Category Archives: Syria

Lithuania Tribune: Opinion: From debacle to diplomacy

Opinion: From debacle to diplomacy

Friday, September 27, 2013 1:48 pm, Posted by Managing Editor

The Lithuania Tribune presents an opinion article by Peter Galbraith, former United Nations’ Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, argues that in the light of the ongoing conflict in Syria, President Obama’s diplomacy has the momentum to transform the Middle East.

Peter W. Galbraith | Photo courtesy of The Mark News

US President Barack Obama has converted a looming foreign policy fiasco into a potential diplomatic trifecta. Three weeks ago, he was seeking Congressional approval for air strikes on Syria that might not have even accomplished his goal of deterring further use of chemical weapons. Now, thanks to Obama’s threats, Syria has reversed course: It has admitted to possessing chemical weapons and agreed to get rid of them.

Already, Syria has signed up to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention banning these weapons and, in a first step toward dismantling them, provided the United Nations with a list of its chemical weapons facilities.

Critics of Obama’s diplomatic track point out that the UN Security Council has yet to pass a resolution enforcing Syrian disarmament, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could cheat, and that, in any event, it is impossible to disarm a country in the midst of a civil war.

These concerns, while valid, miss the point. At best, air strikes might have deterred Syria from using chemical weapons, which is the same result we’re seeing today: Having agreed to give up its chemical weapons, Syria can hardly use them. Weapons concealed from inspectors have almost no military value, as American and other intelligence agencies would quickly detect any effort to deploy such weapons, and a swift military response would follow.

Syria has nothing to gain by cheating on its disarmament obligations, and even if it does not fully disarm – due to war or deceit – it will still have to give up a large part of its arsenal.

From a Western perspective, Iran’s nuclear program constitutes a far greater threat to global security than Syria’s chemical weapons. The good news is that, despite decades of hostile rhetoric, the United States and Iran have more in common than many would think. Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have both expressed a desire to resolve the nuclear dispute, and while there is no certainty that they can reach an agreement, there is reason to be hopeful. Iran has repeated that it does not want nuclear weapons, and has issued a fatwa against them.

It is unlikely that Rouhani would have reached out to the United States on the nuclear issue had the United States attacked Syria, Iran’s ally.

Despite possible progress on chemical and nuclear weapons, however, there is still the larger issue of Syria’s civil war. The opposition has been losing ground in the past few months, and there is no reason to doubt the conventional assessment that recent diplomacy has strengthened Assad.

Syrian opposition leaders complain that the Obama administration has been late and stingy in providing weapons and other support. The problems of the Syrian opposition, however, are largely internal. The moderate elements have been unable to contain the Sunni extremists, whose atrocities turn off other Syrians and outside supporters. The opposition has also turned a deaf ear to the 35 per cent of Syria’s population that are not Sunni Arabs: the Alawites, Kurds, Christians, and Druze.

The Alawites fear genocide if the regime they supported for decades falls. From the uprising’s beginning, rebels have shouted “Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the grave,” and atrocities committed by Alawite soldiers and militiamen in defense of Assad make retribution ever more likely. The opposition has done nothing to assure the Alawites of a place – or even survival – in a post-Assad Syria.

The Kurds, who were long denied recognition and even citizenship, now run much of northern Syria. They have claimed their own region and want autonomy similar to that enjoyed by Iraq’s Kurds. The regime has acquiesced, while the opposition insists that the future of Syria must be decided democratically – meaning by the Sunni Arab majority.

Christians and Druze likewise fear they will have a smaller place – or no place at all – in a post-Assad Syria.

Searching for a solution to Syria’s civil war, the United States and Russia plan to co-host a conference in Geneva. The Obama administration wants to bring together the Assad regime and a single opposition delegation to negotiate a transfer of power. Of course, the Assad regime and its backers are unlikely to agree, and the minority groups, particularly the Kurds, want their own place at the table – they don’t want to be lumped with an opposition whose agenda they don’t share.

A conference with all Syria’s factions – the regime, the Sunni Arab opposition, and the minorities – that focuses on power-sharing rather than simply regime change offers the most realistic chance to end Syria’s bloody civil war.

If the Obama administration can sustain its momentum – from a Syrian chemical weapons deal to an Iranian nuclear deal to a successful Syrian peace conference – it will pull off a diplomatic triple crown that could transform the Near East.

*** Peter W. Galbraith is the former United Nations’ Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan (2009) and the first U.S. Ambassador to Croatia (1993-1998). He is also the author of two books on the Iraq War and its consequences.

*** The original article can be accessed here.

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CNBC: Does Syria’s weapons pledge match Obama’s goal?

Does Syria’s weapons pledge match Obama’s goal?  
Thursday, 12 September 2013 9:05 PM ET

Peter Galbraith, Senior Diplomatic Fellow at Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, notes that the threat of U.S. military action was to deter Syria from using chemical weapons again, but by acceding to the global treaty, Syria will have to destroy their stockpiles

Watch the video here by clicking this link to CNBC.


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Bloomberg: Syria Toe-Dipping and Revisiting the Dream

Peter is mentioned by Ramesh Ponnuru, a Bloomberg View columnist when we was chatting with his peer Margaret Carlson about Syria. Read the whole article at Bloomberg: Syria Toe-Dipping and Revisiting the Dream

Syria Toe-Dipping and Revisiting the Dream

By Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru – Aug 29, 2013

Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Syria, the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington and Senator Tom Coburn’s comments on impeachment. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Margaret: To add to all the reasons I’m glad I cover domestic politics: Syria. Is there a harder foreign-policy question? I know a few things: The lower in the chain of command the order to use chemical weapons goes, the more we need to attack Syria, not less. More than 1,000 people were gassed to death, and if a rogue general did it, Bashar al-Assad did it.

Are we so spooked by George W. Bush’s precipitate attack on Saddam Hussein that we are now going to hem and haw about WMDs that do exist and have been used? No rebel group did that. Secondly, let’s not pooh-pooh a limited attack when we have absolutely no one to fill the vacuum that would be created by Assad’s removal. Look where regime change has gotten us in Egypt? Democracy does not flower in the sands of the Arab world, no matter how many Arab Springs. And thirdly, could the Barack Obama White House stop telling Assad what they’re going to do and not going to do?

Ramesh: Agreed on the telegraphing of the administration’s intentions. But just because regime change is not working well in Egypt — and would not be likely to yield good results at an acceptable cost in Syria — does not mean that limited intervention makes sense. I just don’t see what that limited intervention will accomplish, and can easily see how it could become less and less limited. It is a tragic situation, but I don’t think it’s actually a hard call to stay out.

Margaret: Along with any rape or Holocaust comments, politicians have to stay away from talk of red lines. Don’t threaten your children — or mass-murderers — with something they know you don’t want to carry out. It’s easy to say now coulda, woulda, shoulda, but there’s never been a good time to arm the Syrian rebels because there has never been a rebel group good enough to trust — or strong enough. The few good guys there are too weak. Ramesh, if you don’t do anything, is that a message to Assad to keep gassing his people? Doesn’t attention have to be paid? Or are you an all-in person?

Ramesh: It says that there are terrible wrongs in the world that it does not make sense for the U.S. government to try to rectify. All-in would make more sense than a symbolic strike. There’d be a real argument for it. But given the absence of a friendly and decent opposition, it doesn’t make sense, either. Maybe we could have done more to shape the opposition if we had intervened earlier, as some people argue, but in the current circumstance I don’t see that there is anything good for us to do. And I take seriously a point that Peter Galbraith makes in the New Republic: the fact that Syria’s persecuted religious minorities don’t want this intervention is a good sign that it does not make sense on humanitarian grounds.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , Obama’s speech on Syria: Why our analysts are mostly hopeful Obama’s speech on Syria: Why our analysts are mostly hopeful

By Alexandra LeTellier

8:31 PM PDT, September 10, 2013

President Obama addressed the nation Tuesday evening about the escalating crisis in Syria and whether the U.S. will take military action to punish President Bashar Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons on his own people.

“Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them,” Obama said.  “On Aug. 21, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.”

Failing to hold Assad accountable for violating these international norms, Obama warned, would be a “danger to our security.”

TRANSCRIPT: The argument for action on Syria

Still, we didn’t get a definitive answer from our war-weary president, who reminded the American people that he’s “spent 4 1/2 years working to end wars, not to start them.” Instead, he left us in a state of limbo. Yes, he’ll push for limited military strikes if necessary, but he said he’d rather find a diplomatic solution that would align with his “deeply held preference for peaceful solutions.”

Here’s what a few of our Op-Ed contributors had to say in response to Obama’s speech.

Peter Galbraith, author of “A dilemma for Syria’s minorities”:

Obama may be on the verge of converting a foreign policy fiasco into a stunning diplomatic triumph. Last week, the president appeared isolated internationally (not even the British would go along with airstrikes on Syria) and in danger of losing a congressional vote on the use of force that he didn’t need and that would tie his hands. And, disconcertingly for his base (me included), he sounded a lot like President George W. Bush when he said we wouldn’t wait for the U.N. inspectors to complete their work and that the United States did not need to go to the United Nations to authorize a military attack.

In his speech, Obama began by making the case for airstrikes but ended by talking about a diplomatic solution through the United Nations.

Now, instead of trying to avert a losing vote in Congress, the president can pursue a winnable resolution in the United Nations Security Council to implement the Russian proposal to place Syrian chemical weapons under U.N. supervision. As a practical matter, it may be difficult to have full supervision of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles that are dispersed around a country in the midst of a civil war. But the Russian proposal, which Syria has accepted, would seem to offer a much better chance of preventing the Assad regime from again using these weapons.

While the administration’s maneuvering since the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack has not been elegant, it appears to be working. Obama rightly took credit for the threats that produced the Russian proposal, and the success — if it materializes — reflects well on his new foreign policy team, especially Secretary of State John F. Kerry and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power.

Peter W. Galbraith is a former U.S. ambassador and the author of two books on the Iraq war.

Tom Hayden, a regular contributor to our Op-Ed pages:

The dominant mantra we heard from the president’s allies Tuesday was that it was the credible threat of American military force that caused Russia, Syria and Iran to agree to dismantle Assad’s chemical weapons. If that argument keeps us out of another war, it deserves some credit, even if it’s only partly true.

But it could also be said that it was the “credible threat” of democracy — a defeat of his war plan in Congress and in public opinion polls — that caused the Obama administration to back away from the military brink and seek an honorable way out.

Interestingly, however, Obama may have been leaving himself an exit by asking Congress to authorize the vote, knowing that the prospects were dim. His traditional allies at MoveOn, for example, have gathered hundreds of thousands of petitions to rein him in too.

If diplomacy is successful, Obama will be able to claim victory against the chemical threat without a massive intervention. Assad can sit on his throne a bit longer, shorn of some dangerous weapons. Syrians can be protected from gas attacks. Russia, Iran and China can disavow chemical warfare while claiming to prevent regime change. A peace conference is in sight.

Brilliant if it happens.

Tom Hayden, a former state senator, is the author of “Street Wars” and is a longtime advocate of prison reform.

Robin Wright, author of “The risk of taking on Syria”:

There is now a glimmer of hope on Syria, with the emphasis on “glimmer” because of huge questions for which there are still no answers.

The first basic issue is how to find, contain and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons — and ensure they are indeed all found. This is a hugely time-consuming and logistical challenge. It’s Iraq déjà vu from the 1990s, which dragged on for years — without a war going on in the background.

Second, the latest Russian gambit to get the U.S. to renounce any future use of force in exchange for Assad turning over his chemical weapons is unlikely to fly in Washington. It may even rally Congress behind Obama a bit.

Third, we all hope for renewed diplomacy to settle the bigger crisis — the civil war itself — but the political realities and divisions among the opposition forces won’t change as a result of any deal on chemical weapons. The Russians might actually get Assad to send a delegation to Geneva. But even if the West can prod some artificial faces-of-the-month to attend on behalf of the divided opposition, there’s no guarantee that the opposition could actually deliver anything from folks fighting inside. The growing factionalization of Syria’s opposition has put peace further away than ever.

Fourth, 99% of deaths are due to conventional weaponry. So a deal on chemical weapons is, unfortunately, unlikely to change the realities or fatalities on the ground. The fighting may still rage, with Assad actually getting a psychological boost at home from his deal with the outside world. Tragic but true.

Finally, I’d love to be wrong about all of this.

Robin Wright, the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World,” is a distinguished scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Charles A. Stevenson, author of “Congress and the power to declare war”:

The president obviously wants to back the push for a U.N.-authorized removal of Syrian chemical weapons with the threat of force. For that threat to be credible, however, Congress would actually have to pass a law authorizing airstrikes if the diplomatic effort fails within some limited time period. It’s unclear what the president’s timetable is, and also unclear whether lawmakers are willing to give that conditional approval, so we may be slipping into a confusing situation where neither friend nor foe knows what America might do.

I still believe it’s important for Congress to act, and the bipartisan measure being crafted in the Senate might be the best vehicle. For what it’s worth, previous Congresses have enacted contingent authorizations of the use of force: in 1955, to defend Taiwan if attacked; in 1957, to defend Middle Eastern nations if attacked by a communist nation; in 1991 and 2002, to attack Iraq if U.N. efforts failed. Congress doesn’t have to do exactly what the president proposes, but it owes it to the country to find some way of limiting both any use of chemical weapons and a wider war in the Middle East.

Charles A. Stevenson teaches at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and is the author of “Congress at War: The Politics of Conflict since 1789.”

Rajan Menon, author of “Don’t use U.S. credibility as a reason to attack Syria”:

Even Obama’s opponents agree that he is a gifted speaker; he proved that again Tuesday. The rhythm, pace, cadence — all were, once again, executed effectively, and Obama appealed movingly to Americans’ ideals and to their humanity.

But even exceptional orators can fail when their case is substantively shaky. And the administration’s case — witness the uphill battle it faces in persuading Congress and the public — has been shaky. It remains so after the president’s speech.

Obama and his foreign policy team have tried to have it both ways. On the one hand, they insist that Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 people on Aug. 21 presents a grave threat, not just to the Unites States but also to the laws and norms that help constitute the international order. Secretary of State Kerry, who has engaged in several rhetorical flights of fancy lately, warned on one occasion that we faced a “Munich moment.”

On the other hand, Obama and Kerry insist that they envisage a limited, “targeted” strike that wouldn’t change the arithmetic on Syria’s battlefield — which favors Assad — let alone drag war-weary Americans into yet another conflict. But such an attack would allow Assad to continue the killing. So much for the Munich analogy.

The public sees the contradiction; that’s clear from recent opinion polls. So does Congress. Nothing the president said, though he said it well, will put to rest Americans’ deep, pervasive doubts about what precisely he proposes to achieve by attacking Syria.

Obama painted a poignant picture of innocent Syrians suffering horribly and then dying after being gassed. Chemical weapons do, as the president said, kill indiscriminately. But for more than two years the Syrian tyrant has used various other weapons that have also inflicted enormous suffering on Syrians, killing more than 100,000 people. Yet the same ideals that he invoked did not prompt Obama to order an attack on Assad. Why? It’s not for us to resolve other people’s civil war, said the president.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has thrown Obama, whom he doesn’t much like, a lifeline, possibly saving him from an embarrassing repudiation by his own legislature. The congressional vote will be delayed until it’s clear whether Assad intends to make good on the Russian proposal to gather, tally and destroy his chemical weapons (which his government has long insisted it does not have). The action now shifts to the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S., Russia and China will be the decisive players.

The day of reckoning for Assad, and Obama, appears to have been delayed. Stay tuned.

Rajan Menon is a professor of political science at the City College of New York/City University of New York and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Chris Edelson, who wrote “Obama and the power to go to war”:

Less than two weeks ago, the Obama administration appeared determined to take military action against Syria. A familiar pattern seemed to be playing out. Since World War II, presidents have claimed unilateral power to use military force without authorization from Congress. Obama had already followed this precedent himself when he ordered military action in Libya in 2011 without seeking approval from Congress.

Despite the fact that unilateral presidential military action can only be justified under the Constitution when the president is responding to an attack or imminent attack against the United States, presidential practice has stubbornly asserted itself as precedent — in part because Congress has consistently failed to check presidential authority.

This time, surprisingly, it was different. In the speech Obama gave Tuesday, he acknowledged that, given the fact that the United States faced and faces no imminent threat from Syria, the better course was for him to go to Congress. Congress deserves credit for asserting itself — more than 100 legislators signed on to letters insisting that the president not act alone, creating mounting pressure on Obama to rethink his approach. The president also deserves credit for recognizing that going to Congress was the right thing to do.

The speech showed why Obama was right to go to Congress — as he emphasized, diplomatic efforts have begun to show promise. When he announced his decision to seek legislative approval, critics argued that he was undermining the power of the presidency. John Yoo, a Department of Justice lawyer in the George W. Bush administration who has championed broad, essentially unchecked, presidential power, insisted that only the president could take the quick, decisive military action required. As Obama observed Tuesday, though, speedy action was not what was needed. Sometimes, it is better not to act. The benefit, in this case, was that diplomacy has been given a chance to work. If nothing else, the chain of events over the last 10 days should put to rest the argument that presidents are best positioned to make decisions about the use of military force because they have the ability to act quickly.

As Congress has begun to consider a use-of-force resolution authorizing military action in Syria, some have asked what Obama would do if lawmakers said no. He has said — and he said again Tuesday night — that he believes he has the authority to act alone (though he is wrong about this, in my view). However, Obama said that he has asked Congress to postpone voting on the pending legislation. This is a wise move that ought to divert attention from the question of what he might do if Congress votes no. As the president suggested, putting off voting in Congress gives more time for diplomatic efforts to play out. It also provides additional evidence that those like Yoo who insist on the value of speedy presidential action in the context of war are wrong. Outside of the emergency context, unilateral presidential military action is neither wise nor constitutional. Sometimes, immediate military action isn’t the right choice.

Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs, where he teaches classes on the Constitution and presidential power. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror.”


The road to Damascus

To strike, or not to strike, Syria?

Five reasons not to attack Syria, and one elegant solution 

Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier and Google+
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

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America Aljazeera: Consider This TONIGHT at 10 ET/7 PM


SEP 11

If Syria turns over its chemical weapons, how will the US react?

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his rifle in an area of Aleppo, Syria controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, on September 11, 2013.
A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his rifle in an area of Aleppo, Syria controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, on September 11, 2013.

U.S. officials wait as Syria considers chemical weapons disposal

If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepts Russia’s proposal, will the regime turn over its entire chemical weapons arsenal? How long would it take to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons? Consider This host Antonio Mora will discuss the situation with former Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who was an eyewitness to the destruction in Iraq after Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the country’s Kurdish population, and Kyle Olsen, the president of The Olsen Group, who advised the UN as well as U.S. and European firms on destroying Iraqi chemical weapons after the Gulf War.

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NEW REPUBLIC: Six Liberals’ Best Syria Advice for Obama


Six Liberals’ Best Syria Advice for Obama
by Nora Caplan-Bricker | August 27, 2013

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech at the State Department that it is “undeniable” that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and called the attack “a moral obscenity.” This leaves President Obama, who in 2012 called chemical weapons a “red line” that would “change my calculus” when it came to dealing with Bashar Assad, in a tough position. I asked several liberal writers, politicians, and policy wonks what the United States can and should do about Syria’s bloody civil war. Some told me we’ve left ourselves no choice but to invade, while others argued that that’s the worst thing we could do. The majority said reaching accord with Russia, Syria’s powerful ally, is our last hope—but none seemed confident that Kerry will succeed at the bargaining table.

Peter Galbraith, Former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia and former adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

I’m not convinced yet that Bashar al Assad has actually authorized use of chemical weapons in these circumstances. It’s totally illogical for him to do it. That would be my first point, one really needs to verify the facts. If evidence isn’t very clear, then I wouldn’t take action. The other point I would make is, what’s so striking about the Syrian situation is the minorities have not joined the revolution. It’s almost entirely a Sunni revolution. And that should be more concerning to people in Washington than it is. It’s understandable why the Alawites would stay with Assad. Understandably, they fear they may face genocide if he is overthrown. But the Kurds, who were the first to rise up against Assad in 2004, simply don’t trust the opposition. They think they’re interested in a Sunni Islamic regime that will exclude them and maybe be dangerous to them. The Christians, the same thing, and the Druze, the same thing. I consider that lack of support like a canary in the mine, and we ought to pay more attention to it.

If our military intervention is not going to be effective we shouldn’t do it, and if it’s not clearly going to lead to a better situation, then we shouldn’t do it. I don’t think it’s going to tip the balance. If anything, it’s just going to get more people killed, and it’s not clear that the alternatives are going to lead to anything better than the current situation. There’s a belief in the U.S. that whatever the situation is, we have to do something about it. That’s not necessarily true. If there’s nothing we can do that will be useful, if our intervention will not necessarily lead to a better outcome, then as horrible as the situation is, there’s not justification for actually intervening. I approach this as somebody who’s basically been an interventionist, and who was one of strongest hawks in the Clinton administration when if came to Bosnia, and on Libya.

Roger Cohen, columnist for The New York Times

There are no good options in Syria. But the President set a red line at chemical attacks. On all the evidence there has been a horrific one, trademark Assad family practice. The credibility of the United States is a precious, already eroded commodity. It cannot be compromised in this instance. But, you may ask, what is the point of raining Tomahawks on Assad’s Syria with no strategy for an end game? Don’t the Syrian people deserve better? They certainly deserve better than the Assad tyranny and this devastating war. My sense is that Assad’s end would be hastened even by a limited U.S. attack. It should be framed as retribution for a heinous crime. It will not in itself solve anything—but then nothing will. It may, however, bring us closer to the end game. The United States should keep its word, stop turning in strategic circles and send a message to Assad on which the Syrian people may seize.

Jane Harman, former U.S. Congresswoman from California 

My view is that U.S. rhetoric and U.S. action should be stronger against Russia right now than it is. Getting Russia on the right side of this is the critical way in my view to turn Syria. Obviously stopping the use of chemical weapons is imperative, but stopping the butchery by Assad of his own people is the bigger goal. If Russia would align with us on stopping all the butchery, that would be an important change, and Russia’s not there. For Russia to be on the wrong side of the use of chemical weapons is stunning, and we’re just not calling them out adequately. Our recent track record with Russia has not shown many results, but I think pulling the international community together to shame Russia is something we should be doing. We should use the leverage we have. The G20 is happening [September 5-6] in Russia. I would look at the G20 and at the United Nations General Assembly as two places where the international community comes together. It should be G19 against G1 going into Russia.

Michael Ignatieff, former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

Sooner or later these chemical weapons are going to have to be under somebody’s firm control, and that’s the larger longer term issue. And we’ve been sitting here for three years with weapons of mass destruction sitting in the middle of a civil war, and even if we engage in cruise missile strikes I’m not sure that cruise missile strikes are going to change anything in that regard. So I join those who think that just a few cruise missile strikes are not going to solve this problem, because the problem is a civil war in which we have no leverage on either side and chemical weapons in the middle over which we have no control.

The solution is you get a diplomatic agreement with the Russians. You can’t do a military operation, certainly not a unilateral military operation, the only way you can possibly do this is to get the Russians to work with the Syrian regime to just outlaw and exclude the use of chemical weapons, and that may mean Russian troops safeguarding the weapon sites, or it may mean a joint international UN body supervising the sites. But short of a ground invasion, there isn’t any way to get control of these things. The chemical weapons problem can only be solved with a victory by the opposition, which is not likely. With a military intervention, which is not going to happen. Or by a diplomatic deal which puts the chemical weapons under some kind of international control jointly sponsored by the Americans and the Russians. It’s extremely important to do the effective thing, and the effective thing is probably a combination of targeted military force, if it’s following upon a really intensive effort at the UN to get the Russians to agree to a Security Council resolution putting these weapons under some sort of international inspection and control. And that’s the effective thing to do. The ineffective thing to do is just to hit ‘em with some cruise missile strikes just to say we don’t approve of what you’re doing.

Paul Berman, author and New Republic senior editor

We had better deter anyone else who is even dreaming of using chemical weapons, which means we should show to the world that here was Assad’s fatal error, even if Russia was his protector. We should build up our own faction among the enlightened Syrians, even if our faction is pretty feeble right now. We should help our own faction overthrow the dictator. We should continue to help in what will then become yet another phase in the ever-morphing war against al Qaeda. We should recognize that, by helping the Syrians rid themselves of Assad, we may sober up the Iranian mullahs. All this we should have done a long time ago. There are crimes of commission and of omission, and so far we have been committing the latter, when we ought to be committing neither.

Kati Marton, human rights activist and widow of diplomat Richard Holbrooke

These situations, as I’ve observed over the last couple of decades, do not get better on their own, nor can they be settled on the battlefield. What is called for is fearless, creative, high-energy diplomacy. A regional diplomatic solution is what is called for, which would include obviously not only Syria and the Europeans and the Russians, but also Iran and Saudi Arabia. I would’ve hoped for that much sooner—I would’ve hoped for a high-energy, relentless diplomacy of the kind that Richard [Holbrooke] was known for. But there is no Richard Holbrooke. One of the things that I observed at [the Dayton Peace Accords] and observing Richard work is that there’s almost always a deal to be made, but the negotiator has to be willing to lay everything on the line. It’s got to be relentless. You can’t fly in and fly out. I always thought that we should start with the Russians, who are the primary enablers, and I think Secretary Kerry and [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov have the makings of a good rapport.

We have to stand for something, and we have to draw lines somewhere, and I think president Obama is doing that. At this point, because they have so flagrantly crossed into another territory with the poison gas, I don’t see how we can avoid a more muscular reaction—that is to say some sort of use of force. But at the same time we start building a political or diplomatic follow-up. I don’t think we need to waste any time at the UN because it’s not going to happen there. I’m drawing from my 17 years with the uber-diplomat. I think he would be advocating force while advocating the eventual political and diplomatic solution.

Nora Caplan-Bricker is an assistant editor at The New Republic. Follow her on Twitter @NCaplanBricker.

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Peter Galbraith, Ex-Diplomat and Vermont State Senator, Says Syrian Strikes Are a Mistake

Off Message – Vermont’s Politics & News Blog

Peter Galbraith, Ex-Diplomat and Vermont State Senator, Says Syrian Strikes Are a Mistake



The Vermont politician with arguably the most diplomatic experience in the Middle East won’t have a chance to vote this week on whether the U.S. should strike Syria.

That’s because former ambassador and veteran diplomat Peter Galbraith now serves in Vermont’s state senate, whose foreign policy jurisdiction ends at the New Hampshire border.

But if he could vote, Galbraith says, he’d oppose President Obama’s proposed strikes.

“We should not, because the airstrikes won’t accomplish anything,” Galbraith says. “They are not going to degrade the Syrian government’s ability to use the weapons. They are not going to change the military balance. So they’re really about making a statement, and that’s not, in my view, an appropriate use of military force.”

Galbraith knows a thing or two about chemical weapons. Twenty-five years ago this month, while serving on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Galbraith traveled to the Iraqi-Turkish border, where he uncovered evidence of Saddam Hussein’s gassing of the Kurds. That discovery led to Senate passage of the “Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988,” which Galbraith credits with prompting Hussein to halt his use of chemical weapons.

He subsequently served as the U.S. ambassador to Croatia and in United Nations posts in East Timor and Afghanistan. During the Iraq war, Galbraith worked closely with that country’s Kurdish minority as it sought greater autonomy in a post-Hussein Iraq.

It’s the plight of the Kurds, who make up roughly 11 percent of Syria’s population, and that of the country’s other minority populations — Alawites and Christians each make up another 11 percent of Syria’s population — that most concerns Galbraith. For the past year, he says, he’s been working with a non-governmental organization to prepare those three minority groups for negotiations leading to a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria. Galbraith won’t disclose the name of the NGA with whom he’s working.

As he wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed published Sunday, Galbraith worries that the majority Sunni rebels who have thus far led the anti-Assad insurgency have been “unable to win significant support from the country’s ethnic and religious minorities.” Were the Assad regime to fall, Galbraith wrote, the president’s fellow Alawites “know they face a likely genocide.”

With that in mind, Galbraith argues:

[T]he United States should be cautious about a strategy involving military support, including airstrikes and arms supplies, to a Syrian opposition that has neither the ability nor the inclination to reach out to Syria’s minorities. Such a strategy is not likely to succeed and, more important, we may not want it to succeed.

And that’s not the only problem with Obama’s plan, Galbraith says. Striking Syria would likely enrage its greatest ally in the region, Iran, which “could torpedo our ability to negotiate a nuclear compromise” with the latter country. Those negotiations have taken a promising turn since the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani assumed Iran’s presidency last month.

“A U.S. attack on Iran’s ally, Syria, could make it difficult for these negotiations to proceed,” Galbraith says.

Lastly, Galbraith argues, it would be a mistake for the U.S. to act without the support of the international community — most especially that of the United Nations.

“President Obama campaigned on the notion that we would respect international law,” Galbraith says. “He’s frankly sounding an awful lot like President Bush in 2003.”

Galbraith hastens to add that Obama’s proposed airstrikes fall far short of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, but as he told National Public Radio’s Jacki Lyden over the weekend, a more appropriate course of action would be to seek a stern warning from the U.N:

I would guess that if the Obama administration went to the U.N. with a resolution that said there’d be serious consequences for any further use of chemical weapons that the Russians and the Chinese would go along, precisely because they would prefer that resolution and a warning to U.S. military strikes.

Galbraith says he’s advised several members of Congress in advance of this week’s vote, including one of Vermont’s three delegates, though he declined to say which one.

And though he disagrees with many in the administration with whom he’s worked closely over the years — including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power — Galbraith says the dilemma is not the end of the world.

“It’s possible to overstate the significance of this. It’s not like they’re going out and invading Syria. It’s not like they’re invading Iraq,” he says. “So regardless of how the vote turns out and what action takes place, a few weeks later it will be a past event and the United States will move on and Obama will move on. So I don’t think in any way think it’s make or break.”

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latimes: A dilemma for Syria’s minorities,0,7851742.story


A dilemma for Syria’s minorities

The mostly Sunni Muslim rebels’ inability to win over the country’s Kurds, Alawites and Christians raises the question of whether their victory is even desirable.

By Peter Galbraith
September 8, 2013

The Obama administration — with the backing of key Republicans in Congress — is poised to embark on a strategy that entails punitive airstrikes on Syrian government positions and stepped-up lethal aid to moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.

So far, however, the Syrian opposition has been unable to win significant support from the country’s ethnic and religious minorities. Without such support, the opposition is unlikely to prevail even with stepped-up U.S. assistance. Moreover, the inability of the Syrian rebels, who are almost all Sunni Muslim Arabs, to win over the country’s Kurds, Alawites and Christians raises the question of whether their victory is even desirable.

Over the last year, I have met with Kurdish, Christian and Alawite representatives as part of an effort to help prepare them to negotiate for their communities in a post-Bashar Assad Syria. I have been struck by the sense of unease they all feel about what may follow in Syria. (By most estimates, each group is about 11% of Syria’s population, although Christian numbers have dropped in recent years and Kurdish numbers have risen.)

As a group, the Alawites have the most to lose. Although the Alawites consider themselves Muslims, many Sunnis consider them to be apostates, and they were long a marginalized community in Syria, living in impoverished villages in the Alawite mountains north of Lebanon. When the current president’s father, Hafez, became president more than 40 years ago, life changed significantly for his fellow Alawites. Today, they dominate the upper ranks of the military and security forces, and they provide the regime with its most reliable troops. Some Alawites would prefer a democratic, pluralistic Syria without Assad, but almost none believe this is possible.

“Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the grave” emerged early in the war as a slogan of anti-regime fighters. Since then, Alawite-led troops and Alawite militias have perpetrated massive atrocities against Sunni civilians, thereby ensuring that Syria’s Alawites will be targeted for retribution. If Assad falls, Syria’s Alawites know they face a likely genocide. Under these circumstances, they have no choice but to stick with the government.

Syria’s Christians have tried to stay out of politics, preferring to focus on business where many have done well, at least until the start of the civil war. They have no incentive to jeopardize their current well-being by supporting a rebellion that may not succeed. And they are understandably fearful of an opposition that includes the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front. Because the Syrian diaspora is disproportionately Christian, Christians have found it easier to immigrate to the West, and many have done so since the uprising began.

Syria’s largest minority is the Kurds, and their case is the most curious. Unlike the Alawites and Christians who have done well under the Assads, the Kurds have been brutally repressed. Kurdish areas in the northeast and northwest are among Syria’s poorest (although resource rich) and, since the 1950s, successive Syrian regimes have denied citizenship documents to hundreds of thousands of Kurds, saying they are migrants from Turkey.

In 2004, Kurds in the western Syrian city of Qamishli staged their own uprising against the regime, tearing down billboards and statues of the current president and his late father. The uprising was put down with characteristic Assad ruthlessness.

But today, Syria’s Kurdish militias are fighting anti-regime Islamic radicals who have been attacking Kurdish villages. The Syrian government is largely absent from the Kurdish area, and in July, the Kurds proclaimed their own autonomous region. They are now focused on making that autonomy a reality, securing their region’s borders against Sunni rebels, establishing a Kurdish language curriculum in schools, changing license plates and setting up a Kurdish administration.

The Syrian opposition has not even tried to win the support of the country’s minorities. There is no program, or even meaningful discussion, of how a post-Assad regime might protect Syria’s Alawites from retribution. The Kurds are unwilling to fight for an opposition that says future arrangements for the Kurds will be decided democratically — in other words, by a Sunni Arab majority that has never shown any sympathy for Kurdish linguistic and citizenship rights, much less for their demands for regional autonomy. Nor has the opposition acknowledged or addressed the fears of Syria’s Christians.

Twenty-five years ago this month, I led a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff mission that went along the entire Iraqi-Turkish border documenting the use of chemical weapons against Iraq’s Kurds. These are horrific weapons, and their use demands a response.

But the United States should be cautious about a strategy involving military support, including airstrikes and arms supplies, to a Syrian opposition that has neither the ability nor the inclination to reach out to Syria’s minorities. Such a strategy is not likely to succeed and, more important, we may not want it to succeed.

Peter W. Galbraith is a former U.S. ambassador and the author of two books on the Iraq war.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

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NPR: Former U.S. Ambassador Cautions Against Attack on Syria

Former U.S. Ambassador Cautions Against Attack on Syria

National Public Radio Interview with Peter Galbraith and Jacki Lyden
September 07, 2013 3:00 PM

Peter Galbraith, U.S. ambassador to Croatia in the 1990s who was involved in the Croatia-Bosnia peace process, has made a career of studying conflict. Historically a strong interventionist, Galbraith argues against military intervention in Syria and outlines possible alternatives.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

As we said earlier, 11 G-20 member nations signed a resolution yesterday supporting a strong international response to the use of chemical weapons. Nine, including Russia, China and Germany, did not sign. They’re calling instead for a diplomatic response.

Today, European Union foreign ministers endorsed a clear and strong response in Syria, but they urged the U.S. to hold off until the U.N. inspectors report the findings of evidence they collected near Damascus.

We’re going to hear from two former U.S. diplomats, both of whom have had to weigh the consequences of American power in foreign conflicts. First, Peter Galbraith.

PETER GALBRAITH: By not going to the U.N. and by not waiting for the U.N. report on the use of chemical weapons, frankly, President Obama begins to sound a lot like President Bush did in 2003 before the Iraq invasion.

LYDEN: Galbraith was the U.S. ambassador to Croatia during the height of the U.N. intervention in Balkans. In the past, he’s often been a vocal proponent of U.S.-led military intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya. He told us that on Syria, he’s taken a different stance.

GALBRAITH: In each of those cases, we had partners on the ground whose agenda we were comfortable with. And the problem is we will, in essence, be striking in support of a Syrian opposition that we actually may not wish to have when the opposition has no support from Syrian minorities – not from the Alawites, the Christians and the Kurds, each of whom are about 11 to 12 percent of Syria’s population. The Alawites fear that if Assad falls that they will be victims of genocide, and they fear with good reason.

In this case, the airstrikes are not going to topple the regime. And I don’t think there is a military solution to Syria’s civil war. You need an inclusive solution, and my guess is that Assad will have to be part of it.

LYDEN: So tell me, what is the alternative here to military action?

GALBRAITH: Well, there is an alternative, and the model is what the Bush administration did in 2003. They went to the U.N., they got a unanimous resolution warning Iraq of serious consequences if it did not readmit the inspectors. And Saddam Hussein capitulated.

LYDEN: You don’t think China and Russia would block even that resolution?

GALBRAITH: I would guess that if the Obama administration went to the U.N. with a resolution that said there’d be serious consequences for any further use of chemical weapons that the Russians and the Chinese would go along, precisely because they would prefer that resolution and a warning to U.S. military strikes.

LYDEN: If China and Russia, given their opposition in the U.N. Security Council, were to block some specific warning, what other options would there be for the U.N. to engage in Syria?

GALBRAITH: That might then be a time when the administration could consider unilateral action. The experience in 2002 was that the Chinese and Russians were willing to go along with a warning because they very much preferred that to authorizing force. Incidentally, one of the countries that joined that warning was Syria.

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CNN: Iraq and Syria Disintegrating

The Middle East — whether in Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon, appears to be splintering across sectarian lines.

CNN’s Hala Gorani, in for Christiane Amanpour, speaks to Peter Galbraith and breaks down the situation.

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