Syria belongs to the Syrian people. That is the most basic of truths. Syria must be returned to its people.
Historically, Syria goes back to the ‘era of the Levant’ and, in fact, Syria translates to Levant[i]. Levant is significant to the ideology and public relations campaign undertake by the IS, also referred to as ISIS and ISIL. So significant is Syria to IS, especially its oil rich fields, that IS established a second capital in the once modern Syrian city of Raqqa.
Syria’s capital of Damascus, an area yet to be devastated by IS, is one of mankind’s longest continuously inhabited cities. Damascus was also the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and of an Egyptian sultanate. The concept of the Caliphate is central to IS’ current recruitment strategies.
Modern day Syria emerged after World War I. Under its October 24, 1945 Constitution, it was formed as a democratized parliamentary republic, with a full range of constitutional protections, and it was accepted as a United Nations member nation.
Following several military coups, under a December 1, 1961 constitutional referendum, Syria formally became the Arab Republic of Syria.
In 1963, the Ba’ath Party staged a coup d’etat, placing it into power, a position it has held ever since. From 1963 through 2011, Syria suspended the constitutional protections granted its citizens. Since 1963, it has not been considered a democratized nation.
From 1973 to 2000, as a Ba’ath party member, Hafez al-Assad was President. He was succeeded by his son, Bashar al-Assad, also a Ba’ath party member, who remains Syria’s current President al-Assad was re-elected in a June 2014 referendum election under circumspect polling conditions[ii].
The Onset of Civil War
Protests in Syria started on January 26, 2011. Protesters called for political reforms and the re-instatement of their civil rights, as well as an end to the state of emergency, suspending their constitutional rights, which had been in place since 1963. Civil war broke out on March 25, 2011[iii].
After the inception of Syria’s civil war, the United States, the European Union, Canada and the majority of the Arab League[iv] all called for President al-Assad to resign his presidency[v]. Widespread economic sanctions and travel restrictions were rapidly imposed by the West.
As of late 2013, the best known of the over 100 factions operating in Syria were:
Amid mounting humanitarian crises [the best known being the refugee crises in the European Union [vi]], on-going terrorist attacks in Syria are minimally attributable to at least five groups:
- Non-Sunni Muslim extremists;
- The al-Nursa Front led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, involved in the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack and Osama bin Laden’ successor. It has been reported that al-Zawahiri and Bakr are at odds with one another;
- Sunni Muslims, constituting the majority of the its population, who oppose existing the government; and
- The Syrian government.
All are involved at some level with the ISIS, which is and has been playing a leading role in Syria (Emphasis added) [vii].
The damage and methods by which it was so brutally inflicted was recently summarized as follows:
TOTAL CASUALTIES (MINIMUM ESTIMATES)
Estimates range from 100,000 to 150,000 killed (as of March 2014)
9 Million displaced
Human rights abuses that have been confirmed include but are not limited to:
Chemical Weapons attacks on civilian areas
Barrel bombing civilian areas
Widespread use of rape as a weapon of war
Summary executions of prisoners, including children
Mutilation and display of corpses, including crucifixion
Torture, including of children [viii]
As one commentator wrote this week:
By releasing dozens of al-Qaeda prisoners in mid-2011, Assad helped give birth to a thriving Islamist insurgency, including an al-Qaeda affiliate. By then adopting a deliberate policy of not targeting IS, Assad directly facilitated that group’s recovery and explosion into the transnational “Caliphate” movement it claims to be today.
Meanwhile, the Assad regime has conducted a consistent policy of intentional mass killing of civilians – first with air strikes and ballistic missiles, then with barrel bombs and widely alleged use of chemical weapons.
Bashar al-Assad has professionalised and industrialised the use of detention and torture to “cleanse” his own population, while imposing dozens of medieval-style sieges on vulnerable populations. He has consistently flouted UN Security Council resolutions and according to some sources, has been responsible for 95% of all 111,000 civilian deaths since 2011 [ix].
President al-Assad has been cited by the United Nations as having committed war crimes but the International Criminal Court has yet to take jurisdiction[x]. “Asked if he believed Mr Assad should face prosecution at the International Criminal Court, Mr Cameron said: “People who break international law should be subject to international law[xi].””
The Scattered Pieces of the Syrian Front
Over the last few months, President al-Assad’s position in Syria has become increasingly detrimentally impacted. First, it was released that President al-Assad had lost control over the government’s last oil field[xii].
Second, amidst a mounting refugee crisis in the European Union and beyond, it was released that the Syrian government was facilitating the issuance of passports for citizens both in and outside of Syria[xiii]. Historically, passports were all but impossible to obtain. It’s as if Syria government has no interest in seeing its people return home[xiv]. This is form of Scientific Racism known as ethnic cleansing. Like genocide, ethnic cleansing is a war crime. Like the Palestinian people, the Syrian people want the right to return to their homelands as it existed prior to conflict erupting.
Third, and most significantly, is Russia’s military build-up in Syria[xv]. Russia, whose economy was decimated in 2014 as a result of economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States[xvi], was left with two primary assets[xvii]. Military support, including the sale of weapons and the training of troops, and energy, both its natural resources and its willingness to build nuclear power plants. In the sale of armaments, Russia is second only to the United States. Russia has long been known as the primary purveyor of weapons to ISIS, also referred to as IS and ISIL.
What was concerning was a BBC News commentator who, in early September announced that given Russia’s relationship with President al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin could be a reliable bridge to the Syrian peace process whereas every other news report reflected growing international concern about Russia’s increasing military presence in Syria[xviii].
As early as September 5, 2015, “US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern to his Russian counterpart over reports of “an imminent enhanced Russian military build-up” in Syria[xix].” The day prior The New York Times reported “that US officials believed Russia had sent a military advance team to Syria[xx].” Another report stated that Russian troops were actively engaging in combat alongside President Assad’s troops[xxi].
What we know for sure is that:
In the space of three weeks, Moscow has deployed at least 28 fighter jets, 14 helicopters, dozens of tanks, anti-aircraft missile systems and 2,000 troops into north-western Syria.
Russia’s claim that its forces are there only to target Islamic State should be taken with a large grain of salt [xxii].
“President Vladimir Putin has been coy on the subject, saying Russia is weighing various options, a statement that has fueled suspicions about the Kremlin’s intentions[xxiii].
That same news report opined as to President Putin’s intentions:
By playing with the possibility of joining the anti-IS coalition, Putin may hope to win a few key concessions. His main goal: the lifting of Western sanctions and the normalization of relations with the United States and the European Union, which have sunk to their lowest point since the Cold War amid the Ukrainian crisis. In addition, the Russian leader may be angling to make the West more receptive to Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, while retaining influence in Syria [xxiv].
The Pentagon has been a bit more outspoken:
The U.S. intelligence community now thinks Russia may have embarked on its military buildup in Syria because Moscow believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may not be able to hang onto power and it wants to position itself to back a proxy if the regime were to collapse. It is a view shared by the Pentagon, Defense officials told CNN [xxv].
The Future of Syria
There are no commentators or governments of the belief that President al-Assad can hold on to his presidency without concerted international support. While the West has called for President al-Assad’s removal since 2011, the question has recently arisen as to whether President al-Assad should play some role in a transitional government, with that question only having arisen as way to pacify President Putin.
The United States intelligence community has raised key questions about Syria’s future:
U.S. intelligence still sees al-Assad’s collapse as likely to be several months away, though he has been considerably weakened over this year after losing of significant territory and directing an army that is increasingly demoralized.
The United States is trying to assess whether figures in Syria still exist who might be able to step in should al-Assad fall, a senior U.S. official told CNN, but for now doesn’t see a clear leader or dissident who could garner enough support inside Syria to take power.
The United States is concerned about the preservation of basic social structures and services that still exist in Damascus should al-Assad fall, since the regime’s implosion could open the door to a humanitarian disaster if ISIS or al Qaeda-affiliated militias were to move in [xxvi].
The Case for a Coalition Government
This paper started out with the premise that Syria belongs to the Syrian people to whom it must be returned. However, with its constitution supplanted since the early 1960s and over 100 Syrian factions all competing for at least local, if not regional control[xxvii], it lacks the infrastructure necessary to conduct fair elections, let along implement national governance.
“”There has always been the idea that there will be a political transition and there are differing views between members of the international community… what the steps are in the process. That is where there is more discussion ongoing,” a senior British official said.”
The Syrian crisis presents an opportunity for the international community to come together and devise an interim coalition government. The composition of a coalition government has not yet been explored, or at least not publicly so. Should such a concept be entertained, there must regional representation from within Syria, a mechanism by which the voice of its refugees can be heard, and a lack of involvement by the United Nations Security Council.
This author has excluded the United Nations Security Council as two of its permanent members – Russia and China – have failed to join collective or coalition peacekeeping efforts in Syria. Rather, any vote representing the position of the United Nations member nations must come from its General Assembly. This raises the ancillary question of whether the United Nations Charter must be amended[xxviii].
As the United Nations has been criticized for failing to give a greater regional voice to those most affected by its decisions, the Arab League may be the effective at offering its collective vote, regional expertise and other assistance to a coalition government.
In addition, NATO, and other coalition forces[xxix] should remain ‘stakeholders’ in Syria until such time as the Syrian people have the infrastructure necessary for self-governance and until it is rendered safe for those displaced Syrian people wanting to return to their homeland. We can all learn from Afghanistan from which peacekeeping troops withdrew before the country was properly stabilized and prepared for independent self-governance, including safeguarding its citizens’ human rights.
This begets the question as to what role Russia would play in resolving the Syrian crisis[xxx] and, more particularly, what role, if any, it would play in a transitional, coalition government[xxxi]. The one factor the international community has weighed most heavily against Russian involvement is that Russia is still backing President al-Assad[xxxii].
[i] Lardner, Cynthia, “ISIS Gone Corporate”, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards, June 19, 2015, as found on the www athttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/isis-gone-corporate-cynthia-lardner-deverouxcleary-1?trk=mp-reader-card
[ii] The 2000 and 2007 referenda elections were devoid of any opposing candidate “Bashar al-Assad wins re-election in Syria as uprising against him rages on”, June 4, 2014, The Guardian, as found on the www athttp://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/bashar-al-assad-winds-reelection-in-landslide-victory (“Assad captures another seven-year term after winning almost 90% of the vote, with polling only held in government-held areas…Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7%.”).
Conditions within Syria at the time of the election were not conducive to a fair election in which the majority of Syrian’s did not or could not vote. “Syria: The story of the conflict,” December 8, 2014, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868 (“Almost 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule. Syria’s bloody internal conflict has destroyed entire neighbourhoods and forced more than nine million people from their homes.
A further 6.5 million people, 50% of them children, are believed to be internally displaced within Syria, bringing the total number forced to flee their homes to more than 9.5 million – half the country’s population. An estimated 10.8 million are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, with 4.6 million living in areas under siege or hard to access.”).
[iii] “Q&A: Syrian activist Suhair Atassi”, February 9, 2011, Al Jazeera, as found on the www athttp://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/2011/02/201129135657367367.html.
[iv] The Arab League consists of 22 members: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Syria’s membership was suspended. “Arab League suspends Syria”, November 12, 2011, CNN, as found on the www athttp://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/12/world/meast/syria-unrest/.
There are also four observer states: Brasil, Venezuela, Eritrea, and India.
[v] Bassem Mroue, “Bashar Assad Resignation Called For By Syria Sit-In Activists”, April 18, 2011, The Huffington Post, Associated Press, as found on the www at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/18/bashar-assad-resignation-syria-protest_n_850657.html. See also “Syria: Mapping the conflict”, July 10 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22798391 (“Russia and the US disagree sharply on Syria. While Russia has backed the Syrian government, and provided it with arms, the US wants to see the removal of President Assad.”).
[vi] The European Union has received most of the Syrian refugees.
See eg Chappell, Bill, “Germany, France Announce Plans To Welcome Thousands Of Migrants”, September 7, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/07/438285460/germany-france-announce-plans-to-welcome-thousands-of-migrants?sc=17&f=1001&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ap(“After a weekend in which tens of thousands of Syrian war refugees and other migrants reached Austria and Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany is putting 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) toward coping with the influx, France has committed to receiving 24,000 migrants….”)
To date, the United States has only taken in approximately 1,000 Syrian refugees. However, it recently indicated a statement that over the next twelve months, it would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees. Edwards, Julia, “U.S. to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees: White House,” September 11, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/11/us-europe-migrants-whitehouse-idUSKCN0RA26220150911.
Conversely, the United States has born the greatest share of the cost in the fight against IS, with Great Britain’s expenditures falling second. “John Kerry to visit UK for Syria crisis talks,” September 15, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www athttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34264512 (“The US has allowed 1,500 Syrians to resettle since the start of the conflict, and the Obama administration has said a further 10,000 will be admitted over the next year.
According to the White House, the US is the single largest donor to the Syrian crisis response, having given over $4bn (£2.6bn) since it began.”).
[vii] Lardner, Cynthia, “ISIS Gone Corporate”, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards, June 19, 2015, as found on the www athttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/isis-gone-corporate-cynthia-lardner-deverouxcleary-1?trk=mp-reader-card (Citations Omitted).
[viii] “IS, al-Qaeda, and how jihad uses chemical weapons,” September 16, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34262447.
[ix] Lister, Charles, “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria”, September 28, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34371501.
[xii] ISIL captures last government oilfield in Syria, September 7, 2015, Al Jazeera, as found on the www at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/isil-capture-parts-government-oilfield-syria-150907123935546.html; “ISIS captured Assad’s last oil field in Syria, activists say”, September 7, 2015, ABC News, as found on the www at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-captures-last-oil-field-under-syrian-control/.
[xiii] Dawar, Anil, “Alarm as Syria sells 10,000 passports with few questions asked,” September 11, 2015, Express, as found on the www athttp://www.express.co.uk/news/world/604394/Alarm-Syria-sells-10000-passports-few-questions-asked.
[xiv] “How The Assad Regime Pushes Syrians Out, Fueling Refugee Surge”, September 14, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/2015/09/14/440327641/how-the-assad-regime-pushes-syrians-out-fueling-refugee-surge?sc=17&f=1004&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=app.
[xv] Arshad, Mohammed, and Irish, John, “Russia seizes initiative in Syria crisis; France bombs Islamic State”, September 28, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/28/us-mideast-crisis-putin-usa-idUSKCN0RR0H820150928.
[xvi] Lardner, Cynthia, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards, April 9, 2015, as found on the www at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/game-thrones-meets-house-cards-geopoliticalmeltdown-cynthia?trk=mp-reader-card and at https://cynthiamlardner.wordpress.com/game-of-thrones-geopolitical-meltdown/,
But see “Ukraine conflict: France hopes to end Russia sanctions”, September 7, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34174382 (“French President Francois Hollande has said that following recent ceasefire progress in Ukraine he hopes to see the end of sanctions against Russia.” This is a bilateral or mutually beneficial move as, “EU sanctions and a subsequent Russian embargo have hurt many French and European companies.”).
[xvii][xvii] A third possible asset of the Russian government is its relationship with its wealthy neighbor China. Oddly, this relationship is not explored in a single news article discussing Russia’s involvement is Syria. It is well known that China lacks the energy necessary for its own people. Syria is rich in natural resources.
Whether coincidental or not, China has visibly increased is naval presence. Russia has a naval base on Syrian soil where, thus far, only large shipments have been received. See Tikhonova, Polina, “Has Russia Just Entered Syrian Civil War?” September 5, 2015, Value Walk, as found on the www athttp://www.valuewalk.com/2015/09/has-russia-just-entered-syrian-civil-war/. See also Petras, James, “The Two Faces of Capitalism and Left Options”, September 7, 2015, Global Research, as found on the www athttp://www.globalresearch.ca/the-two-faces-of-capitalism-and-left-options/5474315 (“The US has mobilized its EU followers to impose crippling economic sanctions on the Russian state and private enterprises in order to weaken its oligarchical ruling class under President Vladimir Putin, force ‘regime change’ and return Russia to the status of the pillaged vassal state under Boris Yeltsin (1990-2000).
Russia’s capitalist state, dependent on the oil and gas industries and western investments and markets, has responded by building up its military defenses. Faced with a US-imposed economic blockade and the growing militarization of US clients on Russia’s periphery, Moscow is finally developing local industries to substitute for EU and US imports and establishing alternative trading partnerships with capitalist China, India, Islamist Iran and the center-left regimes in Latin America.”)
The most obvious evidence of Russia’s presence in the Syrian Civil War emerged in November 2013, when Russian newspaper Fontanka published an article, exposing the Slavonic Corps, consisting of mercenaries sent to Syria to protect Assad’s infrastructure, particularly his oil wells.
[xviii] “Syria: Mapping the conflict”, July 10 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22798391 (In July, it was reported that “Russia has sent advisers and hardware to Syria [and] had despatched an advance military team to Syria, as well as housing units and an air traffic control centre to an airfield.)
[xix] “Fighting around key Syria town ‘leaves 47 dead’ – activists”, September 5, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34165761.
[xxi] Brennan, Christopher, “US warns Putin’s foreign minister against dangers of increased aid to Syria’s Assad as reports claim that Russia is setting up ‘forward operating base’ in war-torn country”, September 6, 2015, The Daily Mail, as found on the www at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3223951/US-warns-Putin-s-foreign-minister-against-dangers-increased-aid-Syria-s-Assad-reports-claim-Russia-setting-forward-operating-base-war-torn-country.html#ixzz3l9P1p8LA “Se(cretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister on Saturday and warned that increased presence could lead to greater loss of life
Call comes amid unconfirmed reports that soldiers speaking Russian have been seen fighting anti-government rebels in Russian-made vehicles
The United States has warned Moscow about dangers of increased aid to the Syrian government amid multiple reports that Russian soldiers had begun participating in the country’s civil war.”).
[xxii] Lister, Charles, “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria”, September 28, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34371501.
[xxiii] “Toying with Russian troop deployment to Syria, Putin appears ready to reset relations with US”. September 7, 2015, as found on the www athttp://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/09/07/toying-with-russian-troop-deployment-to-syria-putin-appears-ready-to-reset/.
[xxiv] Id. See also “Syria conflict: US presses Russia on military build-up,” Supra Endnote xxvii (“Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence correspondent opined:
Russia’s backing for Mr Assad should be seen not as a vote of confidence in Syria’s embattled president but as an investment in a country where Rmkussia believes it can play out its foreign-policy role.
Indeed Mr Putin’s military deployments signal that he will not let the Assad regime fall. This does not mean Mr Assad will be there forever.
[xxv] Starr, Barbara, “U.S.: Russia may be seeking proxy in case Syria’s Assad falls”, September 26, 2015, CNN Politics, as found on the www at http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/26/politics/syria-putin-russia-american-strategy/
[xxviii] “A stronger UN: The Elders hold high-level talks in Liechtenstein”, September 7, 2015, The Elders, as found on the www athttp://www.theelders.org/article/stronger-un-elders-hold-high-level-talks-liechtenstein (Gro Harlem Brundtland, Deputy Chair of The Elders, said, “The UN is a vital part of our global security and governance infrastructure but it has to change – its present arrangements are neither normal nor reasonable.”).
[xxix] “Syria conflict: US presses Russia on military build-up,” September 16, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34263955 (“”Secretary Kerry also reaffirmed the US commitment to fight ISIL (Islamic State) with a coalition of more than 60 countries, of which Assad could never be a credible member, and emphasised the US would welcome a constructive Russian role in counter-ISIL efforts.”).
[xxx] “Syria conflict: Russia ‘to continue Assad military aid’”, September 15, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34256389 (“Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged continued military support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad despite growing concerns over Moscow’s role in the war… The US would prefer to see more “constructive engagement” from Russia with the coalition against so-called Islamic State (IS), spokesman Josh Earnest said.”).
See also Wagner, Laura, “Putin Defends Russian Military Support For Syrian Regime”, September 15, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/15/440578356/putin-defends-russian-military-support-for-syrian-regime?sc=17&f=1001&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=app (“Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended his decision to provide military assistance to the Syrian government, saying that cooperating with Bashar Assad’s regime is necessary in order to defeat ISIS…”)
[xxxi] Arshad, Mohammed, and Irish, John, “Russia seizes initiative in Syria crisis; France bombs Islamic State”, September 28, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/28/us-mideast-crisis-putin-usa-idUSKCN0RR0H820150928 (“Russia appeared to seize the initiative in international efforts to end the conflict in Syria…U.S. officials said Kerry was working on a new political initiative in New York that would include Russia and key regional powers.
It was announced in Baghdad that Russian military officials were working with counterparts from Iran, Syria and Iraq on intelligence and security cooperation to counter Islamic State, which has captured large areas of both Syria and Iraq.
The move was seen in the region as potentially giving Moscow more sway in the Middle East.
Russian President Vladimir Putin derided U.S. efforts to end the Syria war, which has driven a tide of refugees into neighboring states and Europe.
“We would welcome a common platform for collective action against the terrorists,” Putin said in an interview on Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
The United States, Britain and some other allies in recent days have softened demands that Assad immediately leave power, raising the possibility that he could stay during a transition.”).
[xxxii] Bays, James, “Russia steps up Syria support ‘to stop fall of Assad’”, September 26, 2015, Al Jazeera, as found on the www at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/russia-troops-syria-stop-imminent-fall-assad-150926180925801.html (“Russia intends to step up its military involvement in Syria to prevent the “imminent” collapse of the Syrian government, the EU’s foreign policy chief [Federica Mogherini] has told Al Jazeera.”).