By Barry M. Blechman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Barry M. Blechman is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan international security think tank. The views expressed are his own.
The world will be a safer place if the surprising agreement that led to the promised destruction of Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemical weapons can pave the way for the banning of such weapons from the entire Middle East and eventually the world.
The next move is up to Israel and Egypt.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surprised the world in September when he agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention barring the use of such weapons and to permit the supervised destruction of all his chemical weapon stocks. The move was designed to halt an expected U.S. bombing campaign against his country after al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in the Syrian civil war.
By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been working overtime arming rebel groups in Syria. But events of the last month suggest these American allies have been throwing their lots in with radical, hardline Islamists.
Some observers are bullishly optimistic about the foreign policies of America’s Gulf allies, suggesting Saudi Arabia backs “the least Islamist component of the rebellion” and Qatar’s young new emir is displaying a more “mature” foreign policy that seeks to avoid controversy in places like Syria. However, there is worrying news coming from Syria’s Raqqa Province, now controlled by the al Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Hateful books described by several different sources as the area’s new academic curriculum, reportedly originate from Saudi Arabia.
Ali al-Ahmed, who directs the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, has conducted previous reviews of official Saudi textbooks. He told me that although the seal from Saudi Arabia’s education ministry has been removed from the books, they otherwise appear identical to the ones he has reviewed. Al-Ahmed said that the two collections being brandished in Raqqa are “toxic,” promoting extremism and the dehumanization of non-Muslims.
But this isn’t the only development that appears to shed light on Saudi and Qatari objectives in Syria.
By Danny Danon, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Danny Danon is Israel’s deputy defense minister and the author of Israel: The Will to Prevail.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States this week has provided yet another reminder of how our country’s “volunteer advisers,” pundits and columnists are always quick to lavish their counsel upon us. Often forgotten once these thoughts of the day are neglected in favor of new topics is how much of this advice is proven by history to be dead wrong.
The Golan Heights and Israel is one such topic worth examining. International focus on Syria today centers on the heinous chemical attacks and its war-torn urban landscapes replete with rubble, bombs and bodies. These are heart wrenching scenes, and in Israel, as everywhere, we pray for a speedy end to this conflict and its wanton destruction. But simmering beneath these tragic headlines has been another key issue that sheds much light on the “value” of the advice Israel’s government receives – the Golan Heights, that slender tract of land along the Israel-Syria border.
The al-Assad regime has withdrawn thousands of its troops from the Syrian side of the Golan, mobilizing them for the defense of Damascus. This has created a power vacuum in the south of the country as the most significant troop redeployment of its kind in 40 years took place from the buffer zone.
By Jerusha Murugen, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jerusha Murugen is the research associate for global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations. You can follow her @Jerusha_Murugen. The views expressed are her own.
In the midst of a bloody civil war, the biggest killer in Syria may not be the one you expect: chronic disease.
For many thousands of Syrians who struggle to access medical treatment in a war with no end in sight, everyday medical conditions have now become a matter of life or death. Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), estimates that as many as 200,000 Syrians have died from chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory and heart conditions, as a result of lack of access to drugs and treatment, double the number of Syrians killed by combat operations.
This stands in contrast to the situation prior to the conflict, when many Syrians received consistent care for these illnesses, with such treatment accounting for a significant portion of Syria’s health services. The United Nations now estimates that over half a million Syrians will require chronic disease treatment for the remainder of 2013. Of this figure, more than 400,000 Syrians alone are expected to require diabetic care.
And while daily atrocities and war crimes have gained international attention, most recently August’s horrific chemical weapons attack, Médecins Sans Frontières, an international non-governmental organization providing medical care in Syria, stresses that victims who survive combat operations more frequently become “silent casualties,” succumbing instead to previously manageable chronic illnesses as a result of calculated attacks on Syria’s primary health care system and pharmaceutical industry.
By Christopher S. Chivvis, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christopher Chivvis is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and author of the book, Toppling Qaddafi. The views expressed are his own.
The White House has faced an increasingly uphill battle to gain domestic and international support for possible strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, yet there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon in the land of Fjords.
Earlier this month, Norway, traditionally one of America’s strongest NATO allies, elected a conservative new prime minister, Erna Solberg. Solberg comes to power as the Obama administration has struggled to win backing for strikes against the al-Assad regime in Syria – a struggle that has been complicated further by Syria’s acceptance of a Russia-backed plan that is supposed to see it give up its chemical weapons.
But if Syrian acceptance turns out to be a stalling tactic – as many believe it is – support for strikes from allies like Norway will be all the more important to the White House. Indeed, in the wake of the British parliament’s vote against intervention, smaller NATO countries like Norway could eventually play a significant role in helping the president make his case to the world.
By Balkees Jarrah, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Balkees Jarrah is international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Washington’s response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria has been imbued with words ordinarily reserved for a courtroom. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have spoken of “accountability,” “impunity,” “punishment” and even “standards of proof.” Yet, the United States, curiously, has made little mention of criminal justice for the atrocities committed not only in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, but across Syria since 2011.
With renewed activity at the U.N. Security Council on Syria, there may be a chance for the Obama administration to match its rhetoric with its actions by publicly backing a role for the International Criminal Court.
Because Syria is not a member of the treaty that established the court, the Security Council would have to give it jurisdiction through what’s known as an “ICC referral.” A draft of a new Council resolution prepared by France, leaked to the media on September 13, included an ICC referral. It’s unclear though what the U.S. position is, in principle, on engaging the court.
Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul about the situation in Syria.
Are you disappointed that President Obama has chosen not to take some kind of military action in Syria? Your government has been urging military action for a long time.
No, it's not the military action. In fact, of course, the military action is the last resort. But what we insisted is that there should be a comprehensive political strategy first. This is missing from the very beginning
But a lot of people look at Turkey's policy, which has been support for the rebels, very tough against Assad, urging that he leave, and say that you have not been able to help create a real political opposition, unify the rebels, find the moderates. That while for two years this has been the effort, there isn't that much to show for it.
Yes, well, I think I have to remind first that at the beginning, we worked hard to find out a peaceful solution for this. At least six months, we worked very hard. We visited several times. But unfortunately, there was no response. There was no real response at the time.
It's not the problem of Turkey, first of all, but we are the neighbor. So what’s happening in Syria is having consequences – immediate consequences – on Turkey. Therefore, Turkey is very active in this issue. And this should not be misunderstood that Turkey wishes war or Turkey wishes the attack on Syria. That is not correct. What we want to see is that this situation should not continue like this. If this continues like it, everything is going to go bad there.
CNN speaks with Fareed and Sebastian Junger, journalist and author of ‘War,’ about Syria’s civil war and whether U.S. military intervention is the best response to its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Sebastian, you wrote a very provocative, important article in the Washington Post. Referring to Syria you wrote "At some point pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death and isolationism becomes a form of genocide. It's not a matter of how we're going to explain this to the Syrians. It's a matter of how we're going to explain this to our kids."
You're saying that war actually may be the answer to what's going on in Syria right now. Explain.
My first war was in Bosnia and every war that I've covered since then has been ended or drastically reduced by U.S. military action, by NATO military action. I think a true anti-war position doesn't just mean ignoring a civil war like we did in Rwanda. It means eventually after all diplomatic efforts have failed to use military threat and eventually military action. In Bosnia, a two-week NATO campaign ended a genocide. Amazingly, in the United States, the only people I knew who are against that were my fellow liberals and pacifists who thought that there was never a reason to use violence. And I think that's wrong. Certainly looking back on World War II, imagine had we not entered that war what the results would have been for the world.
And you speak as a war correspondent. Fareed, what do you think about that?
Zakaria: I think the question really is it's not enough to be outraged by what's happening in Syria, because there's all the reason in the world to be outraged, but how would an American military intervention stop the suffering?
As I can see it, American military intervention, even if it is successful, would depose Assad. We know what would happen. Assad and the Alawites and supporters of that regime would fight back as insurgents, as guerillas. That would be phase two of the civil war in which the Sunni militias that are currently opposed to Assad would go on a rampage and slaughter the Alawites and their supporters. And then there would be infighting among them.
CNN speaks with Fareed about the latest developments over Syria’s chemical weapons.
Is there a distinction between a timeline and a deadline on tackling Syria’s chemical weapons, because Secretary of State John Kerry says time is quickly running out.
I think the most important thing to think about is not so much the distinction between a timeline or a deadline, but what that really involves. Is there a trigger? Is there some kind of automatic trigger that says if the Syrians don’t comply, cooperate by a certain date, then it can get referred – the issue can get referred to the Security Council?
And that implies that the Security Council might authorize the use of force. You see, that's the crucial issue. What Kerry is trying to do is create some mechanism by which there is an automatic trigger. And what the Russians are trying to do is to ensure that there is none, that there is no automatic trigger.
By Ben Connable, Jonah Blank, and Austin Long, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ben Connable is a senior international policy analyst, Jonah Blank is a senior political scientist and Austin long is political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. The views expressed are their own.
President Barack Obama made a strong case that the United States should take the lead in punishing the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons and actively enforce the near-global ban on these weapons. Now, the possibility of a diplomatic solution to this problem – and the concurrent pause in action – offers an opportunity to alter and improve the request for the authorization of force currently before Congress.
Improving authorization is not simply about punishing Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons – it would actually be a deterrent rather than punitive, and would encompass all uses of chemical weapons in Syria by any group, including the opposition. This revised approach would reinforce the credibility of U.S. diplomatic efforts without necessitating a limited military strike that would likely derail a diplomatic solution. And it would also recognize the muddled history of constrained military action against dictatorships.
A recent RAND report, Airpower Options for Syria, showed that a limited attack would not go far in protecting Syrian civilians, and that removing even a large portion of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapon capability could not prevent the further use of sarin or another chemical agent. A limited strike would constitute an act of intimidation, but it would not necessarily establish a globally recognized red line precluding the use of chemical weapons by other states and nonstate actors.
By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He previously served as a Democratic professional staff member covering Middle East issues at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are his own.
When Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal in Paris this week, he likely got an earful of complaints over Syria. There was no public news conference after their meeting, which makes sense given that the Saudis often prefer that their sensitive consultations with the United States remain hidden behind closed doors. However, Kerry’s announcement earlier in the day of a conference to boost the Syrian opposition was probably intended in part as a sop to the Saudis.
Barely one week earlier, Kerry came out of another meeting with Saud al-Faisal trumpeting that the United States had Saudi Arabia’s support for military action against Syria. This was an understatement. Riyadh was downright aggressive in its push for an American-led intervention after the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack that U.S. officials say killed more than 1,400 people in Ghouta, Syria.
The Saudis badly wanted to see a strike on Syria, and they have grown frustrated with America’s fitful diplomacy since then. Recently, they have seemed less willing than usual to submerge their disagreements with Washington from public view. And there is undoubtedly a real sense of urgency to their efforts.
By Robert Hutchings, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robert Hutchings is dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas and co-director of its “Reinventing Diplomacy” initiative. He served as chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005. The views expressed are his own.
Clausewitz famously wrote about the fog of war – the confusion and chaos that undermine even the best laid battle plans. The same could be said of diplomacy, particularly the last two weeks of American diplomacy toward Syria.
In an earlier commentary, I praised the Obama administration for handling an intractable challenge reasonably well, but warned of the danger of escalation once military action commenced. That was before the decision to delay action while consulting Congress. Since then, the administration’s cautious approach has unraveled, and the president has wholly lost control over U.S. policy.
There was no need to go to the full Congress – and many reasons not to do so. The limited strikes the administration was considering did not rise to a level that required Congressional endorsement. Consultations with senior Congressional leadership, even without gaining their full support, would have been sufficient. The policy would then have been judged by its effectiveness, and had the objectives been limited to punishment for the al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, there were good prospects of success. Taking such limited but important action without Congressional authorization could easily have been defended on grounds of urgency.