assume that the U.S. had a few billion for Syria, beyond the $6.5 billion or so it has already spent on humanitarian relief there. How precisely would we force Assad to take the money, when he has made it clear we are not welcome?
Bottom line: Assad is going to fall far short of what he needs without U.S. and European contributions, which he does not want.
The politics in Europe and the United States:
What would the U.S. and Europeans gain from providing the massive assistance Syria needs, either bilaterally or more likely through the World Bank and IMF? Assad has made it clear not only that we are not welcome in Syria but that he will not be interested in realigning Syria with the West. He intends to remain tightly tied to Iran, which is the big regional winner from the Syrian war.
The politics in the U.S. are inhospitable to foreign aid in general and even more negative with respect to Assad, whose accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity is apparent. It can of course be argued that Assad is a reality we need to accept, but that is quite different from putting cash in his pocket, especially as ever dime would be a dime less Assad needs to get from Iran, Russia, or China.
In Europe, things are a bit different, because some Europeans will want to be able to send refugees back to Syria. Assad will tell them he can only accept them back if Europe pays to reconstruct their houses. But we know that reconstruction in Syria so far has been done on a strictly political basis: the only things that get rebuilt are things that enhance Assad’s political control. Even humanitarian assistance has been channeled to Assad supporters, not to civilians in opposition-controlled areas. Let the donors beware.
Bottom line: It isn’t going to be possible to follow Geoff’s advice, and if we did we would be enhancing Assad’s hold on power.
The politics in Syria
Geoff is confident that withholding aid will not bring down Assad. My experience in post-war situations is that it is difficult to predict what might happen. Ask Winston Churchill whether the fruits of victory include staying in power.
Of course Assad will not make the mistake of holding free and fair elections. But he shows every sign of making the mistake of trying to restore the dictatorship to the status quo ante, after having killed several hundred thousand of the country’s citizens. Will Syrians related to those killed, deprived of the resources needed for reconstruction, and used to governing themselves for the last few years tolerate the restoration of the dictatorship? I don’t know, but I don’t know how Geoff knows either.
Bottom line: Assad is far from secure and no one should assume he will remain in power.
What should we do?
We should not be ungenerous. We should continue humanitarian aid to the refugees in neighboring countries but end it for those who live in Syria in areas controlled by Assad. Humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to areas that remain outside Assad’s control and are governed in inclusive ways is the right course of action. If Syrians start seeing some successful governance outside the control of the dictatorship, there is no telling how clever they might be in getting some for themselves. Even if they don’t, the money won’t be wasted supporting a brutal, anti-American dictatorship.