[By Lara Keller, last updated 6th May 2017]
If Assad’s Genocidal War Against Syrians Who Want Representative Government Rather Than Dictatorship Wins? Then what Message does this send to other Authoritarian governments?
[By Lara Keller, last updated 6th May 2017]
If Assad’s Genocidal War Against Syrians Who Want Representative Government Rather Than Dictatorship Wins? Then what Message does this send to other Authoritarian governments?
What is the policy for helping to forge Syrian Security?
[By Lara Keller, last updated 13th May 2017]
[Important resource: “The Free Syrian Army: A decentralized insurgent brand” by Charles R Lister, Nov 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/iwr_20161123_free_syrian_army1.pdf ]
[Note that all leaps of faith or ………. are my fault, LK]
This article is an expansion on the proposal for a policy to support Syrian Security, described in the summary image above. An important source for this is Charles R Lister’s “The Free Syrian Army: A decentralized insurgent brand” (Nov 2016), the ideas expressed below are a bit more radical.
Summary Image Point 1: Syrian security belongs to the Syrian people, not the Assad regime who have abused the state for 47 years.
1. Security must be handed over from the Assad regime to an organisation that represents all the Syrian people. The current regime has grossly misused security forces since 1970 to brutally repress any opposition.
Summary Image Point 2: A fully democratically overseen People’s Syrian Army needs to be enabled from revived FSA. Lack of advanced weaponry and action against regime war crimes, has created a fragmented disillusioned armed mainstream opposition. Resulting vacuum exploited by extremists.
2. The People’s Syrian Army (PSA) will be formed from a revived Free Syrian Army. Lack of early Western support and divisive support from regional powers, has led to a decentralised FSA that has fallen far below its potential. This armed opposition vacuum has partly been filled by mainstream Islamist groups, and also by terrorist extremist Islamist groups.
2.1 The current FSA has no confidence in US and other Western governments. This can be rapidly reversed by a large scale scheme to put the FSA back in the hands of a central command. The authority of this command must be backed up by its power to channels extensive and appropriately advanced weapons and support services to FSA units. These weapons and support services must be made available by the West, in exchange for progressing agreed plans.
2.2 Weapons are needed which counter advanced military hardware being used to oppress the Syrian People. This means anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. To prevent proliferation weapons should be provided to vetted trained individuals, and electronic counter measures installed to kill control chips if time or location constraints are breached. To counter the use of artillery by the regime, similar heavy weaponry needs to be supplied to the FSA.
2.3 The idea that Russia will escalate the conflict as a result of the West adequately arming the Syrian Opposition is unlikely. The Russian and Assad regime forces have been given the illusion of enormous strength because the FSA has not been equipped adequately to be able to give a strong opposing response. This one sided conflict has given Putin’s Russian regime the gift of the illusion of great military power. The economy of Russia is small, and it is only sustaining the effort to support Assad with covert Chinese financial support. Putin will seek to defend his regime against humiliation when challenged. The long term goal in Syria, is for Putin to represent himself as the natural and utterly ruthless ally of all internally threatened dictatorships in this post Cold-War world. Struggling in Syria will undermine this.
2.4 The PSA can only be formed and sustained if it is under strict Syrian democratic oversight, misuse of unaccountable military force is the root of all authoritarian government. There must be local elections to essential parts of PSA commands by people who live in the area that the PSA unit protects. This is of cause already done, but needs to be as universal as possible. Physical security must come packaged with all other types of civilian security, which includes food, judicial system, medical help and shelter. The PSA must have close links to the civilian administration to provide an authoritative alternative to extremist groups who pretend to offer a full range of military and civilian security. Locally elected representatives must then create a national council to oversee the running of the PSA.
2.5 This scheme must be backed up by a large scale public information campaign in the West, that shifts Western public opinion to understanding that the solution is empowering Syrians. That the existence of extreme Islamist terrorism is a product of elitist misrule in the MENA region. Also understanding that a progressive solution of the Syrian Crisis has positive effects regionally and globally.
Summary Image Point 3: Peace negotiations are required to incorporate all armed groups and individuals not guilty of major war crimes into PSA, including large sections of Syrian Government Forces. PSA must take over all Syrian security by negotiation if possible otherwise force. It must expel foreign fighters, defeat extremists and arrest serious war criminals.
3. This new People’s Syrian Army (PSA) needs to take over security of liberated and regime held areas. Peace negotiations are needed to incorporate as many as possible opposition mainstream Islamist groups, defectors from extremist Islamist groups, opposition Syrian Kurdish groups and Syrian Government Forces not guilty of major war crimes. All sieges must be lifted immediately on rebel and (the few) regime areas.
3.1 The PSA must take over all regime facilities including detention facilities and prisoners. So called regime “security forces” need to be disbanded, their bases closed, and individuals guilty of major war crimes identified and arrested. The PSA will immediately expel all foreign fighters including the numerous foreign pro-regime Shia militias, apart from detaining those guilty of serious war crimes.
3.2 The PSA must take over the fight against remaining extremist Islamist groups within Syria. All aerial bombing of civilian areas to achieve this must stop.
Summary Image Point 4: West must impose No-Bomb-Zone over Syria, where major war crimes committed by the Assad regime, or its Russian or Shia Extremist allies, are deterred by significant destruction of Assad regime assets.
4. The use of indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombing of civilian areas by the Assad regime and its Russian allies is a war crime. The West needs to impose a No-Bomb-Zone over Syria, where major war crimes committed by the Assad regime or its Russian allies, means another significant number of important Assad regime assets are destroyed by missile strikes.
4.1 To avoid Russian casualties the West must warn them of the general areas (from which specific locations will be chosen) that a strike will take place, so that personnel can be removed.
4.2 The West needs to publicly acknowledge the role of PSA as the legitimate body fighting to provide security to the people of Syria so the creation of a genuinely representative government can happen. The immediate aim of this Syrian government will be to provide, under Syrian democratic supervision, security and stability to the Syrian people. When this has been achieved dignity, equality and, justice issues requiring balanced considered judgement can and must be performed. The PSA will be an essential part of this government administration, by lowering tensions through providing security and stability.
5. West must impose a physical arms blockade on the supply of weapons to the Assad Regime+Allies, and other extremist groups in Syria. Sanctions alone are not enough.
5.1 China, Russia and Iran routinely ignore internationally agreed sanction agreements. Russia and Iran airlift arms into Syria. Russian ships transport heavier military items by sea to the Syrian port of Tartus. These weapons are being used by the Assad regime and its allies to commit war crimes.
By Charles Lister [link not working, hence reposted text below, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/04/trump-strike-syria-what-next-215003]
Friday’s strike on Syria was necessary and righteous. Here’s what the White House needs to do next.
By Charles Lister
April 07, 2017
After six years of committing unrestrained and uninhibited violence against his own population, the regime of Bashar al-Assad experienced the first pangs of justice early Friday morning Syria time, as 59 American Tomahawk cruise missiles struck the strategically vital Al-Shayrat airbase in the center of the country. Syrian military aircraft, hardened hangars and refueling facilities were among the targets of America’s first explicit attack on the Assad regime.
This was a justified, proportionate and necessary response for what had been a flagrant war crime committed three days earlier, when chemical nerve agents were dropped by planes from Al-Shayrat onto residential areas of Khan Sheikhoun, a town in the Syria’s northwest. As men, women and children alike lost control of their muscles, succumbed to uncontrollable convulsions and began foaming from the mouth and nose, emergency and medical personnel rushed to the scene. They then found their facilities targeted in a series of follow-up bombings, possibly by Russian jets. At least 87 people lost their lives and more than 300 others were injured. This was merely the latest of dozens of chemical attacks conducted by the Assad regime since 2012, the worst of which killed more than 1,400 people east of Damascus in August 2013.
It was that heinous act in 2013, conducted within eyesight of Assad’s own presidential palace, that famously crossed then-President Barack Obama’s self-declared “red line.” That same attack led to Obama’s subsequent decision to back away from the use of force in favor of an agreement brokered by Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles in their entirety, a move that angered America’s Arab allies and effectively ended any potential U.S. efforts to threaten Assad’s rule. At the drop of the hat, overt affiliation with the United States became a politically toxic label that moderate opposition groups sought either to hide or to dissolve.
Recent events have not only demonstrated the clear failure and abrogation of that agreement by the Assad regime, but the presence of Russian troops and possibly also aircraft at the Al-Shayrat airbase appears to suggest that Russia was not only aware of Assad having retained some portion of its chemical weapons, but may also have been in a position to prevent their use.
That the fledgling Trump administration determined it necessary to respond to this latest criminal act represents a significant turning point in the Syrian crisis, though the exact implications remain to be seen. At this point in time, the cruise missile attack on Al-Shayrat remains an isolated punitive act – a warning to Assad and his patrons that brazen war crimes will now be met with military consequences. It is now the heavy responsibility of the Trump administration to ensure that this enforced “red line” be maintained. Reports of localized chlorine attacks on opposition areas of Damascus later on Friday indicated that this new line in the sand may be tested sooner than some may have expected. Punitive military actions are a clear form of deterrence that will only work if further violations are met with the same or a similar response.
A core dynamic at play here pertains to Russia, which was pre-warned of U.S. plans to attack Al-Shayrat but whose entire presence in Syria is predicated on propping up Assad and covering for his criminal actions. In the immediate aftermath of the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a humiliated Russia was forced to concoct an illogical story, every facet of which was either swiftly disproved or dismissed as laughable by experts and journalists on the ground. With U.S. intelligence now investigating whether Russia had been involved in the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun, Russia’s emphatic rhetoric and talk of threats is almost certainly cover for its lack of options and the fact that it finds itself having to blindly protect a global pariah. When the likes of Iran, North Korea and Venezuela are your only true defense, your claims of righteousness are to be taken with a sizeable grain of salt.
Having taken military action, the U.S. has an opportunity to exploit its newfound leverage. Left alone, the Syrian conflict has many more years left, but its consequences continue to worsen, with nearly 500,000 Syrians now dead and 11.3 million others either internally displaced or refugees. Military efforts against ISIS have achieved substantial success, but terrorism remains one of many symptoms of a much broader crisis, the single root cause of which remains the Assad regime. There is simply no way of ignoring that reality.
So what now? Assad cannot and will never put Syria back together again, but partition is not an answer. Foreign intervention for rapid regime change only promises further chaos, but determined U.S. leadership backed up by the credible and now proven threat of force presents the best opportunity in years to strong-arm actors on the ground into a phase of meaningful de-escalation, out of which eventually, a durable negotiation process may result. This is something Obama never understood: his efforts to broker peace failed because he refused even to consider threatening war. Every feeble threat given from an Obama podium effectively amounted to a further emboldening of the Assad regime’s own sense of immunity and its free hand to murder its people en masse.
Bringing peace to Syria will undoubtedly necessitate a further strengthening of the U.S. posture toward the Syrian situation and toward Russia, Iran and other involved states. More military strikes and other assertive acts of diplomacy will be inevitable but if anything is now clear, it is that the U.S. has more freedom of action in Syria than the Obama administration was ever willing to admit. Opponents of limited U.S. intervention who have long and confidently pronounced the inevitability of conflict with Russia are now faced with the reality that Moscow failed to lift a finger when American missiles careered toward Assad regime targets. For now, that discovery was made through a tactical reaction to a brazen war crime, but a holistic strategy must now be developed that treats all threats emanating from Syria as individual components of a single problem: the Assad regime.
Russia’s seat on the U.N. Security Council and its conventional military assets make it appear to be the key obstacle to progress, but Iran is arguably a greater challenge. For Russia, Assad is disposable—an asset to potentially be haggled over at the negotiating table. But for Iran, the survival of the Assad regime remains an existential issue. While Russians privately acknowledge that Syria’s army retains no more than 20,000 offensively capable and deployable personnel, Iran-backed Syrian paramilitary and foreign militia forces may now number over 150,000 men. Some of those groups are designated terrorist organizations, no different legally than al Qaeda or ISIS. As one prominent Russian in Moscow recently told me in Europe, even Russia’s own Spetsnaz special forces have come to respect one such Iran-backed terrorist group – Hezbollah – more than the Syrian Army itself.
Whether Friday’s cruise-missile strike was part of a more holistic strategy or not, the consequences of military action now demand broader strategic consideration. This newly demonstrated U.S. policy of containment and deterrence will be tested and as Trump’s U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley made clear, “We are prepared to do more.” Such statements must be backed up by action, if and when necessary. Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are not about to give up the fight, but they are now dealing with a markedly different and more complex set of assessments. Gone are the days of acting with impunity. Their actions are now under multiple microscopes.
The U.S. must also now seek to engage and manage its own allies in the region, particularly Turkey, which appears to be re-embracing a more overtly pro-opposition stance, only weeks after resuming arms supplies to opposition groups in Syria’s northwest. The Pentagon, which views its impending operation to retake Raqqa—a capital of the dwindling ISIS caliphate—as its top priority and understandably fears being dragged into a broader mission of stabilizing Syria itself. But ISIS is the bastard child of Assad’s misrule: Syria will never be stable while he remains in power and the longer he sticks around, the more extremists will reap the rewards of his brutality by escaping from justice and ensuring their narratives thrive among the disenfranchised.
The choice is not and has never been a binary one between Assad and ISIS, as some have tried to claim. Syria remains a country of many communities and many perspectives. Of a population of roughly 23 million people, no more than 20,000 (0.09 percent) have chosen to join al Qaeda or ISIS, according to privately discussed estimates held by U.S. intelligence officials. Therefore, U.S. policy is best served by securing a future for the remaining 99.91 percent. With newfound leverage and a growing coalition of countries announcing their support for stronger action on Assad, the U.S. has an opportunity now to set Syria on a path towards something better. It will take time and resources, and likely many more risks, but that must surely hold better prospects than leaving the country to war criminals and their blind defenders.
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Charles Lister is senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.
By lara keller (last updated 1st April 2017)
Why the Syrian Revolution’s Victory is Important (5.3)
The real truth behind the inaction of most Western progressives when it comes to effectively supporting the Syrian Revolution, is that they do not see why it is important. This encourages a climate of doubt and pious exaggerated statements about neo-imperialism, spheres of influence, how many fundamentalist fighters there are, the arms industry, promoting pacifism, overinflating the potential of diplomacy, picking apart reports of atrocities, how unpopular is Assad, “whataboutism” Iraq and Libya, the hypocrisy of some of the backers of the revolution …….. all this throws up a haze that disguises the unflattering shared founding thought that “we do not see that the Syrian Revolution’s success or failure is important to us”.
The Syrian Revolution seems to be incidental to the principal concerns of most Western progressives. The decline of democracy and the decrease in civil rights justified by security threats, combined with a rise in racism and isolationism in the West. The rising inequality around the world with an elite bypassing governments to hoard vast wealth in tax havens. The largely unchallenged global threat of climate change. The exploitation of poorer countries through globalization. The 60 % of the world’s population in severe poverty (despite a recent drop in the cheaper to solve extreme poverty group due to the successful UN Millennium Development Goals initiative). The vast amount of wealth that the arms industry squanders on endless conflicts. Population growth (although the increase in the steepness of its rise is falling) and scarce resources.
So as a perfect Western progressive I would be a green pacifist anti-establishment activist, interested in lobbying international organisations to stop the economic anarchy that hurts the poor. I would be pursuing a hundred projects to raise awareness of a hundred issues. This approach yields slow results if any, and reacts to the world as it is now, rather than dealing with looming crises, that are building strength from these unsolved issues.
The global reactionary elites have solutions for all these issues. Do nothing, and use military force to secure scarce resources. This means there are countries with elites threatened by the demands for necessities by their populations that need countries willing to collaborate with them in genocidal campaigns to suppress these populations, by murder, terror or expulsion.
The genocidal war in Syria performed by the Assad regime supported by Putin’s Russia (an financially by China), against the demands of the Syrian people for representative government, is the first of many wars of this kind. Putin is positioning his regime as the ruthless war machine at the disposal of any dictator in the MENA region who is threatened by demands for representative government. There is no reason why he cannot also become the defender of authoritarian coups in countries struggling to maintain democracy. There are no great ideological illusions that Putin must respect. His services are available to any elite anywhere. The advantage for Putin is the creation of a neo-imperial system that benefits Russian and Chinese elites. Neither country tolerates progressive activists or cares much about outraged public opinion. The West is bad enough, when we think of Vietnam and Iraq, but Putin’s war machine will be much worst.
When Putin and Assad win in Syria, there will be a continued wave of repression inside Syria, with an attempt to expel or neutralise anybody who may threaten the regime’s dominance. Putin’s regime will continue forming closer military links with former West orientated authoritarian regimes in the MENA region. Putin will be emboldened by the passivity of the West in spreading authoritarian influence in Europe. Stirring sectarian tensions in the Baltic States. Supporting far-right groups in Eastern Europe, with campaigning funds and popularity boosting economic projects. All with the financial support of China.
The West is not immune from the degradation of democracy. Power over national economics has been largely removed from democratic elected governments, whose main responsibility is avoiding anything which would rock the under regulated fragile economy. Elections are won by securing the votes of the largest section of the population, with the promise of securing the economy and removing redirecting assets from the currently marginalised group. This is a prime ground for authoritarianism, and there is the Chinese Putin backed regime waiting to play a destructive role.
It matters that the appeasement of Putin and rulers like Assad stops in Syria. Their needs to be a partnership between Western progressives and the ordinary Syrian people. We need each other.