Category Archives: Syria

Ty Cobb on a Russian Brokered Agreement with Syria

Why Not Give Russia the Lead?

 

By Tyrus W. Cobb

 

Moscow tabled, and the US accepted, a proposal that if the United States were to postpone a planned military strike against Syria, Russia would help broker an agreement in which the Assad regime would place its chemical weapon stocks under UN supervision. The end goal would be the total destruction of the Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles.

Everyone knows the agreement contains a number of challenges that seem daunting. Indeed, even the task of identifying, let alone securing, Syrian chemical weapons in the middle of a war zone appears unreasonable. At some point Syria may even insist on conditions that could collapse the agreement or fail to provide a complete accounting of its weapons.

The punditocracy decried the agreement! Gads, we hear, it gave Moscow a new lead role to play in global politics, perhaps at the detriment of the U.S. Really, tell me how giving Moscow a positive role to play is a bad thing?

We heard that the agreement signed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lacked definitive steps that needed to be accomplished? Au contraire, my friends, it includes a number of concrete actions that need to be taken by Syria.

And guess what? That seems to be happening, and at lightning speed! The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that included legally binding demands, specifically that the Syrian government agree to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile and that independent inspectors be given unrestricted access. The Lavrov-Kerry accord required that, first, an inventory of Syrian chemical weapons be undertaken, and then, that the Syrian stockpile be placed under international control.

The agreement appears to on track for implementation. Just this week a team of 20 international disarmament experts arrived in Syria, the advance element of the group that is charged with impounding, dismantling, removing or destroying Syria’s CW arsenal. Another team of 20 is slated to arrive shortly to begin dismantling the equipment used to assemble these weapons. This has never happened before, let alone in a war zone.

And this is a black eye for the U.S.? Someone please tell me why.

Moscow takes center stage—and why is this bad?

I am amazed at the speed of events that have occurred since the signing of the Lavrov-Kerry pact, and the responsibility Russia has assumed in the process.  As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius has written, “Russia has been drawn into the process of collecting and destroying Syrian chemical weapons”.

We would be well advised to encourage the continuation of this process, including the elevation of the Kremlin to a key role in the implementation.

The question that arises, of course, is can we trust Moscow to serve as an honest broker and assist in securing an agreement that catalogs and ultimately destroys Assad’s chemical weapons?

Of course no one wants to put full faith and trust in the hands of the Kremlin. In following President Reagan’s dictum, “Trust but Verify”, we will want to verify the implementation of the mandated steps rather than rely on “trust”. With an emphasis on verification.

President Obama’s off-hand characterization recently of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the “angry kid who sits in the back of the classroom throwing spitballs” is most apt. Russia has not been constructive in diffusing international disputes, it has threatened its neighbors, and has exaggerated the intent behind US deployments of a missile defense system.

But maybe part of the reason Moscow has acted so petulant is that it really hasn’t been given any opportunity to play a more positive role. Now it has–Russia has accepted a key role in the process of collecting and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.

No one should be so naïve to think that Moscow has suddenly become an impartial player in the Syrian crisis, or that the Assad regime has warmly welcomed this international intrusion. However, both Moscow and Damascus believe that the threat of a devastating American military strike remains real, which may or may not be the case. But they seem to believe that President Obama will, in fact, order a punitive strike, if chemical weapons are employed again. I certainly hope that he would. And no going to Congress—just do it!

Further, it reflects the conclusion by the Assad regime that from a military standpoint, the employment of chemical weapons really does not alter the course of the tactical struggle. They have minimal military significance.  But they do invoke the passionate ire of the international community when employed! Do they really have any tactical utility? Are they worth keeping? Probably not.

So, critics, tell me what Plan B is

The agreement gave the US some badly needed breathing space after a politically damaging series of shifts by the White House.

President Obama retreated from his initial inclination to immediately attack Syria for crossing the infamous “red line”, employing chemical weapons on its own populace. Then, overriding his closest advisors, the President decided to seek more backing for the strikes from Congress, our allies, and perhaps even the United Nations. None of these alternatives panned out.

Despite initial strong support for a strike, France, Germany, and the UK all retreated in the face of wide-spread parliamentary and public opposition. Backing from the Sunni Arab nations proved equally ephemeral, quickly dissipating from a call for action to reservations over any western military intervention. Finally, any hopes of securing UN backing in the face of likely Russian and Chinese opposition was abandoned.

More importantly, domestic US public opinion swayed decisively to the side of non-intervention. Most Americans—and those in Congress– just want the issue to go away

Without a realistic alternative, the U.S. should support implementation of the agreement

In reality, here is where we are. First, President Obama has little support from any constituency for a strike on Syria. Second, President Assad still maintains control over considerable stocks of chemical weapons. Further, his hold on power seems only to have been strengthened over the past year, thanks to the intervention of the Iranian Quds Force and by Hezbollah. Third, the rebel coalition itself is wracked by serious internal fractionalization and is losing ground. More worrisome is that it is increasingly dominated by elements associated with Al-Qaeda and other radical Sunni groups.

In the end, the Russian brokered agreement that is intended to remove chemical weapons from Syria may fail. The Assad regime may remain in power despite US efforts to see him removed. But the prospects for a transition to a representative democracy in Syria does not seem promising, certainly no more so than it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Egypt.

So I ask again, if you “don’t trust Russia” and believe that the agreement only buys time and space for Assad, then what is your preferred alternative?

I doubt you have one.

In this light, I recommend that we give support to the Russian brokered agreement and see where it leads. If the demilitarization of Syrian chemical weapons succeeds against the obvious odds, then that would have the added value not only of securing this horrific arsenal, but would have the added benefit of bringing Russia into playing a more positive role on the world stage.

 

Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb served as Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan for National Security Affairs, and as Director of Soviet, European and Canadian Affairs on the NSC.

 

Final Reminder! September 13 Meeting

The National Security Forum presents

 

IRAN UNDER ROUHANI:

 IMPLICATIONS OF THE ELECTION

FOR U.S. POLICY TOWARD IRAN

 With

COLONEL DINO PICK

COMMANDANT, THE DEFENSE LANGUAGE INSTITUTE

The Ramada, Friday, September 13 at 9:00 am

 

The election of a relative moderate to succeed Ahmadinejad as President of Iran has created a torrent of advice for American and Western policy makers. Does Rouhani’s impressive victory signify that Iran may demonstrate more flexibility on the nuclear weapons issue and on supporting global terrorism? Or will this veteran of Tehran’s political establishment serve only as eye wash for a regime dominated by the Mullahs and the Military, one that won’t adopt any significant policy changes?

US-Iranian relations are at a crossroads. Some experts believe that the election of Rouhani will bring fundamental change within Iran and consequently with respect to its foreign relations. Certainly what we have seen come out of the President’s office recently is encouraging. At the same time, we know that the power of the ruling Mullahs, along with the military and the Revolutionary Guards, remains very entrenched. Should the US and the West seek a secret channel with Rouhani? Should the US/West be prepared to relax sanctions in exchange for tangible changes in Iranian nuclear and domestic policies?

COL Dino Pick was a national security affairs fellow for 2009–2010 at the Hoover Institution. Before arriving at Hoover, he served as a special adviser to General Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO and US Forces in Afghanistan. Pick’s military experience includes service with the 3/66 Armor Battalion in Desert Storm and the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He holds a BA from the University of Washington and an MA from Princeton in Near Eastern Studies, and has served on the OSD policy staff.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $5 for students with ID; free for WWII veterans), so recommend you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some coffee and conversation.

Kindly RSVP on our website by clicking here or you may RSVP by phone (775) 746-3222 or emaitwcobb@aol.com. We are also now accepting credit cards at the door for your convenience.

 

Syria: Strange Alliances and Alignments

The Strange Alliances and Alignments That Have Characterized the Syrian Conflict

By Tyrus W. Cobb

Colleagues:

The President will make a major plea tomorrow for support for his call for retaliation against Syria for its employment of chemical weapons against its own population. He faces a difficult task, as whatever support existed for the strikes has largely dissipated, here and abroad.

Obama failed to secure an endorsement of his planned retaliatory strikes at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, and it was not just Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opposition that led to the failure to secure even a modest resolution endorsing military action. NATO allies fell off the bandwagon, particularly following PM Cameron’s defeat for such a resolution in the British Parliament. The Arab League remains opposed to a Western military strike, even as much as they condemn Assad verbally. The Asian countries followed China’s lead, nodded about the horror of employing chemical weapons, and then turned the Summit back to its original purpose—resuscitating the global economy.

Opposition Grows in the US Leading to Strange Alignments

In the United States public opposition to military strikes has only grown, with less than 26% solidly supporting retaliation in the form of offensive attacks. The Pentagon itself is clearly unenthusiastic about any military action—one only has to look at the body language shown by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and JCS Chairman, GEN Marty Dempsey, during the Congressional hearings. Talk about lukewarm support and doubt!

And here begins the irony. In the face of tepid enthusiasm shown by the professional military and Hagel, the charge for authorization for the strikes has fallen to…..Secretary of State John Kerry! You remember, the longtime antiwar activist who voted against a number of authorizations for force (think Iraq!) when he was a Senator. And by a White House under the leadership of a former community organizer, and also an opponent of military intervention when he was a Senator, Barack Obama!

Obama still may get a Congressional “mandate”, or at least some form of authorization, but if so it will be very limited. What I find more interesting and ironic, however, are the coalitions that have formed both in support of and opposing any resolution.

In favor we find liberals such as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid leading the charge to demand resolute military retaliation, joined by traditional hard liners like John McCain and Lindsey Graham! In opposition, however, is an equally strange alliance, formed by a group of liberal Democratic Congressmen in the House, joined by Tea Party conservatives like Rep Ted Cruz, and on the Senate side, far right Senators like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Now if that ain’t a weird pair of coalitions!

One could add in the number of usually anti-interventionist Democrats, primarily in the House, who will reluctantly support their President, although they strongly disagree with the policy they will vote to endorse. And, on the other side, Senators who have traditionally called for a pro-active U.S. role internationally, and who criticize Obama for “leading from behind”, will, despite that belief, cast a negative vote here in order to further reduce the stature of the President.

Growing Doubts on Responsibility and Retaliation

Nor is there complete agreement out there even on the question of whether or not it was the Assad regime that employed chemical weapons. For my part, I am absolutely convinced by the presentation of evidence provided by Secretary Kerry and the administration. Chemical weapons were deployed against civilian targets and that was a conscious directive from the Assad regime.

Still there are doubters, and they also run the gamut of the political spectrum! There has been no little speculation that the chemical weapons were deployed by elements of the rebel alliance. No responsible source has forwarded this assertion, but it has gone viral on the right wing blogosphere. And, at the same time, it has been a core theme of the far left media sites.

Few have noticed, but within Syria there is also a discernible split. Of course, the rebel alliance is demanding not only strikes against the Assad regime, but additional weaponry to even the playing field. And they are right that they are at a severe disadvantage in this stand-off—the regime, well armed by Iran and Russia, has a distinct advantage over the less well supplied rebels.

So who besides the regime opposes more aid to the rebellion? Well, for starters, the Christian community and other minorities who have been tolerated and conduct their services unimpeded under the Alawites, but fear—rightly—that if the Sunni-dominated rebels were to seize power, their fate would mirror that of the Coptic Christians in Egypt (who were under assault during the brief reign of the Sunni-dominated Muslim Brotherhood).

Ok, here’s a wild speculation—Who else inside Syria would welcome a Western military response? Well, maybe, as I have speculated, the Assad regime itself!

Preposterous, you say? Maybe so, but why else would the Assad regime launch a chemical weapons attack that would have zero military impact, and would likely invite an American, if not NATO, attack? Well, knowing that such retaliation would be very limited, all an attack might do is drive Iran and Russia more firmly into supporting their erstwhile ally, Syria. Perhaps Assad is concerned over a possible US-Iranian rapprochement with the election of President Rouhani and some sort of understanding between Moscow and Washington. An attack from the West would put those shifts to rest. Yes, I know, speculation, but….

Finally, the coalition supporting the rebel alliance is an awkward one. The donors are largely oil rich Sunni monarchies in the Gulf region, hardly interested in establishing a secular, democratically oriented regime in Syria. They are aligned with the U.S. and other Western powers, whose primary interests lie in formulating a coalition government that protects the right of minorities—especially women—and would bring various factions together. Unfortunately, that is not at the top of the list for the Saudis and other Gulf kingdoms! Not sure we have thought through the implications of providing extensive support to the rebels.

And on the other side? Well, here you have Russia, backing Syria and its primary ally, Iran. However, Tehran is the leading promoter of Islamic causes in the Caspian region, while Moscow is deeply concerned over Muslim unrest in the fastest growing demographic in that country, those who hold strong Islamist beliefs! And, of course, Moscow sees Assad as its last hope for maintaining influence in the region, even though its sole remaining bastion is nothing more than a pier in Tartus manned by maybe 8 workers!

Thus a President whose instincts clearly lie in the non-interventionist side of the political spectrum, assisted by a leading anti-war advocate as his Secretary of State, will lead the charge for punishing military strikes against Assad for a crime the world recognizes as cruel and immoral, but one that does not directly threaten our national security interests. Obama will likely argue that this policy recommendation follows logically on his previous initiatives, such as the very aggressive drone attacks on various terrorist groups (targeted assassinations??). Opponents from the far right will argue that America needs to “come home”, disengage from “foreign entanglements”, and direct our financial wealth toward solving our own problems. Mainly by reducing and limiting an overly-active government!

Oh, well, hope you find the strange alignments that have arisen to address the Syrian morass as confusing as I do!

  • Tyrus W. Cobb

Reno, September 9, 2013

 

Syria Crosses The “Red Line”… Now What?

SYRIA CROSSES THE “RED LINE”

NOW WHAT?

 

Colleagues: The employment of chemical weapons by the Assad regime will necessitate a retaliatory action. This point paper provides background on the conflict, summarizes allied/Arab positions, looks at tepid domestic support for military action, and analyzes U.S. options. Perhaps of most interest will be my speculation as to Assad’s rationale for employing chemical weapons, knowing that such strikes would have zero military impact and would necessitate a response from the West. Perhaps, I argue, the Syrian regime is attempting to drive a wedge between what it might see as a possible US-Iranian rapprochement following the election of the “moderate” Rouhani as President in Iran, and to prevent any US-Russian condominium that would result in forcing Assad out of power. Invite your thoughts.

By Tyrus W. Cobb

BACKGROUND

  • The United States and other Western powers have concluded that the government of Syria launched a strike on rebel and civilian targets on August 21 using banned chemical weapons. The UK, France and Germany agreed, labeling the strike a “mass killing” and one that is “morally indefensible”.
  • Hundreds were killed in the strikes on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, including many children. Hundreds have suffered horrible symptoms.
  • The Bashar al-Assad regime denies responsibility and says it will allow U.N. inspectors to enter the area. However, that comes long after the attacks and evidence of chemical weapons use may have dissipated. The government also is not providing the inspectors with adequate protection. The Assad regime blames the strikes on the insurgents fighting to topple his rule.
  • The attacks come amidst a drawn out and deadly civil war. More than 100,000 have been killed. The UN says the 2-year old conflict has already caused the world’s largest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. More than 1.7 million have registered as refugees; over half are children and ¾ of them are under 11. Another 2 million children have been displaced within the country. The refugee exodus has filled tent camps to overflowing in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

 

NATO AND ARAB COMMITMENTS

  • The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, returned from vacation to respond to the crisis and pledged full support. Cameron specified that any action taken “would have to be proportionate and legal”. The PM also said that retaliatory strikes would be limited to efforts “to further degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons”….Germany’s foreign minister (Germany was criticized for its refusal to take part in the Libyan bombing campaign) has been sounding very aggressive on Syria, calling the Aug 21 attacks a “crime against civilization”. French President Francois Hollande vowed to “punish” the Assad regime, adding that “the mass use of chemical weapons cannot go unanswered”.
  • In Cairo, the Arab League, which has long opposed the Assad regime and has strongly supported the Syrian opposition, said it held “the Syrian regime fully responsible for this heinous crime” and demanded that Assad be brought to justice. Of course, the League stopped short of endorsing an international military response. The League’s trepidation reflected regional unease over any Western military intervention. The statement suggests that the US would face no opposition from the League if things go well, but leaves Arab governments with political cover if things go badly!

 

SYRIAN CHEMICAL ATTACKS FURTHER DRIVE A WEDGE BETWEEN THE US AND IRAN/RUSSIA 

  • The issue has deepened the divide between the US and Russia, Syria’s main international ally and sponsor. Moscow warned that a military intervention in Syria could have “catastrophic consequences” for the region and called on the global community to show “prudence”.
  • Diplomats in Iran are warning that hoped for nuclear talks with Iran’s new “moderate” President Hasan Rouhani would die. They also warn that any military intervention would strengthen the hand of hard liners, including Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards.
  • Note: I can’t help but speculate that maybe this was Assad’s intention. After all, the strikes using chemical weapons had little or no military utility and Assad certainly knew that the use of these instruments would surely invoke a military response. He may also have been looking over his shoulder at the statements of the new Iranian President, Rouhani, worrying that Iran’s commitment to Syria might be a casualty of a rapprochement. Likewise, while Moscow gave Syria verbal support and moved a couple warships around the Med, the amount of military and economic aid that Russia previously furnished Assad was fairly minimal. Would the use of chemical weapons provoke a Western response that would force Iran and Russia into a corner and provide greater support for Syria? Maybe…just speculating here.

 

US PUBLIC OPINION ON THE CRISIS

  • There is no widespread support for any American military action, despite the horrendous nature of the employment of these weapons. Possible military intervention in Syria is also running into fierce opposition among members of Congress, from both parties. Many are demanding that the President seek Congressional authorization for any intervention.
  • There are also calls for the US and its Allies to seek a resolution of support from the UN Security Council. Given the opposition of Russia and China, this would be an effort doomed to fail. Still, Americans seem uneasy not only about intervention, but doing so without some broader international and/or Congressional approval.
  • White House aides have cited the 1999 Kosovo campaign as a possible model. Lacking Russian support, the US acted under a NATO umbrella. That could happen here….Unilateralism is also an option. In 1998, President Clinton, without seeking any approval, ordered missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for Al Qaeda’s East Africa embassy bombings.

 

US/ALLIED OPTIONS FOR RETALIATORY ACTION

  • President Obama had earlier declared that the use of chemical weapons represented a “red line” that if crossed demanded retaliatory actions. The White House has confirmed that it is considering a range of military options and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated that the US has “moved assets into place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever options the president wishes to take”.
  • The more ambitious the objective, the more resources will have to be committed. In addition, the more the US gets invested in the conflict, the more likely it will be tied to the aftermath. Given the lack of public and Congressional enthusiasm for another military intervention in the Mideast, the US and its allies will most likely undertake operations with a limited scope.
  • Most likely the U.S, possibly with its allies, would limit its retaliatory strikes to punishing Assad by hitting high value targets, including those associated with the disposition of chemical weapons. This might include command and control centers, but possibly also airfields and anti-aircraft missile sites.
  • The most likely would be strikes by Tomahawk missiles launched by US Navy assets just offshore. Hitting chemical weapons stockpiles would probably not be an option given that it would lead to extensive civilian casualties. The US already has enough forces to commence operations now, including four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, soon to be augmented by two carrier groups. USAF assets are being moved into the region. In addition the US could launch B-2 bombers that would stealthily penetrate the Syrian integrated air defense network to drop bunker-busing bombs with minimal risk.
  • Should the US and its Allies seek to go after hardened C3 sites and other leadership facilities that would entail the employment of fixed-wing aircraft, that would be a more risky undertaking. So would imposing “no fly zones” or designating and protecting “safe areas” inside Syria. Suggestions have been heard that actually seizing chemical weapons might be an objective. If so, that would require thousands of “boots on the ground” and the deployment of special ops forces.
  • US military leaders have been very cautious in their recommendations, both before and after the chemical weapons strikes. They advise that any intervention would not be cheap, costing more than a billion dollars a month (CJCS Dempsey). The Chairman has also warned about “unintended consequences” of intervention.
  • Any strike against existing chemical weapons facilities would likely only marginally set back Syria’s overall military capabilities or its special weapons programs. Strikes would be punitive in nature and not intended or likely to accomplish any militarily important goals. The strikes would be largely “symbolic” and not alter the balance of forces on the ground, which has shifted significantly over the past few months in the regime’s favor as the rebel coalition’s effectiveness has diminished.
  • Again, the only likely concrete outcome is that Iran and Russia will strengthen its commitment to Assad!
  • The US, its Allies and the Arab League will also likely provide increased support for the faltering rebel coalition. However, to be effective, that support must be extensive and long-lasting, meaning that we will be financially and militarily more committed than before.
  • The most urgent need is for greater humanitarian support. It must be more proactive, involve more international partners, and provide assistance for the neighboring countries bearing a heavy burden.

 

CONCLUSIONS

  • Syria has crossed the “Red Line. Whether or not the President should have drawn that line is immaterial now; the US and its allies must retaliate.
  • However, given the lack of public support for intervention on a meaningful scale, and the absence of Congressional or UN mandates/approval, the strikes will be very limited in nature and designed to be punitive. They will not achieve meaningful military objectives.
  • Washington will be particularly concerned that Israel not allow itself to be drawn into the conflict. Assad may want that to happen and may authorize chemical strikes to occur on the common border to inflame Israeli opinion. Keeping Israel out of this conflict must be a major Western objective lest Assad achieve what he wants—to wean the Arabs away from supporting actions against his regime.
  • The US will inevitably be further drawn into this conflict. We certainly should be providing more humanitarian relief. We need to work with the rebel coalition to ascertain if there is any reasonable chance that more secular forces can be drawn to leadership roles (I doubt that can happen, but we should try).
  • Finally, we need to be deeply involved in diplomatic conversations with Russia and indirectly with the new leadership in Iran, with the objective of attempting to insure that Assad’s reckless actions do not stymie our larger security interests.
  •  Tyrus W. Cobb

Reno, August 29

twcobb@gmail.com

Comments welcome

 

 

Syria: The Carnage Continues…

SYRIA: THE CARNAGE CONTINUES, REBEL PROSPECTS DIMINISH, U.S RELUCTANTLY LOOKS AT INTERVENTON OPTIONS

 

It appears that the rebel coalition opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad is disintegrating, and that radical elements associated with Sunni extremism and Al Qaeda are increasingly dominating the coalition. As ForeignPolicy.com recently warned, “There are more signs that Al-Qaeda is dominating anti-Assad forces.” Rebel forces recently scored a few successes in the north, attacking and seizing an air base. The Syrian Opposition Coalition, said the airbase had been ‘liberated’ by a mixture of nine rebel groups. They included the al Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, and its Syrian sister organization, the Nusra Front.”

But here’s what’s significant about it: “Those rebels included multiple units affiliated with the Syrian Military Council, an umbrella group with U.S. backing. That poses an uncomfortable pairing of a group supported by U.S. resources with Islamist organizations Washington has labeled as terrorist.”

The dominance of extremist groups with the Coalition has led to Michael Morell, the outgoing #2 at the CIA, to declare that the volatile mix of Al Qaeda radicalism and the civil war poses the single greatest threat to U.S. national security! For Morell, the risk is that the Syrian government, which possesses chemical and other advanced weapons, collapses, and the country becomes AQ’s latest haven, supplanting Pakistan. The violence in Syria, Morell says, has the real potential to spill over onto Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Morell and others have fretted about the increasing numbers of “foreign fighters” flowing into Syria, and joining—and dominating—the rebel coalition. Many of the militants belong to the Al-Nusra Front, but others are forming under the banner of the more extremist umbrella group, the ISIS. There have been more clashes of late between jihadist groups and more secular forces within the rebel army, with the latter more and more on the defensive.

The spillover of violence into Lebanon is accelerating. A country with long-simmering sectarian tensions, Lebanon is experiencing more instability, much of that escalated by the conflict across the border in Syria. The heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah has drawn criticism and opposition to its decisive involvement in Syria on behalf of the Assad government. At the same time, and in response, radical Sunni groups have become more powerful and mobilized, subsidized heavily by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The four major Lebanese sects—Shia, Sunni, Druze and Christians—are all preparing for intensified conflict.

The Assad regime’s hold on power is being challenged, but the rebel groups are insufficiently united to take advantage of the fraying. The country remains united only in theory—indeed, in many ways it has already disintegrated as a coherent entity, with three distinct parts emerging. The regime holds a firm grip on a corridor running from the southern border with Jordan through the capital of Damascus and up the Mediterranean coast. The primarily Sunni rebels control a chunk of territory that spans Aleppo and other provinces in the north, stretching along the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Finally, tucked into the far northeastern corner, a Kurdish minority—wary of all groups—enjoys semi autonomy.

Dr. John Jandali’s Pessimistic View of the Crisis

We asked Syrian-born and Mideast expert Dr. John Jandali to provide his observations on the state of the conflict and the future of both the Assad regime and the rebel coalition. Here is John’s analysis:

Here are some facts to consider:

1: The Assad regime is in control of most of the country, except for some parts of the North, and with the Iranian and Hezbollah military and technical support and “boots on the ground”, the regime is getting ready to wipe out the opposition forces in Aleppo ( North) and Deir-el-Zor (East).

2: The major urban centers in Syria have been devastated, and their infra-structure seriously damaged. More than 100,000 killed, nearly a million and a half people took refuge in neighboring countries, and more than four million people have been displaced.

3: The opposition forces lack unity and common purpose; they are already at a stage where they are fighting each other for dominance and control of territory. Al-Qaida-Iraq has planted its roots among the opposition forces, and aims at prevailing, and eventually eliminating the secular wings and imposing a radical Islamist government on Syria.  The Islamists are better armed and trained than their secular counterparts, and have been credited with the major strikes inflicted on regime forces. The Saudi and other Gulf State military assistance given to the secular group- -the Free Syrian Army- -seems to have had very little impact in their  ability to bring the Islamists under their control.

4: Any US or Western aid to the opposition forces may be “too little, too late” in turning the tide of war. Time is on the side of the Assad regime, which, at the cost of totally destroying what is left of the country’s cities and population centers, is set to kill and eliminate what is left of the opposition forces.

5: Clearly, a negotiated political solution is the only way out of this civil war. But, while Assad is willing to go to Geneva to negotiate from a position of strength, opposition leaders see themselves at a great bargaining disadvantage and are reluctant to support negotiations. And, there is the question of who will represent the opposition at such a conference, and what concessions, if any, is the opposition leadership willing to make. The result of all this is that the political option remains in limbo.

6: In hindsight, we probably  should have pushed for a negotiated solution long before now, long  before the death of 100,000 people, and long before Assad got  the upper hand in the conflict. And maybe we missed the golden opportunity of negotiating with the Russians on the Syrian crisis, and perhaps making some concessions that could have  accommodated their security and political interests in the region . This could have been a small price to pay for reaching a solution and reconstructing a government representing all factions in Syria. But now, the fight continues, and the Assad regime, backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, is beginning to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel and is already planning to solidify its hold on the country  and reign over a state in which there will be no opposition or dissent.

You may think that this is a very pessimistic view of the  end of this crisis, but I believe it is an accurate assessment of things to come.
A very sad and painful future for Syria and the region.

  • John Jandali

What can and should the U.S. do? The Pentagon is not enthused about any option

Finally, to the question of what should the U.S. and the West do given the deteriorating situation? As you all know, the U.S. military leadership, the Congress and American public opinion have been very wary of intervention beyond providing some aid and materiel to the non-AQ elements of the rebel coalition. Now, under pressure from some in Congress and in the national punditry, the Pentagon has been asked to provide a list of military options for the U.S. to consider with respect to the Syrian civil war.

However, the Pentagon clearly submitted the list against its own judgment. The Chairman of the JCS, GEN Martin Dempsey, stated bluntly that any intervention would cost billions of dollars and carry significant risk. The Chairman warned of “unintended consequences” and the danger of deeper involvement that would be difficult to avoid.

Dempsey laid our five military options, including arming and training opposition fighters, conducting airstrikes, imposing a no-fly zone, seizing chemical weapons and “boots on the ground”. He stated that any such intervention would be considered an “act of war”, and that the administration and Congress should fully consider the ramifications of any escalation of assistance or military action.

Given the pessimistic analyses by Jandali, other experts, and the Chairman, anyone have any bright ideas?

Ty