The Continuing Syrian Crisis and America’s Conundrums

Mar 27th, 2017 | By | Category: Weekly Washington Updates

By Andrew Harrod, PhD. exclusive to the Religious Freedom Coalition

America's allies in Syria with the black flag of al-Qaeda

Ruthless Islamic killers fly the black flag of Jihad.

“It is a vexed question, the end state,” stated Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Michael Doran concerning conflict-wracked Iraq and Syria during a March 10 Hudson Institute presentation in Washington, DC.  His assessment would strike many as a dramatic understatement concerning the difficult challenges facing American policy in a murderously sectarian region discussed by him and his fellow panelists.

Providence Managing Editor Marc LiVecche criticized international inaction by the United States and other countries during the Syrian civil war between the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship and rebels since 2011.  “The longer you continue avoiding, or not making intentionally, the right decisions then the negative consequences continue to barrel along through history, multiplying like bunnies.”  The resulting quagmire is “making any right thing incredibly difficult, first to identify, and second to do.”

Yet Doran’s analysis indicated that appeals for action are easier said than done, particularly concerning safe zone proposals for Mesopotamian populations seeking shelter from the region’s maelstrom.  “If you want to have control over it, you are talking about a significant application of direct American force and Americans, or working through proxies that have their own agenda that we may or may not agree with it.”  He wondered about possible American responses if Assad’s Iranian and Russian allies “start pushing refugees into the safe zone” through this coalition’s favored tactic of ethnic cleansing.  Alternatively, “what if Al Qaeda, ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria], and the Iranians and the Russians start creating sleeping cells in the safe zones?”

“In order to police the actual safe zone, you have to be ready to impose costs on the Iranians and Russians if they take any step that threatens your policy,” Doran stated.  Thus “you are immediately in a competition with the Iranians and the Russians and you have to be willing to win the competition ladder.  That requires a very significant American force package in the region.”  “If our action in Syria is seen as a threat to the Iranian position, and it will be, the Iranians could act anywhere—it is one strategic theater” in the Middle East; “they could flood the Green Zone in Baghdad with Iraqi Shiite militiamen and so on.”

Doran noted that establishing safe zones “is not a solution, it has to be part of something larger” and that in fighting ISIS, “we need to be aware of the larger strategic context while we are taking care of this urgent problem.”  He thus concluded:

Let’s drop the notion that defeating ISIS is our grand strategic goal in the region.  Our grand strategic goal in the region is to build a new order in the region.  To build a new order in the region we need partners.  To get the partners we have to show that we are willing to compete with the Iranians and the Russians and that means we are also hostile to the Assad regime.  It doesn’t mean we have to say regime change in Syria tomorrow, it doesn’t mean we have to drive the Russians all the way out of the region.

“We want to create an order that is favorable or at least acceptable to our major partners in the region,” Doran stated, but currently “what everybody sees is that the United States is ushering in an Iranian-Russian order.”  This strategic situation helped explain why over 60 nations in an anti-ISIS coalition had not defeated ISIS’ “30,000 nasty guys in pickup trucks for over a year” as these nations “don’t really want to do the job.”  America is the “only power on earth that thinks the destruction of ISIS is the number one priority in the Middle East.  Everybody else is asking themselves what new order is going to replace the ISIS order, is it going to work to my advantage or not.”

Hudson Institute Fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs confirmed Doran’s comments on the basis of conversations with an official from an American ally in Eastern Europe.  The official analyzed that the country’s policymakers “care about ISIS to the extent that the United States wants us to care about ISIS.”  The country’s main strategic concern logically focused on the much more pressing and geographically immediate issue of growing Russian influence.

Babies of Iraqi Christian refugees fleeing the Islamic State need diapers.

Amidst this discussion of carnage, LiVecche noted that many of the region’s Christians would actually prefer finding a way to remain in their ancestral homes recently threated by ISIS genocide and other dangers.  “We have demonstrated over the years that there are all sorts of ways of being compassionate in the region itself,” he noted, a policy that would obviate objections to bringing refugees to the United States.  Considering refugee camps in the region, “I am not saying that these are wonderful places to raise a family, but the conditions can be made better to something that approximates security and order.”

Remaining in the Middle East would benefit not just these Christians, LiVecche noted, but also their non-Christian neighbors.  “It’s good to learn to live outside yourself, to be empathetic with other people, to learn to be open-minded and in certain ways broadly tolerant.”  Yet “you are not going probably to learn that in the Middle East if you chase out all the minorities and the people with whom you disagree.”  For the Middle East’s Muslims, “to stay parochial, to stay incredibly sectarian, is destabilizing internally, and it makes for bad neighbors externally.”

Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom Director Nina Shea nonetheless circumscribed the limits of future good neighborliness amidst the ongoing brutal breakdown of Iraq and Syria along sectarian lines.  “The best we can hope for is regions that are autonomous to some extent, that are ethno-religiously divided,” although she perceived a “glimmer of hope for Iraq.”  The central government has reduced its Shiite sectarianism and received the support of Sunnis in territory retaken from ISIS.  Doran’s regional prediction remained similarly dour; “we are not going to have a solution to the conflicts.  The question is:  how do we manage the chaos better.”

About Andrew Harrod
Andrew E. Harrod is a researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. He can be followed on twitter at @AEHarrod.

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