Jan 27th 2014

Syria: Enough Is Enough

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

I wish I could be optimistic about Geneva II, but I cannot. That it happened at all is good. But "good for what" remains unclear. Listening to the speeches at the opening session established quite convincingly that none of the participants were ready to deal with the reality of what has become the most horrific tragedy of this new century.

During the past three years, the Syrian people have been victimized by a cruel and unrelenting war. While the competing sides may argue over who is at fault and what should now be done, what remains indisputable are the cold hard numbers of those who have been killed or forced to flee from their homes. Less quantifiable, but still real, is the physical destruction of once beautiful neighborhoods and world heritage treasures, and the emotional destruction visited upon a generation of Syrian children who will bear the scars of this war for a generation. 

Despite all of this, the fighting continues without letup with neither side willing or able to accept the responsibility of contributing to ending it. The people may be exhausted, but the regime and the opposition are not. 

We are three years into this bloody mess and what should have been clear from the outset has now become certain. This conflict will not end with one side claiming a decisive victory. Neither the regime and its international sponsors, nor the opposition and the countries that support them will be able to win. That this simple fact is not, and maybe cannot be, accepted by either side is what keeps the conflict going. 

While it is easy find fault with the combatants, equally at fault are those who have funded them, armed them, and provided them with political support without control or conditions. Continuing the fight and continuing to fuel the fight is worse than a fool's errand, it is a crime. 

Delusions abound. The fragmented and deeply divided opposition, represented at Geneva by a rump delegation, still claims to speak for the Syrian people. The reality on the ground speaks otherwise. They blame the US for not supporting them and refuse to accept responsibility for their own disarray. Some of their elements continue to maintain that their revolution is democratic and pluralistic, but the main forces doing the fighting - even those who are now termed as "moderates" - are anything but. Among the main rebel forces are disciplined extremist groups that have committed deplorable acts against civilians. Even now the opposition coalition insists on the precondition that the regime must step aside, as if they would be in a position to govern in its stead.

For its part, the regime continues to speak of its "legitimacy", but its behavior has, if anything, cost it the right to claim that mantle. It was a brutal dictatorship before the war began and its conduct during the conflict has rightly earned it the epitaph of "war criminal". 

In this context, it was especially galling to listen to the Syrian Foreign Minister in his opening address speak of the "will of the Syrian people," lecturing the US Secretary of State saying "No one, Mr. Kerry, has the right to withdraw legitimacy of the [Syrian] president other than the Syrians themselves." He said this, I presume, with a straight face, ignoring the tens of thousands killed, the millions who have been forced to flee, and the cities that have been devastated - all supposedly in the vain effort to establish this claim of "legitimacy". 

Surely this regime has run its course. Just as surely, this opposition, such as it is, is not in a position to lead. Therein lies the core of the Syrian tragedy. It is not just that neither side can win, but that neither side deserves to win - nor can they, in any event, govern the country.

Syria and the Syrian people deserve better. Those who maintain that the culture of the Syrian people is open, tolerant, and progressive are right. But those qualities are fast fading. Three years of conflict have ushered in a new reality of fanaticism, violence, and the evil of sectarian hostility. Out of all this, it will hard to build the new Syria. But Syrians still deserve the chance.

I have never supported a war and find it difficult to do so now, but I find myself increasingly convinced that the US and international community have a responsibility to act and may need to use force to help end this conflict. If Geneva II fails to make progress toward any meaningful compromise, then I believe action must be taken.

There are firm demands that should be presented to all sides. The regime must stop its aggressive assault on "rebel-held positions" in populated areas. The destruction created by attacks on neighborhoods and the suffering that has been inflicted on innocent civilians is unacceptable. The opposition must be pressed to consolidate its ranks by becoming more inclusive and adopting a non-sectarian agenda for change. And they must purge their ranks of sectarian extremists. Both sides must agree to begin serious negotiations, without preconditions, to implement the transitional authority envisioned in the Geneva I formula.     

Establishing a power-sharing transitional government will not be easy. It will take time. But both sides must be disabused of the notion that they can govern alone. The opposition has its base, as does the regime. If they want to be part of Syria's future and if their funders and supporters want to be seen as making a constructive contribution to a resolution to this conflict, then they must agree to such a power-sharing arrangement. There is no other way.  

If this does not occur within a defined period of time, then the US may find it necessary to mobilize international support to launch strikes in Syria against both the regime and positions held by extremist groups. The strikes would in all likelihood need to be significant and sustained enough to change the calculations of the combatants. The Russians may choose to be part of this solution or not. But we are long past the time when the fate of Syria should be decided by a Russian veto. 

Simultaneously, the US would also need to lead an effort to mobilize a post-agreement peace-keeping force and a reconstruction and resettlement fund for Syria and its millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. Even after a power-sharing arrangement is reached, international support will be important to give the Syrians the time they need to make it work.

This degree of US involvement may not be welcomed by many Americans and it will likely be rejected in many parts of the Arab World. But enough is enough. Something must be done to help end this Syrian nightmare.




Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."