April 11, 2017


President Trump’s decision to launch the tomahawk missile attack on the air base in Syria three days ago, entirely appropriate in my opinion under the circumstances, poses major questions, of course.

What is our end objective in Syria, and Iraq and Afghanistan, for that matter?  How do we get there?  To what degree is our objective to overthrow the Assad government?  To wipe out ISIS?  To contain Russia?  To show Iran that they have no business sticking their nose into the Syrian business?

Stepping back, it seems to me the objective is clear:  We need to do what is necessary to restore peace to the people of Syria.  Four hundred thousand killed over the past several years.  Five million refugees, many of them still on the run or in camps.  What will it take to achieve this objective?

In my opinion, the following:

  • We (and I mean it “collectively”) have to eliminate the threat of ISIS.

  • We (and again I mean it in a “collective way,” which I’ll come back to) have to achieve a diplomatic and political settlement in Syria.

We, the United States, cannot impose this settlement.  Any thought that we can without the participation of Russia and Iran, among others, is fatuous.  We have to involve the Syrian government in some form, though I agree that Assad cannot and will not be a continuing part of that government.  

  • We have to provide humanitarian support right now for the Syrian people and refugees.  It will only be through political settlement that refugees will be able to return to their homes.  We have to provide a “safe zone” for these refugees and we have to reach agreement with Russia in doing it.
It is inexcusable that the world has not coalesced around a united humanitarian effort for these refugees.  We have done far better before, including post-World War II.  There are countless non-profits doing their best, but there is not the coordinated effort, nor the investment by governments, including our own, to provide this support.  We owe it to ourselves, having seen the impact of gas on 90 civilians, including children.  It was a murderous, heinous act.  But countless more men, women and children are dying every day because of the absence of our support.

There will be those that say, understandably, that we have been trying to reach a negotiated settlement, including with Russia and Iran, for years without achieving a positive outcome.  That’s true.  However, it cannot lead us to stop trying.  We have to do it.  It’s the only path to success.  
I don’t believe Russia has any interest in continuing the quagmire and devastating violence in Syria.  I don’t believe for a minute they respect Assad.  What they are against is unilateral regime change by the United States or anyone else.  They haven’t forgotten Serbia, or Libya, or Iraq either.
While this brings me far outside my sphere of knowledge, I personally believe that a political settlement is going to require a geographic division of Syria, much like as I understand it, Joe Biden recommended years ago.  It’s no different than what occurred in Yugoslavia.   The antagonisms are so deeply rooted between the Shias and Sunnis and Kurds and Alawites, too, that bringing them together into a united government is impossible.
These are my thoughts.  

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