Peace in Syria: Can we get there from here?

The recent ISIS attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian plane by Turkey add new corridors to the labyrinth that we are lost in when it comes to peace in Syria.  But while these changes add complexity to the ongoing enigma, the way forward remains the same.

We must reach a diplomatic solution among the various factions in Syria which then would allow them and foreign powers like ourselves and Russia to focus our full attention on destroying ISIS instead of splitting our efforts trying to destroy each other.

If that were the case, the long unanswered question of:  Where are more boots on the ground to come from?    Would likely be answered:  From a lot of places.

At present they seem unlikely to come from anywhere, besides the Kurds, who can only do so much, and the Shia militias in Iraq who, while willing to fight ISIS,  are further alienating the Sunni’s in western Iraq in the process.   Ah, the Sunni-Shia divide.  A clue.

Also, my sense of the Kurds is they are  less enthusiastic to shed blood in Syria than in Iraq, their homeland, so while some are fighting in northeastern Syria, don’t expect the Kurds to supply all the boots on the ground necessary, even if aided by a few thousand  U. S. troops.

The Kurds, like every other nation, have their own agenda which only partially converges with our own.   Our top priority is to destroy ISIS, their top priority is to establish a Kurdish state free from Bagdad control, a goal we are likely helping them attain with our growing arms shipments.

The problem of finding peace among the Syrian factions as well as finding troops willing to fight ISIS goes back to the same issue, the fundamental Shia-Sunni Muslim antagonism that goes back centuries.   While Iran and Iraq have majority Shia populations, the rest of the Middle East is Sunni dominated.

Syria is an oddity in that the Assad government is backed by a minority of Syrians who are Shia in the sense they are an offshoot of that sect.   A large majority of Syrians are Sunni.

What has mushroomed into the Syrian civil war is, in a general sense, a proxy fight between Sunni and Shia Middle East nations.   The key point in all of this is that while our top priority is to destroy ISIS, the top priority of the Sunni nations in the region is to defend against and weaken Iran, including its influence in Syria and Iraq.

As such, Sunni nations like Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have shown no willingness to put together a Sunni ground force to fight ISIS.  Besides having other pressing agendas to deal with (Saudi Arabia with Yemen and Egypt with terrorists at home), these nations are more concerned with ridding Syria of Assad than in fighting ISIS.  In fact, ISIS was initially funded by the wealthy in these nations as a Sunni answer to Assad’s dominance and probably still gets some support from them.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has suggested that the “right” boots on the ground should come from Sunni nations, which makes sense since ISIS has Sunni roots, so it would be Sunnis cleaning up their own mess so to speak and would avoid inflaming tensions both between the Shia and Sunnis and those between the West and the Middle East.

But from what I have read, there seems no likelihood that such a force could be formed until some sort of deal is worked out in Syria in which Assad gives up power and a process to include Syrian Sunnis in the government is developed.   As long as Sunni ISIS counterbalances the power of Assad, the Sunni states cannot be counted on for much support (even their air campaigns have fizzled to nothing ).

So, you got all that?     If you have trouble imagining a diplomatic solution coming to pass, like I do, its happening anytime soon received a setback when the Turks shot down that Russian plane.    The Turks want Assad gone, while Putin remains his loyal ally.

It seems the Turks thought that plane was heading to bomb anti-Assad forces it supports, while Russian media portrays it as an act of Turkey helping ISIS, when most likely the Turks are right since Russian media has pushed the narrative that Russia is fighting a holy war vs. ISIS, despite most of their attacks being aimed at Syrians Turkey and we support.

Of course, since that bomb blew up the Russian plane, Russia probably is bearing down on ISIS more now.   I haven’t checked.

The labyrinth grows while the enigma remains.

 

 

 

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THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR: Hell is Heating Up

Prior to the rise of ISIS I referred to Syria as the problem from hell.   In the interim Syria has become hell and hell has spread beyond its borders.  Now on this very day Vladimir Putin ratchets up the inferno with a power play on behalf of President Assad while pretending to help us fight ISIS.

For days Russian planes have been bombing mostly “moderate” Syrian opposition fighters while Russia has either denied that or just clumped together all anti-Assad forces as “terrorists”.   Today I read that Russian ships have added missiles to the fray and some Russian troops have been landed.  What is this?  Ukraine all over again?

This is gut wrenchingly awkward for us because we have been supplying some of those moderates who are being bombed.  And this is where Putin has us by the you-know-whats because he can argue, unlike us, he was invited in to support the legitimate government of Syria, i. e. the bastard scores points in international law.

HERE’S THE BIG NEWS FOR TODAY!   We face a dilemma.  Chancing war with Russia or facing humiliation for failing to stop them.

I’m feeling cognitive dissonance because I see little mention of what is happening today on the three major cable stations.  I keep flipping back and forth and finally found a piece on CNN, a good piece by the way, describing what I’ve been writing about.  Oh, and I just saw something on Fox, but rushed apparently to get the latest on the Hillary emails.

Googling, I find little up to date news on the subject and what news there is shows nothing about how we will react to these developments.   In a piece in USA Today, I see this quote from Secretary of Defense Aston Carter:   “They continue to hit targets that are not ISIL. We believe that is a fundamental mistake.”

A fundamental mistake?   That’s it?  Please get back to me when you have a real response Mr. Secretary.

It reminds me of our President stating a few days ago that these moves by Russia were really a sign of their weakness, the weakness of Assad that is, who needs propping up.   That may well be true, but what are we going to do in reaction to the propping up of someone we religiously insist must go?

Frankly, Mr. Obama, I really wish you had never said “Assad must go,”  Some sort of deal might have been reached a long time ago.  The sad truth in international politics is that some times one must forge a deal with the devil.  Do you think Winston Churchill liked dealing with Joseph Stalin?

Mr. President, I know the danger of clashing with Russia in Syria, but if we keep letting Putin bomb the sh.t out of the people we supposedly are supporting, who will believe in our support in the future?

I know it is a tricky decision Mr. President, so I’ll try to be patient.

(P. S. – 10:20  a.m. Pacific Time) Just heard on CNN that there was a close encounter between an America and Russian Jet.)

Syria: “The Problem from Hell”

Syria

Syria (Photo credit: ewixx)

I do not want to write about Syria because I have no special insights into the situation, but then again, I don’t know who does.   It is the proverbial elephant in the room, but like that old story of several blind men touching different parts of an elephant, it seems different depending on what part you touch.

Our military  will soon send missiles to do a surgical strike in response to what our government asserts was a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on its people.   John McCain asserts they already used chemical weapons, but that assertion is in some doubt.   This time is doubtless according to the Obama administration and crosses the “red line” that he warned the Syrian regime not to cross tens of thousands of deaths ago.

Whatever.  We’ll soon launch limited missile attacks which, well, will do what?  The argument is they will be punishment for crossing that “red line” of chemical weapons, argued since WWI to be the definitive line that separates reasonable war from monstrosities,   It seems the indiscriminate nature of chemical weapons is the key and the image of dying from slow asphyxiation cements the difference, though it seems a fine line between that and dying in a bomb produced falling building.   In any event, we Americans can luxuriate in discriminate killing because we have such sophisticated weapons that our missiles can hit not just a building but a specific window in that building.

Anyway, how is this to play out? is the BIG QUESTION.   The administration doesn’t want to topple Assad, at least not quite yet, because chaos may well harbor bigger threats that could prevail…. a large share of the freedom fighters have a Muslim extremist sense of “freedom”.    So, I guess we want to slap Assad’s hand hard enough so as not to cross that red line again, and otherwise watch the slaughter games continue while sending support to whatever elements we think of as the “good guys” or the better-than-worse guys.

And what I have said just scratches the surface.  Hell goes deep.  For those who want to explore the in-and-outs of this confusion, I suggest going to this link titled Why China and Russia are Standing by the Regime.   While describing their positions, the article links to various other articles about the situation, including the  historical use of chemical weapons, so it provides a good primer for those who want to learn more about the intricacies of this particular hell.

Somewhere there is a quote from a Russian describing our foreign policy regarding the volatile Muslim world:   “The Americans handle the Muslim world like a monkey handling a hand grenade.”  

Made me smile……   but the Russian tendency to support despotism under any circumstances is no answer either in this age of Middle East revolutions, reactions to decades and decades of repression and happening now compliments of hand held world interconnectivity and one more reason this problem is beyond the capacity of any nation to control or perhaps even guide.