President Obama’s speech to the American people on Wednesday, September 10th finally outlined for the American people, as he did with Congressional leaders on Tuesday, the key elements in the complex and difficult task of “degrading and destroying” ISIS. Much is at stake, not least is the future of the Islamic world, now at the point of a sectarian conflict between Sunni and the Shiite populations, as well as the Kurds. The Middle East is undergoing not only a large scale conflict, but also a fundamental struggle for the future of the entire Middle East and beyond. Obama is right that it is now self-evident that it is America who will lead, but at the same time work with others in this struggle, not least the nations and people of the region itself.
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.
We are getting closer to seeing the testing moment of whether or not the Transitional National Council (TNC) will be able to work together as a stable interim government rather than a rather fractious fighting rebel force. They have gained recognition by a wide group of nations including now the U.S. and the Arab League, which sets the stage for external help.
The proof will be if the TNC’s efforts successfully create a better future for its people and provide the basis for promoting reconciliation and democracy as well as create democracy and prosperity for that nation. Certainly, they have the advantage of some major resources in their oil producing capacity (about 3% of world production) and their now “embargoed” massive Libyan assets which can soon be made available for useful investment in the country. They also have a fairly high literacy rate unlike what we see in Afghanistan.
Equally, we will be seeing if the NATO powers and the Arab allies will be able to provide the vital necessary assistance in a timely way and in forms that immediately impact the lives, well being, and especially employment–particularly of the youths of that nation, who are now so armed and engaged that they present both an element of instability and a promising source of talent to rebuild their now fairly devastated nation.
Libya needs an economic plan not dissimilar to what Obama would have liked in America if the Republicans had not vetoed it and thus prolonged our sad economic decline we are now seeing. But clearly, for Libya, a real stimulus is just what the doctor ordered to achieve growth and economic renewal.
We made some major mistakes in Iraq and in Afghanistan regarding getting their economies and security systems established and working. Let’s not make the same mistake while the Arab world is watching and its implications loom large for the future of the “Arab Spring” and, thus, the evolution of the Arab world towards modernity and democracy.
There are plenty of “shovel ready” projects in rebuilding the damage that six months of civil war have created. (Just like there are in America with our own deteriorated infrastructure where the government can employ millions for massive long term national benefits.) In Libya this can, in the end, all be paid for by oil money. (In the US it can be paid for by our own increased productivity and revenue plus savings from less imported oil and fewer unemployment checks and destitute families.) But it requires the full mobilization of both national resources and help from outside experts, companies, and international organizations with expertise in rebuilding countries that have experienced major damage. It means massive educational and training programs that lead to real jobs. Such an effort is likely to make building national unity easier when all have a stake in success. The coming six months of victory and rebuilding will be even more important than the six months of civil war!