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.
By Michael Shank and Emily Wirzba, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Shank is director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Emily Wirzba is program assistant for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at FCNL. The views expressed are their own.
The agreement forged by Russia and the United States over the weekend on Syria’s chemical weapons is good news for diplomacy, and bodes well for any restart of the Geneva II peace process aimed at ending the country’s civil war. But the short-term focus on chemical weapons use risks undermining some much-needed long-term thinking on the issue.
Of course, both sides in the Syrian conflict need to be held accountable for their alleged use of (or, in the case of some rebels, their alleged attempts to acquire) chemical weapons. But even after any stockpiles have been accounted for and dealt with, there will still be the outstanding question of how to resolve the ongoing civil war.
And the Obama administration should belatedly be willing to address a surprising source of the current tensions – water shortages. Indeed, the sad fact is that the United States could have helped prevent tensions in Syria from escalating into civil breakdown if it had worked with the international community to tackle a growing problem with this most basic of resources.
By Nawaf Obaid and Jamal Khashoggi, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Nawaf Obaid is a fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Jamal Khashoggi is the editor in chief of the Al Arab Satellite News Channel. The views expressed are their own.
While the U.S. media spends countless hours discussing the vagaries of American non-involvement in Syria, little is being said about the conflict's ramifications for the stability, borders and realpolitik of the Middle East – or the changing role of outside nations in the region's affairs. Yet there are massive, historic and intensely important implications that we need to understand. Indeed, the Syrian civil war is but a catalyst for numerous shifts taking place in the regional and global power structure.
First and foremost, the Syrian tragedy is a turning point in the long established tradition of Western intervention in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. The quagmire has brought to the fore the new reality that the United States and its European allies no longer have the political and economic stomach to openly engage their militaries in another regional conflict. While the so-called Arab Spring brought with it huge expectations to the Arab world of freedom and democracy, the dawning era of Western military disengagement from the region is going to have even more widespread implications as shifting borders and military alliances usher in a transition phase.
Absent outside intervention, the Syrian conflict has the potential to continue for many years. Given the support that the al-Assad regime is receiving from Russia and Iran, and arms being delivered to the rebels from the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, the United States and France, one is reminded that the Lebanese civil war lasted for 15 years.
By Melissa Labonte, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Melissa Labonte is associate professor of Political Science at Fordham University in New York and author of Human Rights and Humanitarian Norms, Strategic Framing, and Intervention: Lessons for the Responsibility to Protect. The views expressed are her own.
Although the Russian proposal on Syria’s chemical weapons gives Congress breathing room, lawmakers are still on the hook for making a decision in this case. After all, there's still the matter of holding the al-Assad regime to account for its alleged indiscriminate use of chemical weapons against civilians.
But on what basis will the deciders decide? Will domestic interests trump foreign policy interests? The facts of the Syrian crisis notwithstanding, can the method of presenting an argument about intervention actually affect the outcome?
The policymaking process is deeply complex even to those who study it up close. Take, for example, congressional debate over the U.S. response to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia in 1992. What had been a fairly consistent policy within the George H.W. Bush administration premised on diplomacy and humanitarian relief rapidly gave way to overwhelming support in favor of robust military intervention. Why and how did this dramatic shift occur? Conversely, when the U.S. Congress debated how to respond to the unfolding genocide in Rwanda in 1994, its members overwhelming opposed intervention of any kind, despite clear evidence that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were being slaughtered mercilessly by their own government.
By Fareed Zakaria
For at least a year, President Barack Obama's foreign policy towards Syria had been confused, poorly conceived, and badly executed. But despite all that, the administration deserves credit for changing course, acting fast, and seizing on a lucky break. The agreement forged by John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is just the first step, of course. The Syrian government has to cooperate, but it will face pressure from Moscow to do so.
On hearing of the agreement, some have reacted with dismay. This agreement does not remove Bashar al-Assad from power, it does nothing to stop his regime in its brutal repression, it does nothing to end the humanitarian tragedy in that country.
It’s true that the agreement is not designed to stop the warfare and suffering in Syria. But what exactly would do that? Do we know that a U.S. strategy, a military intervention to topple the dictator and change the regime, would actually end the human suffering in that country?
By Fareed Zakaria
A new internet game – “Where is Damascus?” – asks you to pinpoint Syria’s capital on a map. Even if you are off by 100 miles, you will probably have done better than 80 percent of the people who played the game. According to its creators, a number of the people inside the U.S. Department of Defense tried it out as well…and only 57 percent managed to locate Damascus. Some of the guesses were as far off as India and South Africa! Let’s hope those folks weren’t tasked with targeting the air strikes.
So, as a public service, here are three facts about Syria:
First, it became a nation recently and with much turmoil. Until World War I, the Ottoman Empire controlled most of the Middle East, plus parts of Europe and North Africa. It had ruled much of this land for six centuries. But when the Empire collapsed after World War I, it led to a complete fragmentation of the region. France and Britain carved up parts of the empire. Syria broke free of French influence after World War II. Then followed a series of failed governments, then briefly it actually joined up with Egypt to create a new country, the United Arab Republic, and then seceded from that republic three years later. In 1963, the Baath Party organized a coup – and that is the beginning of the Syria we now know.