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The Red Lines Debacle

30 Apr

Last week, the Obama administration stated that it had some confidence that sarin was used in Syria. This is quite significant, especially given the fact that President Obama has stated that the usage of chemical weapons would cross a red line. However, his choice of red lines has been counterproductive.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad has found numerous ways to circumvent President Obama’s red lines. For example, the regime has used warplanes and tanks to both destroy cities and kill civilians. In addition, its thugs have stabbed women and children and burned houses. None of the aforementioned tactics required the usage of chemical weapons. Moreover, the Obama administration has not taken any significant actions to end the conflict or to respond to the slaughter. To its credit, it has provided some non-lethal aid and training to some opposition groups. However, none of these actions have tipped the balance against the regime as the conflict remains a horrific stalemate.

Unfortunately, the situation in Syria and the region itself continues to worsen as the Obama administration and other world leaders continue their inaction. The human cost of the crisis has continued to increase each day, especially since as massacres continue in Syria. Over 70,000 people have been killed and Syria’s neighbors have been overwhelmed by the strains of providing for Syrian refugees. There has also been growing fears of regional spillover as rockets have hit Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. In addition, there are also  concerns about the rise of the al-Nusra Front in Syria (It should, however, be noted that most opposition groups are moderate and extremists are a minority- not a majority- in Syria). Altogether, while the Obama administration may fear the risks of intervening in Syria,   the costs and consequences of inaction remain high and continue to increase daily. Instead of declaring red lines over chemical weapons, President Obama should have had red lines against the massive slaughter and humanitarian crisis.

Nonetheless, since President Obama’s red lines have been restricted to chemical weapons usage, he will likely continue a policy of inaction. Part of the reason for this is because the Bush administration used the false pretense of weapons of mass destruction to justify military action against Iraq. As a result, a high standard of proof has been set by the Obama administration. It is unlikely that such standards will be met in the near-future, especially given the fact that the Assad regime has refused to allow UN investigators to enter Syria to investigate the usage of chemical weapons. Therefore, President Obama will remain constrained by the very red lines that he has set for Syria. The Assad regime, however, will be emboldened by the constraints on President Obama. As explained by military analyst Joseph Holliday in Foreign Policy magazine, the regime has responded to inaction by continuing to massacre civilians and increase the violence used in its tactics. Overall, the longer the Obama administration refuses to take action against the regime, the worse the crisis will become. President Obama has chosen the wrong red lines for Syria.

(For an analysis of why an intervention in Syria would be feasible, click here).

 

UPDATE: The Washington Post has posted an article stating that the Obama administration is getting ready to send weapons to opposition groups. This would be a shift from its current policy of inaction. However, given the caution of the Obama administration, it is uncertain as to what types of weapons would be sent as well as the quantity. Until more information is provided, I will remain skeptical that a significant shift has occurred. 

Pressure for intervention grows.

12 Nov

On November 10, the Telegraph reported that British Prime Minister David Cameron, to the surprise and dismay of the U.S. and other allies, has openly supported arming the Free Syrian Army. In addition, British General Sir David Richards also recently stated that it is possible that the UK may decide to intervene in Syria sometime within the next several months. Thus, the British government appears to be gradually pressing for some sort of intervention in Syria.

In my view, growing support for intervention has resulted from the re-election of President Obama as well as growing regional concerns about the Syrian conflict. Given the opposition of the American public towards American involvement in overseas military conflicts, it is unsurprising that President Obama has refused to support intervention in Syria. Nevertheless, due to his re-election last week, the president faces fewer political constraints. As a result, this provides an opportunity for the PM Cameron to pressure his American counterpart to support and lead an intervention in Syria.

Moreover, worsening regional problems have further increased pressure to intervene overall. According to the AFP, thousands of Syrians fled to Turkey on Friday and the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has grown to over 120,000. In addition, a regime warplane attacked a town close to the Turkish border and the Israeli military shelled the Syrian army. This comes after reports that a shell flew from Syria and landed near Israeli military units in the Golan Heights. With growing regional problems, there are increasing concerns of instability in the already-volatile region. As analyst Barak M. Seener has warned in a CNN column, allowing the slaughter in Syria to continue- especially with passive policies- will only result in greater insecurity and worsening tensions. Altogether, the risks of regional spillover and escalating problems provides greater impetus for intervention itself.

Nevertheless, the question is now whether such pressure for intervention will succeed. I believe that it eventually will, but such efforts will take at least a few months. Currently, President Obama and Congress are focusing their resources on debating how to address the so-called Fiscal Cliff. That debate could take months to resolve. Just as important, U.S. Ambassador Ford has reportedly stated that intervention is still unlikely and the American response to Cameron’s statements has been very negative thus far. So, it will be difficult for PM Cameron to successfully persuade President Obama to support intervention in Syria.

Still, I do not think U.S. support for intervention is impossible or improbable. First, as mentioned by Jonathan Landsay of McClatchy, regional spillover may force the Obama Administration to intervene due to the undesirable and dire consequences of increased instability, which is continuing to worsen. Furthermore, international pressure for intervention is expected to continue to grow. Last Wednesday, the Turkish government requested NATO to provide Patriot Missiles and Turkey and France have been vocal about safe zones in the past. The British government has also stated that it will help the FSA become more organized. Finally, analyst Randa Slim has stated that she expects Arab nations to press the Obama administration to support intervention. Altogether, I think that these factors- along with fewer political constraints on the president- will eventually force the Obama administration to act on Syria. However, given the President’s reluctance and focus on domestic issues, it will likely take months for the administration to support and lead an intervention effort. Unfortunately, due to the continual slaughter and increasing regional insecurity,many more Syrians will be dead and the region itself will likely be even more unstable by the time that President Obama chooses to act on Syria (which I believe he will, albeit reluctantly).

A Brief Note About Buffer Zones

28 Aug

The Turkish government has been considering implementing a buffer zone in Syria. In addition, today, The Telegraph reports that the French government is in the process of formulating plans for a buffer zone. If such a zone were to be established within Syria, it would be quite significant. As I indicated in my last post, a safe/buffer zone would provide an area for refugees to flee as well as a place for the FSA to set up a main base. However, there are questions that must be answered prior to the implementation of a safe/buffer zone.

One important question is Will France and Turkey seek to obtain support for a safe/buffer zone through the United Nations Security Council?

It may be impossible for France and Turkey to ensure passage of a resolution that would demand a buffer zone in northern Syria. Russia and China have protected Assad from UNSC resolutions in the past. It is therefore highly likely that they would veto any resolution that would call for buffer zones and intervention overall. Even if they were to back a buffer zone resolution, an action that is highly unlikely given their previous vetoes, they would likely require such a resolution to be weakened due to their opposition to intervention by Western powers in Syria. As a result, the buffer zone would likely be rendered ineffective. For example, one possible scenario would be Russia and China supporting a buffer zone that would be protected by unarmed UN observers, especially since both nations have backed the usage of such observers before. Since they are unarmed, they would be unable to protect civilians from regime attacks and massacres, not unlike UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Altogether, attempting to obtain UNSC support for a buffer zone would be, at best, a fruitless effort.

Two more important questions are: If France and Turkey decide not to obtain UNSC approval, how should they try to build international legitimacy for buffer zones? How should such zones be protected?

Since it would be fruitless, if not counterproductive, to obtain UNSC approval for buffer zones, it would be better to urge NATO and the Arab League to support and participate in the establishment of such zones. By doing this, there would be regional support in Europe as well as the Middle East for buffer zones in Syria. In addition, NATO and the Arab League could provide adequate protection through the usage of fighter jets to bomb and/or attack regime tanks and jets. NATO and Arab League nations could also provide heavy arms for the FSA so that they could also repulse regime attacks.

However, U.S. approval will be needed before any buffer zone would be established. Without support from the Obama administration, it is highly unlikely that France and Turkey will unilaterally work to establish such zones. Thus, American leadership is needed. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the Obama administration would agree to support safe zones in Syria, especially given their reluctance to act during the Syrian revolution as well as the upcoming elections. Thus, if the French and Turkish governments wish to implement buffer zones they will need to apply heavy diplomatic pressure on the Obama administration. I hope they succeed. As I argued in my last post, international inaction only emboldens Assad to continue killing and fears of regional instability have increased as the slaughter continues.

The pitfalls of the international response to Syria.

26 Aug

The Local Coordination Committees reports that 440 people were killed in Syria on August 25, 2012. Over 300 of these deaths came from the Damascus area alone. Alistar Burt, the junior British Foreign Minister, has reacted with outrage and condemnation. Unfortunately, condemnations and outrage are likely to be the only responses by the international community. Although French officials have declared that they would back a no-fly zone in Syria, the United States and its allies have shown little support for military intervention overall. President Obama has declared that intervention would occur if chemical weapons in Syria are moved, but has refused to intervene over the usage of conventional weapons.

However, President Obama’s warning will only embolden Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to continue killing Syrians with MiGs, L-39s, tanks, artillery, and other types of conventional weapons. As mentioned earlier, 440 people were killed yesterday in Syria and no chemical weapons were used during the slaughter. Assad will therefore not be phased by Obama’s threats. He has plenty of alternatives to chemical weapons.

In addition, despite receiving some weapons from Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Free Syrian Army does not have adequate weaponry to fully counter the regime’s air assaults. That is why the Syrian opposition is asking the international community to provide the FSA with heavy weaponry. Their calls have been largely unanswered and, as Michael Weiss of the Henry Jackson Society has stated, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have reportedly chosen to focus their assistance on Salafis and other ideologically-rigid groups. Thus, the FSA is inadequately armed and there is much concern that the majority of assistance is only going towards more extreme groups. In addition, there are also concerns about the presence of foreign fighters in Syria and it is therefore possible that they could receive arms as well. It must be noted that the majority of the FSA are moderate and most FSA members are Syrian. However, the lack of adequate arms, selective assistance by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the small, yet concerning presence of foreign fighters are all worrisome issues.

This is how the United States should respond:

1. The United States must take the lead in vetting and arming the FSA: To the Obama administration’s credit, the CIA has been vetting arms shipments to the FSA. However, it is not enough. As mentioned before, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have reportedly been providing arms to more extreme groups. The U.S. must therefore take the lead in vetting the FSA groups receiving arms shipments and ensuring that moderate FSA groups receive assistance. In addition, the U.S. should work with its allies to provide heavy arms, such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, to vetted FSA groups so that they would be able to better counter the regime’s assaults.

2. The United States should work with its allies in training and unifying the FSA as well as providing it operational assistance: At this time, despite improvements, the FSA has organizational and coordination issues. U.S. and British special forces could work with Turkish and Jordanian special forces in organizing and unifying the FSA as well as improving its coordination. They could also train vetted FSA groups and therefore help them become more effective on the ground. In addition, special forces from the U.S., U.K., Turkey, and Jordan could work with vetted FSA groups on the ground and provide them intelligence as well as operational advice. Thus, with these actions, FSA capabilities would improve.

3. NATO and the Arab League should create a No-Drive Zone over FSA-controlled areas in Northern Syria: A No-Drive zone would provide the FSA an area to set up a base as well as a place for refugees to flee. In addition, it would also limit the regime’s capabilities. NATO and Arab League jets would bomb and destroy the regime’s tanks as well as prevent regime jets from bombing FSA-held areas. Thus, it would even the odds for the FSA and ensure that FSA-controlled areas are protected from regime incursions. Nevertheless, a no-drive zone is not without risks. Syria’s air defenses are stronger than Libya’s and NATO bombings have the potential of killing civilians. However, such risks can be mitigated. The Israeli air force has penetrated Syrian airspace in the past. Thus, Syria’s air defenses can be defeated. In addition, NATO can reduce civilian causalities through the usage of precision bombs. They won’t eliminate casualties entirely, but can limit them.

Altogether, by training, arming, and organizing the FSA as well as creating a no-drive zone, the international community would be able to strengthen FSA capabilities as well as weaken the regime. As a result, the aforementioned comprehensive intervention can help hasten the Assad’s fall and thus bring an end to the atrocities. Moreover, a hastened fall is necessary. Many Syrians continue to die as the bloody stalemate continues in Syria. Instability continues to grow as does concerns over the presence of foreign fighters. Fighting has also spread beyond Syria’s borders and into Lebanon. Regional spillover will likely continue as the slaughter and conflict in Syria remains at a stalemate. Overall, the consequences of inaction are dire and are worsening each day. It is therefore time for the international community to end its passivity and act to save the people of Syria.

3 Jul

Amanpour

By Lucky Gold, CNN

Colonel Abdalhamid Zakaria, a doctor and defector from the Syrian army, appeared Monday on Amanpour and described the appalling conditions in the Aleppo military hospital where he worked until his defection.

Now a member of the Syrian Free Army, Col. Zakaria spoke from Istanbul, recalling how at Aleppo hospital he had treated Syrian soldiers, most of whom “were shot from behind when they refused to kill the civilians.”

As for the civilian patients, he said they were treated “only when the regime is looking for further investigations.”  But if they had no information to divulge, “the regime will kill them directly by many ways.”

Among those lethal methods, he detailed “calcium injections, intravenously and rapidly causing cardiac arrest, or by using high doses of insulin causing hypoglycemic coma and finally death.”

He added, “Those who were injected are lucky, compared to those left bleeding to death…

View original post 444 more words

3 Jul

Amanpour

By Lucky Gold, CNN

Colonel Abdalhamid Zakaria, a doctor and defector from the Syrian army, appeared Monday on Amanpour and described the appalling conditions in the Aleppo military hospital where he worked until his defection.

Now a member of the Syrian Free Army, Col. Zakaria spoke from Istanbul, recalling how at Aleppo hospital he had treated Syrian soldiers, most of whom “were shot from behind when they refused to kill the civilians.”

As for the civilian patients, he said they were treated “only when the regime is looking for further investigations.”  But if they had no information to divulge, “the regime will kill them directly by many ways.”

Among those lethal methods, he detailed “calcium injections, intravenously and rapidly causing cardiac arrest, or by using high doses of insulin causing hypoglycemic coma and finally death.”

He added, “Those who were injected are lucky, compared to those left bleeding to death…

View original post 444 more words

25 Jun

World

In the year since the Syrian uprising began, Ankara and Damascus — once allies that enjoyed an open border and robust trade — have lurched from one barely contained diplomatic crisis to the next. Their simmering hostility threatened to spiral out of control Friday after Syrian artillery shot down a Turkish fighter jet, claiming border violation. Turkey conceded that its jet — allegedly unarmed and on a routine radar-testing mission — had strayed into Syrian skies but said it was in international airspace when it was downed. It has called for immediate NATO consultations. On Monday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister told reporters that Syria had also fired on a Turkish search plane but stopped after a warning from the Turkish military.

As violence in Syria rages, the porous 900-km border shared by the two countries has become an increasingly volatile arena for conflict. The plane shooting came just days after…

View original post 614 more words