Trump, Syria, and Chemical Weapons: What We Know, What We Don’t, and the Dangers Ahead


(Photo: vector_brothers / Shutterstock)

Let’s start with what we don’t know. Experts remain uncertain what chemical(s) were involved in the horrific chemical attack, almost certainly from the air, on the village of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province in Syria.  The nerve agent sarin, chlorine, and unknown combinations of chemicals have all been identified as possible, but in the first 48 hours nothing has been confirmed. We don’t know for sure yet what it was that killed more than 75 people, many of them children, and injured many more.

Crucially, we also don’t know who was responsible. Western governments, led by the United States, and much of the western press have asserted that the Syrian regime is responsible, but there is still no clear evidence. Certainly Damascus has an air force, has been known to use chemical, particularly chlorine, weapons in 2014 and 2015. So that’s certainly possible.

“A US military escalation against Syria (because we must not forget that US Special Forces and US bombers are already fighting there) will not help the victims of this heinous chemical attack, it will not bring the devastating war in Syria to a quicker end, it will not bring back the dead children.”

The Syrian military denies using chemical weapons.  Their international backer, Russia, claims that the Syrian military did drop bombs in the affected area but that the chemical effect was not in the bombs dropped but rather from the explosion of an alleged chemical warehouse under the control of unnamed rebel forces. The same report by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that found Syrian government responsibility for chlorine attacks also found that ISIS had used another chemical weapon, mustard gas, and investigated at least three other chemical weapons attacks whose perpetrators could not be identified.  So that could be possible as well.

For a variety of reasons, some of these possibilities don’t hold up so well if the chemical used this week was the sarin nerve agent — but we don’t know yet what it was.

There are some other, perhaps even more important things, that we do know. We know that in 2013, at the time of an earlier, even more deadly chemical weapon attack, similar accusations against the Syrian regime were widely made, assumed to be true, and used as the basis for calls for direct US military intervention in the civil war.  And we know those accusations were never proved, and that it remains uncertain even now, almost four years later, who was actually responsible.

And we know that the bombing of Syria in 2013 was averted, despite President Obama’s “red line” being crossed, because an enormous US and global campaign against such a disastrous escalation made it politically too costly to launch a new US war.  This was a president willing but not eager, or driven, to go to war. When Obama turned decision-making over to Congress, hundreds of thousands of people across the United States called and wrote and emailed their representatives, urging them to prevent a new war. In some offices calls were running six or seven hundred to one against a new bombing campaign.

And we know that President Obama turned it over to Congress in the first place because the British parliament, facing massive public opposition, made clear that the UK would not join its US ally in going to war against Syria. And eventually, when Congressional opposition became undeniable, Russia provided the US with a way out, arranging for international collection and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Chlorine was not included, and it is certainly possible that Syria didn’t declare all of its weapons, or perhaps the precursor chemicals to make them, and but that claim was never proven. Ultimately, though, a US attack was averted.

Much is different now from 2013. The state of the Syrian civil war is far different – in 2013, the war was still new and uncertain; today it is recognized as the world’s most devastating conflict.  There is little chance of UK involvement in a military attack on Syria this time around, so the sudden resistance of a key US ally isn’t going to happen. Congress is not being consulted, and it is very unclear whether Congressmembers of either party are prepared to take on challenging a military campaign dressed up as a campaign for justice.

At the United Nations, Trump’s Ambassador Nikki Haley seemed to be channeling George W. Bush even more than her actual boss. She threatened that if the Security Council did not act according to US demands—meaning if it resisted authorizing military escalation in Syria—that the US was prepared to go alone. International law, the UN Charter, diplomacy be damned.

And this is a president, a cabinet, a White House with no military or diplomatic experience, with no understanding of the complications of the roiling Middle East conflicts or the consequences of war, and with a personal eagerness to demonstrate power. This is not a president accountable to a political party, to Congress and its constitutional role in military decision-making, and certainly less accountable to international law.

Trump’s incoherent reaction on Wednesday showed the lack of any strategic understanding in his foreign policy. He blames former President Obama for the crisis in Syria, while Trump of course had urged Obama not to attack Syria after the chemical bombing of 2013, tweeting in all caps “DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA — IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.”  He continued that criticism of Obama, but then switched gears to brag about his “flexibility,” noting that “my attitude towards Syria and Assad have changed very much.” It was a clear implication he’s considering a military response, although he pulled back from any clarity on that as well. Asked what his message would be to the Iranian militias supporting the Syrian military, Trump first went off on an unrelated attack on the Iranian nuclear deal, eventually circling back to a threatening but vague “You will see what the message will be. They will have a message.”

And the anti-Trump resistance that rose so heroically from the first moments of this presidency faces new challenges on a daily, even hourly basis. The mobilizations—in the streets, at the airports, at the White House, at the Supreme Court and beyond—and the letters and petitions and sit-ins and teach-ins and more, have been incredibly powerful.  Remobilizing those exhausted millions around an anti-war message will be a huge challenge for anti-war and indeed the whole range of social movements. As usual, much remains unknown.

But we know two crucial things, things that were true then, and remain true today.  We know that using chemical weapons—of any sort, in any war, against any target—is a crime. And we know there must ultimately be accountability for those who use it, regardless of who they are. That will take time.

In the meantime we know another truth: that a US military escalation against Syria (because we must not forget that US Special Forces and US bombers are already fighting there) will not help the victims of this heinous chemical attack, it will not bring the devastating war in Syria to a quicker end, it will not bring back the dead children. It will not defeat ISIS or end terrorism, it will create more terrorists. It will almost certainly cause more casualties, more injuries, and more dead. Maybe dead children.  There is still no military solution. This is what we know.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Syria Needs An Arms Embargo, Not an Economic One

“We don’t need an economic embargo in Syria. We need an arms embargo,” Bennis told Kontext. “The place is awash in arms. It’s just not awash in fresh water, electricity, and medicine.”

Economic sanctions hurt the poorest people with the least access to power, where food, medicine, and basic necessities are included.

Bennis said it’s near impossible to find diplomacy when a war is going on that’s being fed and paid for by outside actors. The same, high-level diplomats who need to be at the table to talk are the ones dealing with the war, Bennis said, that’s not going to work.

The U.S. is the largest supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is the U.S.’ largest arms customer, Bennis said.

“The people who want this war are the people who profit from this war,” Bennis said, “They are in all senses of the word ‘making a killing’ on this war.”


Some believe that if the U.S. places an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, that they would just buy their weapons from China or Russia. “That’s not true,” Bennis said, “not because they wouldn’t want to, but because their entire military system is geared to U.S. specifications.”

The Saudis are using those U.S. weapons as proxies and sending them to their supporters on the ground in Syria, Bennis said.

The arms are going straight from major powers, right to their regional allies, and straight into Syria,” Bennis said. “As long as that’s the case, having representatives of those same countries sitting around a table in their nice suits talking about peace isn’t going to go very far.”

Watch the full interview here.

The post Syria Needs An Arms Embargo, Not an Economic One appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project for the Institute for Policy Studies.


In Second Debate, Clinton Escalates Her Call for a Military Solution in Syria

In the second presidential debate, Phyllis Bennis told the Real News Network, Trump gave no insight into how he’d proceed in U.S. dealings with Syria beyond vaguely stating that he would “get” ISIS.  Hillary Clinton, on the other hand actually escalated what’s been her already highly-militarized set of proposals for the region.

Clinton added to her plan for a so-called no-fly-zone: the assassination of the leader of ISIS and additional arms to the Kurds. Killing the leader of ISIS will only leave the role easily-filled by other ISIS leaders, Bennis said, and when talking of arming the Kurds, Clinton made no mention of how that would impact the U.S.’ relationship with NATO ally Turkey.

As for establishing a no-fly-zone, Bennis said that failing to explain how we’d do so without evoking war with Russia is “thoroughly irresponsible.”

Bennis also challenged the U.S. on insisting that Russia and Iran stop arming the Assad regime, when the U.S. is guilty of supplying weapons to the opposition.

“As long as the U.S. is arming everybody and their brother on the other side, they’ve got no credibility to ask the Russians to stop arming the Syrian regime,” Bennis said.

The same goes for Secretary of State John Kerry calling on nations to be accountable for war crimes. “There should be accountability for war crimes,” Bennis said. “But it’s not going to happen as a result of the one-off political posturing of U.S. diplomats” when the U.S. itself is bombing in Syria and enabling war crimes like the most recent Saudi-attack on a funeral home in Yemen.

Bennis later challenged the U.S. on insisting that Russia and Iran stop arming the Assad regime, when the U.S. is guilty of the same, in that they directly, and through allies, supply weapons to the opposition.

“As long as the U.S. is arming everybody and their brother on the other side, they’ve got no credibility to ask the Russians to stop arming the Syrian regime.”

Listen to the full interview on The Real News Network’s website.

The post In Second Debate, Clinton Escalates Her Call for a Military Solution in Syria appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


When States Dream, Is Syria Their Nightmare?

National Catholic Reporter Interviews Phyllis Bennis

Photo by Goran Tomasevic.

The war in Syria is a nightmare. It’s a nightmare for all the civilians who suffer from constant aerial bombardment, who are trapped without food and medical assistance inside crumbling cities, who experience the retribution of either the Islamic State or the regime in Damascus. It’s a nightmare for those who try to escape and face the prospect of death in transit or limbo in refugee camps.

Syria is a nightmare for individuals, millions of them. But it’s not just that. If states could dream, then Syria would be their nightmare as well.

Syria was once a sovereign state like any other. It had a central government and fixed boundaries. The Syrian state enjoyed a monopoly on violence and, on several occasions, deployed that violence against its citizenry to devastating effect. The economy functioned, more or less, with considerable revenue coming from the oil sector. In 2009, tourism accounted for 12 percent of the economy. Not that long ago and despite its many problems, Syria attracted a large number of eager travelers.

In perhaps the most ironic twist, the Syrian state once had delusions of grandeur. It wanted to abolish the old colonial boundaries and unify the entire Arab world. Under Hafez al-Assad, its authoritarian ruler from 1970 until 2000, Syria attempted to absorb Lebanon, unite with Egypt and Libya in a short-lived Federation of Arab Republics, displace Iraq as the undisputed ideological leader in the region, and even take charge of the Palestinian cause.

How quickly dreams can segue into nightmares. Syria has fallen in upon itself, fracturing into four distinct pieces. The government in Damascus controls a gerrymandered slice of territory around the capital and the coast. The Kurds have carved out an autonomous region along the Turkish border in the northeast. The Islamic State still claims a large expanse in the heart of the country. And various rebel factions have secured a patchwork of land in all four corners of what had once been a unified Syria.

The government in Damascus, needless to say, no longer enjoys its monopoly on violence. It can’t control the borders of the country. The economy shrank by 19 percent in 2015 and will probably contract another 8 percent this year. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the current conflict. Out of a pre-war population of 23 million, nearly half have fled their homes 4.8 million leaving the country and 6.6 million displaced internally. The war, according to one estimate, has cost over $ 250 billion.

Much like the Balkans before it, Syria is emerging as a metaphor for the fragmentation and chaos that the modern world barely contains. Many states are held together by little more than surface tension, like the meniscus of liquid that rises above the sides of a glass. Nationalism has reached a boiling point in many places, as has religious extremism. Armaments are everywhere, militias are proliferating, and violence has become pervasive. After scoring a number of impressive victories  in Northern Ireland, in East Timor, most recently in Colombia international diplomats are stymied by the breakdown of order in places like Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia.

The countries jockeying for influence in Syria today face many of the same divisive forces that have torn apart that benighted country. The dream of these intervening powers: to turn the current war to their advantage. Their nightmare: that whatever is tearing apart Syria is contagious.

The Illusion of Totalitarianism

There is no such thing as a totalitarian state.

Some dictators, of course, imagine that they can create just such a state, in which the government is a mere extension of the leader’s will and no significant opposition challenges this central authority. Such a society is a pyramid with one person at the top, every block serving to support that uppermost platform. Mere authoritarian societies tolerate potential rival sources of power, such as an intelligentsia or a business sector. In the ideal totalitarian system, all is for one and one is for all.

Even North Korea under the Kim dynasty Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Eun fails to achieve this kind of totalitarian control. True, the government has managed to suppress virtually every sign of political dissent, indigenous NGOs are practically non-existent, and all culture is subordinate to the state. However, private markets have sprung up beyond the state’s compete control (though, as a sign of grudging acceptance, the state taxes the sellers). Citizens watch contraband movies and listen to taboo music thanks to flash drives smuggled in from China. There have even been signs of disagreement at the highest levels of governance (or so the execution of Kim Jong Eun’s uncle Jang Song Thaek suggests).

Once upon a time, the leader of Syria also hoped to create a totalitarian dynasty in the heart of the Middle East. Hafez al-Assad embraced a version of Baathism, the anti-colonial, nationalist, pan-Arabist, and nominally socialist hybrid that emerged from the ideological tumult of the 1940s. As in North Korea, Assad created a one-party state with an extensive secret police, the Mukhabarat. He ruthlessly eliminated opposition, as in 1982 when the state brutally suppressed an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. After a brief excursion into reform, the designated successor, Assad’s son Bashar, followed in his father’s footsteps. He attempted to extinguish the Arab Spring uprising just as his father had dealt with the Islamists. The current war is the result of Bashar al-Assad’s failure to perceive the declining power of his unitary state.

As much as the younger Assad would have liked to maintain a firm grip on power, Syria 2012 was a much different place from Syria 1982. During those 30 years, the bonds that had kept the country together had weakened. Popular organizations had begun to demand democracy. Groups defined by their ethnicity saw the potential for greater autonomy. Religious organizations sensed an opportunity to dislodge what had once been a distinctly secular regime. Other centers of power had appeared in Syrian society, and the Baathist regime was ill equipped to deal with this kind of pluralism.

This scenario might seem unique. It isn’t. Disharmonious pluralism has become the new global standard. Other countries Turkey, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the EU, even the United States gaze upon the Syrian example and tremble.

It Can Happen Here

Stripped of its magic sovereignty, Syria has been turned into a piñata whose hidden treasures are now available for all to see and seize. Even as they continue to wield their bats, the intervening powers can’t help but perceive how quickly sovereignty can disappear and how little prevents them from becoming piñatas in turn.

Turkish leaders, for instance, must be quite aware of the structural features their country shares with Syria. The glue that has traditionally held together modern Turkey Kemalism, named for the father of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk has a somewhat Baathist flavor. It, too, is anti-colonial, nationalist, and secular. Kemalism, like Baathism, has unified an extraordinarily diverse country. Where ideology has proven insufficient, the central government, as in Syria, has used considerable firepower to suppress any movement but particularly the Kurds in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – that challenges the territorial integrity of the country.

Turkey’s current leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants to consolidate power internally and project Turkish influence throughout the Middle East (and beyond). Syria has long been integral to this dual project. The two countries mended fences in the early 2000s when Syria figured prominently in Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy. Once Assad’s position became tenuous during the Arab Spring, however, Erdogan saw an opportunity to switch horses. As the conflict deepened, and no horse emerged as a clear winner, Erdogan decided to use the cover of war to bomb the PKK and their supporters over the border. He hoped to identify a “responsible” Kurdish faction with which to do business – as Ankara has done with Kurdistan in Iraq. More recently, by creating a “safe zone” in northern Syria, Turkey plans to resettle Syrian refugees now in Turkish camps and use that as a base of operations for promoting Turkish business in post-war reconstruction.

That’s the dream, anyway. The nightmare is not far away. The failed coup in July was a rather inept demonstration of the latent anxiety in certain sectors about Erdogan’s consolidation of domestic power. The rekindled war with the Kurds in the southeast reveals the continued ethnic divide in the country. So far, Erdogan has cleverly combined the secularist Kemalism and the soft-pedaled Islamism of his Justice and Development Party into a Turkey-first nationalism. But blowback from Syria from Kurds, from Islamic State supporters, from a disgruntled Turkish army could open up a rift in Erdogan’s coalition, and Turkey would then be on the verge of turning into a Syria.

Even though it follows a very different operating system, Iran, too, looks on Syria as a cautionary example. The government in Tehran is currently split between reformers under President Hassan Rouhani and the religious hardliners who constantly fret over theological deviations. The Green Movement that emerged around the 2009 elections revealed strong opposition to the theocrats within the urban middle class. If Rouhani and his cohort are not able to take full advantage of the nuclear deal and Iran’s reentry into the global economy, Iran could slide backward economically and then, after the next elections, politically to the days of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Disenchanted with formal politics, the next iteration of the Green Movement might give up on peaceful demonstrations and plunge Iran into its own civil war.

Saudi Arabia seems like a solid enough entity at the moment. But it too faces a religious challenge from its Wahhabist fringes and a potential territorial challenge from minority Shia in the Eastern Province. The House of Saud rules with an iron fist, and its Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice intrudes into the private lives of the citizens. The collapse of oil prices has put a squeeze on the kingdom’s finances, which will inevitably open up cleavages within Saudi society. In the absence of a strong national identity, Saudi Arabia could fracture along tribal lines, much like Somalia.

These challenges are not limited to the Middle East. The European Union faces multiple centrifugal forces Brexit, defaulting economies, a restive Russia. Euroskeptics decry the undemocratic power wielded by political institutions in Brussels. The crisis in Syria is by no means abstract for European countries. The influx of Syrian refugees has driven a huge wedge between countries that want nothing to do with them (particularly Eastern Europe) and countries that want to share the burden equally. The disintegration of Syria is now integrally linked to the disintegration of Europe, which might seem fitting to those who believe in the vengeful ghosts of colonialism.

The United States is far away from the Syrian conflict, and so far the Obama administration has limited the number of incoming refugees to 10,000 (compared to more than a million that Europe has accepted). The issue of immigrants has certainly divided the two major presidential candidates, and there is no consensus at the top on Syria policy the recent ceasefire agreement exposed a serious fault line between the State Department (let’s work with the Russians) and the Pentagon (really, the Russians?!). But Syria won’t set Americans against Americans as it has pitted Europeans against themselves. Moreover, despite considerable disagreement in the highest reaches of American power on a range of other issues between Congress and the president, within the Supreme Court, between states and the federal authority these conflicts have been paralyzing rather than fissiparous.

The more serious concern is the sheer number of guns in the United States over 300 million and their greater public visibility. You can now carry around your gun openly in 45 states, and more than 14 million people have permits to do so. The number of anti-government militia groups has been rising steadily since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Trust in the federal government has fallen to record lows. Approximately one in four Americans want their states to secede from the union. Divisions between rich and poor, white and black, native born and immigrants, have widened.

Ordinarily, all this roiling discontent could be contained by a well-functioning economy or by a set of foreign enemies to focus American enmity. But the election of a much-disliked president next year take your pick may well prove to be a tipping point. It doesn’t take much to turn a well-armed population into a mob.

And that, of course, is the ultimate nightmare for Turkey and Iran and Saudi Arabia and the United States when Syria ceases to be a gloomy metaphor for what is happening outside its borders and becomes instead a grim reality.

The post When States Dream, Is Syria Their Nightmare? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer directs Foreign Policy in Focus, a project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


No One is Asking Hillary Clinton What She’d Do In Syria and Iraq

Letting Syria become a free zone for ISIS and sending American ground troops is “off the table,” Hillary Clinton said in a speech criticizing Donald Trump’s foreign policy plans.

“I’d like to know if she’s opposed to the 5,000 troops that are officially, openly in Iraq,” Phyllis Bennis told Democracy Now! or “the hundreds that are officially, openly in Syria.”

The problem with Clinton, Bennis said, is that although her critique of Trump is accurate, she is unclear about her own positions.

Hillary Clinton has said she supports a no-fly zone in Syria. “The first act of a no-fly zone is an act of war to take out the anti-aircraft system” Bennis said. Syria has a very developed, Russian-supplied anti-aircraft system, Bennis explained.

“So is Hillary Clinton saying it’s okay to go to war with Russia? Would she support more ground troops? Would she support a no-fly zone that would immediately be extended to a regime change action as it was in Libya?”  Bennis asked.

No one is pressing her on those questions, she said.

The post No One is Asking Hillary Clinton What She’d Do In Syria and Iraq appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The First Step to Ending the War in Syria is to Stop Killing

“Whatever else you’re trying to do when you’re trying to end a war, don’t kill more people,” Phyllis Bennis told the Real News Network in an interview during the People’s Summit.

Bennis outlined four highlights of a foreign policy doctrine for dealing with Syria.

  1. Stop the killing—Withdraw the troops, get the boots off the ground

“There’s 6,000 troops in Iraq that we know about, at least 350 in Syria. There’s probably others,” Bennis said. “Maybe they don’t wear boots, maybe they wear sneakers. They’re forces and the CIA. Get them out. They’re not helping.”

2. Stop selling, giving, and sending arms to everyone who claims they’re against Assad or ISIS

“Half of those arms still end up in ISIS’s hands and it doesn’t work. You can’t win this militarily,” Bennis said.

3. Stop sending arms to everybody.

“Let’s talk about an arms embargo,” Bennis said. “Let’s really be serious about this.”

4. Get serious about diplomacy

“Put more money into the humanitarian work of the United Nations,” Bennis said. “There is a refugee crisis underway and in the United States we’ve shamefully allowed in barely 2,000 Syrian refugees in five years—that’s about what are arriving in Germany in one day. It’s really shameful.”

If any of the presidential candidates are serious about taking up new positions, these are the ones they should take up, Bennis said.

The post The First Step to Ending the War in Syria is to Stop Killing appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


In internal document, US diplomats demand Syria action – 12NewsNow.Com

In internal document, US diplomats demand Syria action
"Crucially, Syria's Sunni population continues to view the Assad regime as the primary enemy in the conflict," the document said, according to the Times. "Failure to stem Assad's flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such

and more »


France announces bid to host Syria peace meeting – FRANCE 24

France announces bid to host Syria peace meeting
France plans to invite ministers from countries who support Syrian opposition groups to a meeting in Paris on May 9 to seek ways to break the political and military deadlock in the country, its foreign minister said on Wednesday. Jean-Marc Ayrault told …
France wants backers of Syrian opposition to meet on May 9Reuters

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Russia is Withdrawing from Syria — and the U.S. Should Follow Suit

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In a surprise announcement on March 14, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that the Russians were withdrawing “most of our military” from Syria beginning immediately.

According to the TASS news agency, Putin said he hoped the withdrawal “will become a good motivation for launching negotiations” and “instructed the foreign minister to intensify Russia’s participation in organization of peace process in Syria.”

The withdrawal, along with Putin’s restated support for a political settlement, could help move forward the fragile UN-brokered Geneva talks on ending the Syrian crisis that began on the same day — as well as the tenuous UN-negotiated cessation of hostilities. “Those Russian servicemen who will stay in Syria will be engaged in monitoring the ceasefire regime,” TASS reported, indicating that the pilots and crews of the 50 Russian warplanes and helicopters that have been based in Syria would be withdrawn.

The withdrawal is an important step that should help reduce the level of violence in the deadly war. But questions remain.

Putin made clear that not all Russian forces would be withdrawn, and that Russia’s airbase near Latakia, as well as Moscow’s small but symbolically important naval base at Tartus on the Mediterranean coast, would remain open — though they “will operate in a routine mode.” Putin said the two military bases should be “protected from the land, from the sea, and from air,” leaving open the question of whether Russian bombers “protecting” them might also continue bombing raids in Syria, flying from outside Syrian borders.

The Syrian conflict is simultaneously a civil war — pitting a brutal government against a multitude of political and military opposition forces — and a proxy war in which a host of outside powers are fighting for various regional and global hegemonies. And all of those overlapping wars are being fought to the last Syrian.

The reduction of Russian military attacks in Syria, along with Putin’s renewed call for greater Russian engagement in the peace process, may set the stage to reduce, though certainly not end, the proxy war component of the overall conflict.

A real reduction of violence, a durable ceasefire, and a viable peace process leading to an end to the Syrian war will require much more — more from Russia, certainly, but even more from the United States and its allies. There’s no indication yet that Russia’s move was coordinated with Washington, although White House spokespeople indicated that a Putin-Obama talk might be possible.

In the meantime, Washington should follow Russia’s lead and pressure its own proxy forces to shift towards diplomacy. The withdrawal of U.S. troops, special forces, drones, and warplanes from Syria, paralleling the Russian move, would be an important first step. Further moves must include an end to both the CIA’s and the Pentagon’s programs to train and arm rebel forces in Syria. Finally, the U.S. should pressure its regional allies to stop arming Syrian opposition forces, which could also keep those U.S.-supplied arms out of the hands of ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

All of those moves would, like the Russian withdrawal, reduce the proxy war raging in Syria — and give Washington greater leverage to urge Russia and Iran to go even further and stop arming the Syrian regime.

For too long Moscow and Washington have tried to outmuscle each other by escalating the devastating Syrian war. Now, for once, they’ve got a chance to escalate their efforts to end it.

The post Russia is Withdrawing from Syria — and the U.S. Should Follow Suit appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Who is responsible for the crisis in Syria and Iraq?

Via Edward Briody: The U.S. has involved itself endlessly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries. Major interests include oil, military bases, sale of weapons, propping up friendly Governments, and limiting Russian influence. But just as the Russians provoked a powerful revolt in Afghanistan, the U.S. provoked massive ‘unintended consequences’. U.S. prisons in Iraq became training camps of resistance to U.S. interests, most notably ISIS. Some in Congress still want a war on Iran over a nuclear weapons program it has never had while lavishly supporting Israel’s nuclear arsenal. People in the Middle East can see the contradiction as have people elsewhere.

Watch Phyllis Bennis discuss ISIS, Syria, refugees, and U.S. foreign policy below:

The post Who is responsible for the crisis in Syria and Iraq? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.