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Going further …. cutting out the Assad cancer and creating an itinerary for ending the nightmare

[Posted by Lara Keller 8/10/16]

Here are some recent articles for real measures to combat the Assad Regime.

There was Jo Cox the UK Labour MP’s speech to Parliament in October last year:

Jo Cox: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that, and we do share common cause on the need for humanitarian protection for civilians in Syria.

Let me get back to my point about a myopic focus on ISIS being counterproductive. If selective air strikes against ISIS are the only action the west takes in Syria, we will never defeat ISIS—and we could even strengthen it. At least 75% of all civilian deaths in Syria are a result of action by Syrian Government forces; aerial bombardment by the regime is by far the biggest killer, taking around 200 lives every week. It is horrifically indiscriminate; 95% of the victims are civilians. For these reasons, and in the light of the fact that an ISIS-only approach will not protect us from the threat it poses, our objective must be to stop the indiscriminate aerial bombardment in Syria. Not only would that provide much-needed relief to Syria’s embattled population, who are still being bombarded by 50 to 60 barrel bombs a day, but it could help empower Syria’s remaining moderate opposition, who are essential not only to finding a political solution but to holding back and ultimately defeating ISIS.

Stopping the bombs would also take away a significant radicalising factor in the conflict and could breathe new life into the political process, changing Assad’s calculations and forcing him to the negotiating table. As we saw in 2013, the Syrian Government’s response to the credible threat of force was to make a political deal, not to risk escalation. As such, I believe it is time for the Government urgently to consider deterring the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in Syria through the willingness to consider the prudent and limited use of force.

A no-fly zone would be an enormous military undertaking, and would entail significant risks, particularly now that Russia has joined the regime in the Syrian skies. But what I call a no-bombing zone, enforced from maritime assets in the Mediterranean so as to avoid engaging Syrian air defences, would save lives, uphold international humanitarian law and breathe life into the political process……..

Jo Cox: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the intervention. I agree that we should try to secure a UN Security Council resolution, but I do not think we should limit ourselves to not acting without one. I believe a no-bombing zone is feasible if it is enforced from maritime assets in the Mediterranean, so as to avoid engaging Syrian air defences. This would save lives, uphold international humanitarian law and breathe life into the political process. A well-designed deterrence operation would impose a cost on the Syrian regime for any indiscriminate bombing of civilians—for example, by targeting the military airbases where barrel bombs are stored and flown from. Any attempt by the regime to escalate would trigger additional punitive strikes, rendering aerial bombardment counterproductive. In those circumstances, it is far more likely that Assad and Russia will be forced to the negotiating table.

To conclude, this conflict has proved time and again its propensity to escalate month on month, year on year. For moral reasons—and national self-interest—we can no longer afford to ignore Syria. Indeed, inaction will only see a growth in the number of Syrians killed, the number of refugees fleeing and the potential threat to British national security from ISIS. I urge all Members to look to the best traditions in the history of their parties and to think about the personal role that they can play to protect civilians in Syria and further afield.

The voices of Syrians have been absent from this debate for far too long. They have been asking for protection for years and no one has been listening. It is now time for us to listen and to act.”

Jo Cox presents the “no bombing zone” idea in which if Assad or Putin bombs, then Syrian military assets are knocked out by missiles. Hence making the action counter-productive to strengthening the Assad regime. This idea is also clearly illustrated in a twitter video “Sensible and feasible military No Bomb Zone option in Syria explained (31/8/2106):” https://t.co/JSFTJmSZlW

She was then tragically murdered by a far right extremist in June 2016. Thomas Mair who is linked to a far-right UK group called “Britain First”. This group follows a deeply Islamophobic line, loves Putin and echoes Assad’s propaganda (see a typical example: http://www.britainfirst.org/nato-warns-russia-stop-attacking-syrian-opposition-i-e-al-qaeda-and-other-jihadists/).

In the article “Obama’s Syria Strategy Is the Definition of Insanity” by Charles Lister in “Foreign Policy” magazine 21/9/2016 he explodes the insanity of the Obama administration’s ineffectual policy on Syria. (see https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/09/21/obamas-syria-strategy-is-the-definition-of-insanity/ copy text only https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/obamas-syria-strategy-is-the-definition-of-insanity/).

He makes this astute observation: “Second, there will be no purely military solution to Syria’s conflict — a negotiated settlement is the only feasible path toward stability. However, Assad will never treat a political process with any level of seriousness until placed under meaningful pressure, which the United States has thus far done everything in its power not to do.”

The essay by Charles Lister “A Plan for Winding Down the Syrian Civil War: Surge, Freeze, and Enforce” on the website “War On The Rocks” Charles Lister (30/9/2016) explains how effective meaningful pressure can be applied to the Assad Regime.  (see: http://warontherocks.com/2016/09/a-plan-for-winding-down-the-syrian-civil-war/ copy text only https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/a-plan-for-winding-down-the-syrian-civil-war-surge-freeze-and-enforce-charles-lister-30-september-2016/)

The principle behind the strategy is described: “Civilian protection must be the centerpiece of any holistic strategy that aims both to create conditions that are more amenable to meaningful political negotiations between Syria’s warring parties and to undermine the dynamics that feed extremism. That the international community has consistently focused on introducing a cessation of hostilities is the right approach, but such attempts lacked any enforcement mechanisms or clear consequences for violation.” His concept of civil protection includes unhindered flow of humanitarian aid to all civilians, including those in besieged areas. It also implies a “no bomb zone”.

Firstly: “…. amid continued hostilities in Syria, the United States and allied nations would initiate a substantial increase in assistance to vetted opposition groups.” This continuing process of strengthening the military capability of the opposition, should also “include support for civil, judicial, and military factions of the mainstream opposition.”

From Day 20 a new enforced cessation of hostilities would be negotiated. “In contrast to previous cessations, this one would have to contain within it the explicit threat of highly limited and targeted punitive consequences for especially flagrant violations, to be conducted by stand-off U.S. military assets [ie submarine launched missiles].”

A counter escalation by Russia is unlikely because “Russia’s intervention in Syria has been conducted at minimal cost, given the country’s economic struggles and the fact that its economy may now be no bigger than that of Spain.”

Then: “From the 30th day onwards, the enforced cessation of hostilities would begin and all assistance to any party on the ground would contravene the agreement.”

Charles Lister sums up this suggested approach as: “This policy proposal does not seek to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Instead, it seeks to constrain his freedom of military maneuver while sustaining his ‘strong-enough’ negotiating position so as to ensure negotiations appear a viable consideration…….Within this hypothetical context, the Assad regime would be in a strong enough negotiating position, backed up by its respective backers, to not be negotiating its own total defeat, although some extent of transition would necessarily have to be included within an extended roadmap.

He then goes on to say: “Given that the cessation itself would be aimed at freezing the conflict and hardening semi-permanent frontlines, the process itself would appear to be facilitating a soft partition in so much as the resulting temporary boundaries would provide delineated zones of decentralized governance by different local actors throughout what would inevitably be an especially prolonged negotiation and transition process. For that phase to last a decade or more would be entirely within the realm of possibility.

The mention of the word “roadmap” reminds me of the endless Palestine-Israel so called peace talks, which go nowhere because Israel holds all the military cards. The Assad Regime (which is a clique of vested financial and security interests that controls the wider Syrian Government) has committed mass murder and mass torture. It has a 45+ year history of the use of systematic torture to intimidate Syrians. When you examine these atrocities in detail it must be impossible that Assad Regime can do anything but attempt to cling to absolute power. It has crossed the threshold of any possible redemption or future acceptance.

This means the Syrian Government and Army must be threatened with utter defeat, so that that those outside the Assad Clique will be the pushed towards removing it from power. This also requires that the security of those not part of the Syrian Opposition can be assured. The Assad Regime has exploited sectarianism from its beginning. It has used atrocities by Alawite and Shia militias during the Syria Crisis to turn this into a chronic problem.

Surely Western and Syrian Opposition leaders have to be make a clearer policy stance against sectarianism in the MENA. Effective opposition to the Saudi war on Shia Houthis in Yemen (beyond not selling the authoritarian Saudi monarchy weapons) must be essential. Clearly sectarianism is and has always been a tool of authoritarianism. Also the West must provide more support than Charles Lister describes, to be able to demand a professional structured Syrian Opposition with a central command structure, that is capable of being restrained in a situation charged with an understandable  desire for revenge.

The Syrian Revolution has a lot of enemies, apart from the obvious suspects (Shia Fundamentalists,Iran,Russia,China) there are the Sunni autocracies (Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council) and many Western elites, who have vested interest in authoritarianism in the Middle East. This makes transition hard but more worthwhile, as it will be a victory against sectarianism and authoritarianism, as well as a victory for people power. It is therefore essential for us to pressure our politicians to give full support to the Syrian Revolution.

It seems incredible that  tamper-proof GPS and time constrained portable air defense weapons cannot be supplied to the Syrian Opposition.  Given the dependence of air defense weapons on electronics, it is incredible that  they cannot be relatively easily modified with a system that fries the chips into a fail safe mode when they are tampered with, used outside a given area, or overrun their use by date. This was being openly discussed in  2012 see https://www.csis.org/analysis/syria-us-power-projection-and-search-%E2%80%9Cequalizer%E2%80%9D. Surely the technology exists, and even if it sometimes disables weapons by mistake, it is infinitely better than the situation now, in which helicopters hover above with barrel bombs, while the potential victims can do nothing except attempt to run.

In summary this is an excellent article. It describes a journey plan, that is an itinerary, rather than just a roadmap of shifting possibilities. The West and particularly the Obama administration has provided quarter measures in Syria. This article describes a three quarters measure. However a full measure is the minimum required to avoid failure, and is the most rational and ultimately humane response.

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