Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Syria’s “Surrogates R Us”

August 31, 2016

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s August 30, 2016 worldpost piece in the Huffington Post.


Sur-ro-gate: a substitute or deputy for a person in a specific role.

The crumbling, decrepit remnants of the Syrian state are overrun by the pestilence of so many mini-conflicts it is impossible to know who is fighting what at any hour of any given day, or which devastated rubble of a city or town is under control of what Sunni Islamist of Shiite faction or proxy of Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the United States. Syria is a veritable cauldron of killing field upon killing field. One day a surrogate force is on one side, the next day, on the other — depending on the highest bidder and the gravest threat to their proxy hosts.

Syria’s butcher-in-chief — Bashar al-Assad — courtesy of Russia’s Putin, Iran’s Khamenei, and the terrorist group known as Hezbollah, has clung to power by controlling a sliver of territory around the capital, Damascus, while his beleaguered forces barrel-bomb and deploy poison gas (yes, poison gas) to subdue a civilian population not under his regime’s direct control into starvation and submission. That is what is taking place in Syria’s largest city of Aleppo.



Global Threats, Friends in the Neighborhood

December 10, 2015

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s December 2015 newsletter.


This time of the year should be filled with joy and peace, but it is hard to see much of either reflected in the recent headlines. The barbaric terrorist attack in California this past week, as well as the earlier attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Mali have sent shock waves across the world, shattering thousands of lives and once again corroding our sense of security. They’ve also re-sparked debates on how to keep ourselves safer and best confront violent extremism. We all know that there won’t be any easy solutions. It will be a long road toward peace and security, and one that will demand U.S. leadership and global solidarity in the face of such senseless brutality.

The world’s attention is now focused on ISIS, Syria, and the conflict’s global spillovers, but that doesn’t mean that we can neglect our other foreign policy relationships. For example, our regional partners don’t often make it onto the crisis list and so subsequently onto our short-term policy agenda. This is a mistake. These countries arguably affect the United States’ economy and security more on a daily basis than any other region. In the first nine months of 2015, we traded over a trillion dollars in goods with Canada and Latin America—that’s over $2.6 million dollars a minute. We also work on a daily basis with our regional partners to keep contraband and criminals far from our borders.


The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Saving the Lost Generation and the Communities that Serve Them

October 23, 2015

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)


The Syrian refugee crisis is nearing a tipping point, beyond which no near-term solutions are possible. On this website, many of us have discussed policy options to stem the Syrian crisis and get to the negotiating table. In the meantime, we have a crisis that can’t wait for diplomacy or military action: the lost generation of uneducated young refugees, and the host communities struggling to bear their weight.

More than four million Syrians have fled the country, mostly to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Though in absolute numbers Turkey hosts the largest community, about 30% of Lebanon’s population and 20% of Jordan’s population are now Syrian nationals. To the 4 million refugees, add the 6.5 million Syrians internally displaced and you end up with about half of Syria’s population as either displaced or refugees. One-third – and as much as half – of the housing stock and a large percentage of economic infrastructure have been destroyed or damaged in Syria, and mistrust of the current Syrian security forces abounds. Without homes and jobs and fearful of the government, refugees will not return any time soon and host countries will have to cope with refugees for years to come.


Russia’s Military Presence in the Middle East

October 22, 2015

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s October 19, 2015 blog post.


President Vladimir V. Putin has been waiting for the opportunity to undermine the United States power in the Middle East. Seizing on that opportunity in Syria was in part due to a lack of U.S. policy that allowed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups to make massive gains against Mr. Putin’s longtime ally Bashar al-Assad. Putin wants to also protect Russia’s main Mediterranean naval facility at the Port of Tartus; continue to be the major arms supplier in the region, and gain access to the vast oil reserves.

The former Soviet Union was active in the Middle East shortly after World War II, supporting Egypt and Syria militarily. After the October War of 1973, in which Israel humbled both of these countries, the Soviets withdrew from the region. They also did not want to confront the U.S. which was considered to have stronger interests there.


U.S. Policy Advisors on the Middle East Region

September 30, 2015

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s September 28, 2015 blog post.


The world is wondering why the United States has moved so slowly to wipe out radical Islamist groups, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that are destabilizing much of the Middle East and parts of Africa. Battle-hardened rebels have been waiting for military assistance from the U.S. to attack the ISIS strongholds in Syria. The recent resignation of General John Allen leaves a major void in the U.S. military strategy to support the rebel groups. Reportedly, Allen did not receive the necessary authority for action against the radical Islamists, which has allowed their rapid expansion to continue throughout the region.

In Afghanistan the Taliban has affiliated with ISIS, despite the 10,000 U.S. peacekeeping forces there. The new president, Ashraf Ghani also has not been able to bring peace, as terrorist attacks continue daily.


Turkey and the West — Getting Results From Crisis

August 11, 2015

Stuart E. Eizenstat (Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, 1999-2001; Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs, 1997-1999; Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, 1996-1997; Ambassador to the European Union, 1993-1996)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Eizenstat’s August 7, 2015 special to Foreign Policy. The article was co-authored by Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan.


The Turkish government’s dramatic decision to engage militarily in Syria against the Islamic State, its agreement to allow the United States to use its air base in Incirlik to strike Islamic State targets, and its request for consultations with NATO last week no doubt can be helpful to the West. Turkey’s change of heart came after an attack, attributed to the Islamic State, near the Syrian border on July 20 which killed over 30 Turkish citizens and wounded scores more. In the days that followed, the Turkish government implored NATO to help it combat the terrorist threats it faces from both the Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK, the latter sworn enemies of Ankara. These security developments should also be a wake-up call for the European Union, the United States, and Turkey to comprehensively reinvigorate a relationship that has fallen into disrepair.

Ankara’s dramatic military actions have created an opening which the European Union and United States should seize to help Turkey regain the political, economic, and security footing lost because of its own shortsighted actions. In recent years, the Turkish government has too often chosen to repress rather than address the views and frustrations of its people. The economy continues to deteriorate as a result of poor economic and political policies. In no small measure, these bad policy choices are what cost President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, its 13-year majority in the June parliamentary elections.


Defeating ISIL Requires US Leadership Now!

June 30, 2015

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)


I have written here before on Syria and radicalism in the Levant—once in September of 2013, and again in September of 2014. Nearly a year later, I am disheartened to see that US leadership continues to be timid in its struggle with ISIL and Syria, in spite of our warnings and prediction that if the US didn’t define and lead the effort in this fight, radical elements would take over against our interests. This didn’t have to be the case and doesn’t have to be in the future. However, the problem cannot be simply wished away and we can’t wait two long years for a new Administration to take action.

When the popular uprising in Syria began in 2011, the US had to confront just one threat: President Assad. Today, we have at least three others: ISIL threatening not only Syria, but Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with terrorist activities; a refugee problem that could overwhelm our friends in those countries; and finally, the Iranian arc of resistance which, stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and to Lebanon, is gaining ground as it firms up support in its fight against ISIL and its support for Syria.


War lessons from a replica French frigate

June 22, 2015

Jim Rosapepe (Ambassador to Romania, 1998-2001)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Rosapepe’s June 18, 2015 op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.


This week, the replica of the Hermione, the French tall ship which brought the Marquis de Lafeyette and French soldiers in 1780 to help Americans defeat the British at Yorktown, is visiting Baltimore. It’s also the week that Congress is debating whether to expand or contract U.S. aid to anti-Assad rebels in Syria’s civil war.

What do they have in common? They are both cases of big powers intervening in other people’s civil wars.

Given the moral ambiguity and unsatisfactory results of the U.S. interventions in Vietnam and elsewhere, many Americans understandably question even the concept of foreign intervention in civil wars. Can they serve America’s interests and our values? The Hermione’s visit to Baltimore, commemorating France’s military intervention in the American Revolution (a civil war between British subjects), reminds us of at least one time when such intervention served both. In fact, it may well have been decisive in creating our country and the modern era of democracy.


Ryan Crocker on Iraq’s Role in the Long War Against ISIL

October 3, 2014

Ryan Crocker, Ambassador to Afghanistan (2011-2012), Iraq (2007-2009), Pakistan (2004-2007), Syria (1998-2001), Kuwait (1994-1997) and Lebanon (1990-1993)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Crocker’s September 28, 2014 interview in Defense One.


Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran of U.S. Middle East diplomacy, welcomes the start of United States-led air strikes against ISIS forces in Syria but stresses Washington must remain committed to a long-term campaign against the group. “This is not going to be a campaign of weeks or months,” he says. “It’s going to be one of years. And we need to make it clear to allies, to adversaries, and to our own people that we’re going to be in it with whatever it takes.” Despite the expansion of action to Syria, Crocker recommends that U.S. operations focus on Iraq, which is more familiar ground and where political and military reforms underway—following the collapse of the Iraqi army—have the potential to create a solid ally against ISIS.

Gathering from what you’ve written, you must be very pleased by the early Tuesday attacks on Raqqa, which is the headquarters of the Islamic State in Syria, and also against the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate in eastern Syria, outside of Aleppo.

It’s a good start. I am pleased that we made that start with a fairly extensive air campaign that also involved five other Arab states—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—flying and fighting with us.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. And the impression we made in Syria is a whole lot greater than the two 500-pound bombs we dropped in Iraq when we started that campaign.

Should the United States keep this going for a while? What’s your feeling?

President Obama set the goal fairly clearly, and it’s the right one: to degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State. We’ve begun the process of degradation. We need to see what the effect of Tuesday’s bombings was.

But again, as the president said, this is not going to be a campaign of weeks or months. It’s going to be one of years. And we need to make it clear to allies, to adversaries, and to our own people that we’re going to be in it with whatever it takes, however long it takes.


It’s time for Muslim Nations to take the Lead

October 2, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s October 2, 2014 blog post.


On Tuesday September 30, 2014 I appeared on a segment of Bloomberg TV’s Bottom Line with Mark Crumpton, focusing on the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates. Mark asked what the U.S. should have known when our troops left Iraq 2011. I noted that it opened the door to al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate. but did not elaborate on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has undertaken numerous attacks against the Iraqi military and civilians.

In 2003 after the U.S.-led incursion into Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi founded a small militia group that subsequently morphed into the larger Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Al-Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca, a U.S.-Iraqi detention center from 2005 to 2009, and released since he was not considered an enemy combatant. Al-Baghdadi resumed leadership of ISI in 2010, undertaking numerous attacks including a mosque in Baghdad, and killing a Sunni lawmaker. After Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 he retaliated with an attack south of Baghdad in which twenty-four policemen were killed. In 2012 he orchestrated a series of suicide attacks, car bombings and roadside bombings killing and wounding hundreds of people throughout Iraq.