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.

Turkey and U.S. National Security

The combined weight and importance of Turkey’s political, military, economic and geo-strategic circumstances in the consideration of American national security interests require the most serious attention, and one must assume that fact escapes nobody’s attention in Washington.  By way of illustration, Turkey is the only Islamic country that is both a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU; it fields more than twice as many active-duty military personnel than does France, the UK or Italy; its potential role as a conduit for oil coming from various directions is clear; and its neighbors, by sea and/or land, include Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus and Greece.

Surely that abbreviated description puts Turkey in a class with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and the EU/Germany/France with respect to key political entities always prominent on our horizons and in morning briefings.  Full treatment would require a book and more expertise and experience than is readily available.  Deserving brief mention here, however, are recent developments in two areas requiring only attention to the daily press: Turkey’s role in the Middle East; and a shift in the prospects for eventual Turkish membership in the EU.

Given Turkey’s attributes as outlined above, it would be well-nigh impossible for it not to play a prominent part in cascading events in its neighborhood.  It is no surprise, then, that the major outside actor in the ongoing conflict within Syria is its neighbor to the north.  The massive intake of refugees from Syrian President Assad’s murderous forces has both saved countless lives and earned the respect and gratitude of Western powers still in the throes of making decisions about whether and how and when to intervene.  (Turkish policy vis-à-vis Syria, humane and charitable though it may be, is surely motivated in large part by the growing national and religious enmity between Turkey and Iran, Assad’s principal outside champion.)

Still concerning the Middle East, Turkey’s growing animosity toward Israel ever since the 2009 Israeli killing at sea of nine Turks on their way to delivering non-military supplies to Gaza, and Israel’s stubborn refusal to apologize, has taken an ugly – if unintended – turn.  (One cannot but recall Turkey’s unrelenting refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide by its proper name.)  Last Thursday, February 27, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as telling a UN meeting in Vienna the following: “Just as with Zionism, anti-semitism and fascism, it has now become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”  Secretary of State John Kerry and others were swift to criticize Erdogan’s remark, clearly to protest the inclusion of Zionism in the list of evils.  Whether Erdogan himself or just his speech writer failed to understand the meaning of Zionism, roughly, the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel, and that condemning Zionism was itself anti-semitic has not been revealed.

As concerns the EU and Turkish prospects, ever since both French and German leaders made it clear that membership was not in the cards, the Turkish leaders themselves have hardened and public opinion polls show little enthusiasm.  Now, two recent developments have served to keep the proverbial foot in the door.  About to leave Berlin for a visit to Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, admitting her skepticism, nevertheless spoke of resuming stalled negotiations between Turkey and the EU.  At the same time, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was giving the same message to his Turkish counterpart.  Many years of talks lie ahead, several critical issues must be resolved, and Turkey must relent on some of the most difficult for Ankara, e.g., getting out of Cyprus and signing and ratifying the UN Law of the Sea Treaty.  But, the door is open once more, and US national security interests would be served by an eventual resolution of differences between key friends and allies.

 

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