Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Geneva II and the need for a new American strategy

"If we wanted to surrender we would have surrendered from the start,"
Bashar al-Assad, January 19th 2014

On Wednesday, representatives from the Syrian Government, the Syrian rebellion and the international community will gather in Geneva. The ‘stated’ aspiration of all sides – a just end to a brutal civil war.

In reality, Assad has little interest in meaningful concession. Yes, he’ll probably offer some vague proposals – we should expect the suggestion of a ‘national reconciliation council’. But whatever Bashar offers, if anything, it won’t be substantive. Haafez’s heir is in no mood to negotiate.

It’s not hard to understand why.

Reinforced by Khamenei, Nasrallah and Putin, Assad is applying a strategic blend of blackmail and destruction against the already fractured rebellion. As the rebels fight amongst themselves, the regime consolidates its base of power. And as much as the international community might cry at the suffering of the Syrian people, divorced from resolute policy, our tears have only greased Assad’s machine of death.

All of this leads to one centering reality – the dictator is looking forward to Geneva. In his mind, he holds all the courage and all the cards.

As such, in order to give Geneva II any chance of a positive outcome, America must reshuffle the deck. If we are timid, the Russians will simply generate another WMD disarmament-style figment deal. We can’t let that happen.

Instead, we must replace our policy of confused trepidation with a calculation of unapologetic realpolitik. In short, we need to be both simple and tough – stating the boundaries of a deal we’ll accept and explaining what will happen if Assad doesn’t acquiesce.

For a start, we’ll need to be clear about our non-negotiables. More precisely, while a short term cease fire would certainly be worth consideration, our acceptance of any final peace will require three absolutes. First, Syria’s Sunni community will have to be given a genuine, participatory role in any new government. And it will have to involve more than titles of office- Sunni alienation from Syrian government provision must come to an end. As we’re witnessing in Iraq and Lebanon, sectarian disenfranchisement is a catalyst for extremism. Second, any transitional process must ultimately end with democratic elections. Finally, Syria will need a constitution that balances representative government with protections for minority groups. Alawites, Christians and Kurds will all require the confidence of protection from sectarian abuse. None of these demands will be simple to achieve, but all of them are necessary. The alternative is chaos now or chaos deferred.

Supporting our policy imperatives, we must remember that our power is real.

Correspondingly, we must make Assad understand that America will not tolerate diversionary games. We’ll have to outline that while we’re open to meaningful discussion, Assad’s non-cooperation will come with a severe cost. The most obvious way we can do this is by stating it – clearly and directly. By clarifying that if the peace process falters, America will renew and increase our assistance to nationalist centered Syrian rebels. Indeed, the one fortunate element of the Salafi jihadist rise in Syria has been its assistance in verifying the ideological stance of other rebel formations – it’s now clearer who the ‘good guys’ actually are.

Yet we’ll also have to help Assad realize that our power doesn’t begin and end with a potential supply train. Just as General Dempsey has spoken of ‘‘different ways of action’’, we should make clear that direct military options remain on the table. That in the event of Assad’s continued slaughter; we’ll re-consider military strikes against his regime. Made credible, US deterrent power will produce effect. Just as B-52s recently gave a physical face to US power in the East China Sea, deploying SSGNs to the Eastern Mediterranean would offer the redeemed constitution of American resolve in Syria.

But our strategy in Geneva can’t simply be about getting serious with Assad. We’ll also have to recognize our adversaries in Assad’s alliance for who they actually are.

To recognize that while Khamenei’s hardliners see themselves as the new leaders of the Middle East, they’re actually calculating thugs who can be restrained.

To recognize that while Putin thinks he’s a judo-chopping, ex-KGB superman, he’s actually a skulking, mafia goon who can be deterred.

To recognize that while Hezbollah regards itself as the world’s most powerful non-state actor, its structured organization is vulnerable to pressure.

And contrary to Assad’s wishes, we cannot allow our concerns about supranational Salafi jihadists to dictate our policy. These terrorists pose a real threat, but if we empower our professionals, we’ll defeat them.

            Up until this point, American policy in Syria has been a monumental failure. We’ve empowered our enemies, neglected our prospective allies and allowed a tyrant to wreak havoc upon his people and the region. Obsessed by the serious risks of intervention, we’ve accepted the catastrophic consequences of absent American leadership.

This week, in Geneva, we can and we must begin to put things right.

No comments:

Post a Comment