A way forward in Syria
Recent events have shown the situation in Syria is still very volatile. ISIS is being continually pummeled by coalition airstrikes and US Special Operations. ISIS is on the verge of collapsing into fractured resistance. But, Syria still holds the potential to destabilize the middle east and the globe. The consequences of miscalculation in Syria will result in this proxy war developing into a regional war. This could easily escalate into a war of global powers directly engaged with each other. I previously described how the situation in Syria is very similar to the Spanish civil war in the 1930’s. The Spanish Civil War set the conditions for World War II. A mismanaged Syrian Civil War would set the conditions for World War III.
There are ways forward, this is my opinion on how I think we should proceed. It is not going to be easy and the United States is not in control of critical aspects. We will need our global and regional allies. We need to be prepared to change our perspectives about the region. Concepts we have relied on in the region will need to change. We will need to work with our adversaries.
We will also need skilled negotiators. For this reason, the American people are fortunate to have Donald Trump as President. The other Presidential option had a very adversarial position with Russia. Her penchant for aggression and flippant disregard for military advisors would have resulted in catastrophe in Syria, that would have had secondary effects in Europe.
The first step is to assure Bashir Assad will no longer control the resulting Alawite state. The United States and the Global community should be uncompromising in this. The Assad regimes actions against his own people are inexcusable. He fits within mold of Milosevic and Hussein. His slaughter of democratic reformers started this conflict. His continued use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons were acts of genocide. He needs to be brought up on war crimes charges at the Hague.
The Russians needs to take the lead on replacing him. The United States or any other international body deposing him and replacing him will not have the needed credibility for the Alawite and other minorities in Syria itself. The global community needs to put all pressure possible on the Russians to replace him with an Alawite of their choosing.
Second step is to assure the destruction of ISIS. The savagery of the Syrian Civil War has been perpetuated by both sides. The Assad Regimes chemical weapons use still come in second to the genocidal fanatics of ISIS. ISIS is an example of the worst traits of humanity rolled into one organization. Ethnic cleansing, rape, torture, religious persecution, slavery, are all ISIS hallmarks. Due to their ability to conduct decentralized operations, ISIS present a global threat. Even after the centers of power for ISIS are eliminated, individual ISIS members will need to be perused globally.
The focus needs to be on ISIS. Other proxy groups, such as the Free Syrian Army, Al-Nusra and Hezbollah, still need to be transitioned in to political efforts or further persecuted into irrelevance.
Third step is to engage our regional allies in particular King Abdullah of Jordan. The Sunni nations the United States has historically supported, can provide a lot of help. In the open they can help provide a bulwark against the Shia groups and their primary supporter, Iran. In a discrete manner they can help restrict the ideology and funding of radicalized groups in the region.
One person stands out as key to the regional solution, King Abdullah of Jordan. He is a well respected in all circles. I have 5th SFG friends who have met him, and they are very impressed. He is a unique personality. He is a Sunni Hashemite Muslim king who can directly trace himself to the throne of Muhammed himself. His heritage traces directly to Muhammed’s great grand father. It could be argued that he has more right to the inheritance of Muhammed than even the house of Saud.
He is very pro-western king who has allowed for a parliament to be established in Jordan. He is respected by every capital in the region. He has history with both the Russians and Americans. He was trained in the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst and the U.S. Naval Postgraduate school. He commanded the Jordanian Special Forces and lead against ISIS that were highly effective. He is not adversarial with Israel, furthering his ability to stabilize the region. His clout in the region is unparalleled. He is the key to forming a new, moderate middle east. The United States should provide every effort in supporting his rise as the key figure in the middle east.
The fourth step is to resolve the Kurdish – Turkish issues. The battles between the Turks and Kurds is a key obstacle for regional peace. The global community needs to intervene immediately in resolving the Kurdish problem. Many Americans are very fond of the Kurds. They have shown themselves to be resilient fighters for decades. Unfortunately, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.
Kurdish rebel groups such as the PKK have conducted attacks inside Turkey which are considered “terrorism” by the Turks. The Turks have historically suppressed the Kurds, which is the largest minority group in Turkey. By the mid 1990’s over 350,000 Kurds had been displaced by the Turks. The eastern part of Turkey is dominated by Kurds. There is large support for the Kurds internationally. But the Turkish government, now more hardline under Erdogan will not be keen to give autonomy to the Kurds. But a look at the Anatolia borders drawn for Turkey in the 1920’s should be evaluated.
the fifth step is to discard Skyes-Picot borders for Syria and Iraq, then establish Kurdistan. After WW I, the French and British portioned the Ottoman Empire into the basic boundaries we see in the middle east today. To better fight Arab nationalism they broke up areas to control them along ethnic lines. As the colonial powers began to recede in the 1950’s, the countries of the middle east began to form. They held to these borders which did not reflect the ethnic realties of the region.
In the Special Forces Warrant Officer course I developed a matrix to better understand the forces that drive societies from a revolutionary perspective. From Mao to Washington there are commonalties and wide disparities in why people take up arms in revolt. The Plumb Societal Matrix helps make this more classifiable.
A key element is the six levels of a society. Which in ascending order are: Individual, family, tribe, state, nation, and international movement. Each of these is a larger collection of the preceding level. Different ethnicities and governments favor different levels. For example, the Chinese operate on levels 2 and 5, family and nation. The United States operates on levels 1 and 5, individual and nation. This does not mean that China or the United States care only about these levels. But social norms and legal policy is driven at these levels. They are the societies centers of gravity.
In the Greater Middle East, they operate on levels 3 and 6, tribe and international movement. They care about the tribe and international movement you belong to. Being Bani-Amur and Sunni or are Quda’a and Shia are more important than being Syrian or Iraqi. The individual means much less in these societies than in western ones. Which makes certain terror techniques understandable when you learn how they function on an ethnic level. It also explains why so often Western polices fail in the Middle East. Our policy is not on the same societal frequency.
Iraq and Syria do not exist as fully functional homogenous nation states. These nations borders do not reflect the realities of their central government’s ability to protect and influence the populace. Iraq has its own problems as well. The southern regions massive Shia populations are in effect an Iranian proxy. The northern region of Iraq is already Kurdish run and nearly autonomous.
It is my opinion that the western region of Syria should be partitioned into its own nation. This would extend North from Al Suwayda to Aleppo. This would include the Druze, Alawites, and other minorities which have normally fared well under Assad.
The Kurdish north-eastern part of Syria, centered around Al Hasakah, should be merged with Kurdish regions in the Iraqi north. This will put pressure on the international community and the Turkish government to resolve their own issues with the Kurds.
The Sunni majority which spreads from the Jordanian borders to Raqqah and across to Tikrit and Karbala should be annexed by Jordan. King Abdullah has the clout and heritage to rule the Sunni tribes of this region.
The Western Power drawn borders that exist today are not compatible with the current ethnic realties of the region. Until this is resolved there will always be strife and discontent. This task is daunting, but this is in my opinion the best pathway forward to resolving the greater regional crisis.