Syria : What Should We Be Doing Now?

As we have argued earlier, there is an urgent and vital need for the “Friends of Syria” and our allies in the region to start thinking of how to contain the sectarian violence that is already taking place, but which will likely escalate with the fall of Assad.  The best hope is a series of action which needs to be initiated immediately, which includes establishing a robust Peace Keeping/Peacemaking/ Mediation force to prevent mass slaughter and revenge killings. If this can’t be created by the U.N. then it must be part of a “coalition of the willing” made up of both NATO nations and Arab League and Islamic nations. For this to be up and ready to act swiftly, such a force needs to be mobilized and trained and given strong mandates. A reconciliation and diplomatic mission of experts and diplomats needs to also be created in order to work with the still inchoate Syrian Opposition governance leaders.

This effort will likely need strong American and EU backing as well as help from Turkey, which so far has been lagging in seeing the dangers on its borders and acknowledging that this is time for a “full court” press and the alternative is the spread of sectarian violence throughout the Middle East from Jordan and Lebanon to Iran and beyond.

The other “pillar” of bringing a measure of security to this region would be the creation of a massive development effort for the region with a focus on Syria, but others as well. The focus would aim towards correcting the destruction of Syrian infrastructure, but also at putting to work the youth of Syria to unify the nation toward rebuilding as we did in Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War, but by using the resources of Middle east nations, Japan, the EU and America. This will be a hard lift with the continued global economic downturn but the cost of not doing so would, in the end, be much more horrific.

Lastly, the Syrian Opposition groups and their imperfect governance organization need added help and reinforcement with the direct involvement of Syrian “technocrats” of all sectors of the population.  They also need assistance in keeping in place the reforms of many existing institutions like the national bank, transportation, health, education, police and courts, and other ministries.  This means lots of hands (and eyes) on the ground to ensure that chaos and mass slaughter does not overwhelm reconciliation and rebirth.

In sum, the time is now to alter our reluctance to take a lead in shaping the landscape of Syria and nearby states and helping to contain the spread of a devastating sectarian conflict, which is a disaster for all.

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Heritage Foundation – More Nonsense on Obama’s Foreign Policy

obama oval office
President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Oval Office, March 1, 2013. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken listen at right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Heritage Foundation is holding in mid-March a meeting with the improbably, but typical title “U.S. Foreign Policy Adrift.”  You can easily guess what that is all about and the following quote from their announcement tells it all:

“Even before taking office, President Obama began laying out in his public statements the tenets of a doctrine, that if enacted, would enable his Administration to remake America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism.  These tenets include a more humble engagement with the world and more reliance on others as well as treaties and international organizations to deal with global crises and threats to U.S. security.  Nevertheless, in the past four years the world has hardly become more stable or less dangerous: Al-Qaeda connected terrorism is commence the rise, the Middle East is in chaos, North Korea remains openly defiant, and Russia and China challenge the U.S at every turn.”

If you are wondering if this meeting might be a worthwhile way to spend your time, my suggestion is that you can skip it as it is the same old cold war mongering, “war party,” and neo-con claptrap.

But, what is interesting is that Heritage has clearly not done any thinking about the significant changes to the geopolitical and security landscape of the last forty years. They are playing the same old tune now as if the Soviet Union had never gone away. Remember, it was their blind clamoring for irresponsible war in Iraq with tragic consequences for all. They are now still selling war, more war and yet more war. Now it is Iran, North Korea, and we know not what may be next?

Let’s for the fun of it look at each of their key statements above:

The first silly statement is that: The Obama “Administration [wants] to remake America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism.”  They use the word “responsibility” as if going to war unilaterally was a legitimate “responsibility.” The use of this word is an effort to legitimatize what is really irresponsible and dangerous behavior of America, which has proven costly and counterproductive in the global arena.

Obama’s approach, which has clearly increased American true responsibility and leverage in the world in the past four years, is to try to work with others on common goals and solutions.  Its objective is specifically to do so in ways that does not foolishly commence massive unilateral military intervention and expand conflicts and the consequences of casualties both of our own and of civilians – it is in my words trying early “collective preventive diplomacy.”  It is diplomats and international organizations and allies on the ground rather than American boots as a preferred option. This is ‘smart power’ not “stupid power.” It does not mean a “never” on the use of military force as Obama has made clear. The Libyan intervention was a good example of this new multilateral approach, with our help especially in taking out Gadaffi’s air arm and defense capabilities and helping our NATO and other allies with logistics and intelligence…..with few U.S. military on the ground.  Our allies carried out the bulk of our military action both in the air and on the ground.

The second silly and even dangerous statement is: “These tenets include a more humble engagement with the world and more reliance on others as well as treaties and international organizations to deal with global crises and threats to U.S. security.” This is an insidious effort to equate cooperation with and in international organizations or cooperation with our allies by getting their participation as a sign of weakness.   It is clearly just the opposite. The irony is that GOP Congressional types have long criticized our allies for not carrying more of the defense burden, but now that Obama has succeeded in forming coalitions of others to work with us, they see it as a “weakness.” Hypocrisy is probably the right word for this. In fact, this is an added strength for American leadership, which as the military uses the word, is a “force multiplier.”  This clearly is not a concept the right wing security types know much about.  

Finally, their statement that: “Nevertheless, in the past four years the world has hardly become more stable or less dangerous: Al-Qaeda connected terrorism is commence the rise, the Middle East is in chaos, North Korea remains openly defiant, and Russia and China challenge the U.S at every turn.” 

Here lies, more lies, and dammed lies are in this statement.  Before Obama took office we were engaged in two costly and long-standing wars. One of “choice,” that was a total disaster in Iraq. The other was dragging on in the incompetence of the Bush II administration for more than a decade and will now largely end in 2014. We had not yet gotten neither Bin Laden nor his network and lost the chance to kill Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains at the start of the war by committing troops to Iraq and neglecting Afghanistan where the 911 terrorism leadership was based. Obama developed a new approach in Afghanistan that included going after the Al-Qaeda’s network with much success to where it has been on the run and in disarray rather than on “the rise.” The Middle East was in trouble for decades and the new changes were inevitable and the outcomes still uncertain and the spark of democracy in some countries still newly alive. Obama’s administration is in fact highly involved in this as exemplified in the recent trip by Secretary Kerry to the region, taking with him new initiatives and policies.  

As for North Korea, China and Russia these have been challenges for decades, including in the 1970s under Henry Kissinger when I worked on his Policy Planning Staff.  At least Kissinger reached out to China and established relations and thus opened the path to real dialogue and some cooperation. China under Obama has been helping us on a recent vote on Syria and now on support in the Security Council on North Korea. Russia agreed with Obama on the New START treaty, voted for action in Libya, permits us to transit into Afghanistan, and cooperates both on terrorism issues and we hope on Iranian nuclear problems. Both China and Russia have been “problems” for decades (see our earlier blogs), but the Heritage types do not say that Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Bush I and II were “weak” on American leadership.      

In sum, let’s see the world as it is, note that intractable problems won’t be solved by more wars, and that “preventive diplomacy,” peacemaking, and creative multilateral cooperation are signs that “smart” power is back in the White House. Challenges will persist, even beyond the Obama years one can bet, but we are not in a more dangerous world for working on these dangers creatively and with care rather than trying to blindly bomb them. 

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!