Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He is a member of the PSA Advisory Board. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
Limited Options, Influence for U.S. in Syria
Presently, the national conversation about Syria has centered on possible prescriptions for an international crisis that has the U.S. tied up in a considerable conundrum.
Should President Obama punish Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons? Did Syria and its president, Bashar al-Assad, cross the “red line” that would warrant U.S. military intervention? Can new diplomatic efforts end the chemical weapons impasse? How can the killing be stopped?
Missing from much of what’s been written and said about the crisis in Syria over the last several weeks, however, is a realistic assessment of the state of that nation today, as well as that of the United States’ capacity to influence events in this extremely volatile and complex country. This assessment is key to answering the question: What kind of a solution in Syria is possible?
Syria, as currently constituted, is a chaotic, confusing and challenging country, one partitioned into multiple centers of power and plagued by a brutal civil war that has killed approximately 100,000 people according to United Nations estimates and that, sadly, seems to have no end in sight. Over 6 million Syrians have been displaced, with prospects of more to come in what is the world’s most daunting humanitarian crisis. (more…)
This article was co-authored by Madeleine Albright and Richard Williamson. Madeleine K. Albright is a member of the PSA Advisory Board and was the 64th Secretary of State of the United States. Richard S. Williamson served as presidential envoy to Sudan under President George W. Bush. They recently co-chaired a working group on the Responsibility to Protect organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the United States Institute of Peace, and the Brookings Institution. This op-ed was originally published in Politico.
Our Shared Responsibility to Protect
In less than a decade, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has emerged as a widely shared doctrine of international relations, an amazingly rapid development for a concept that did not exist at the time of the Rwandan genocide or Balkan wars of the 1990s. Every nation in the world, including the United States, has recognized a responsibility to protect civilians anywhere from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing, and — at least in theory — has pledged to act accordingly.
Sadly, the promise of R2P has been more noteworthy in the breach than in the honoring of our commitments. The current crisis in Syria, where Basharal-Assad’s regime has declared all-out war on its own people, is the most visible case of our collective failure to protect vulnerable populations from the most serious crimes. Less noticed is the ongoing struggle to protect the many million citizens of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other places where political leaders and their allies regularly employ violence against the defenseless.
Yet the gap between our words and deeds should not serve as an excuse to scrap the whole R2P enterprise, which remains a rallying point around the world to try to prevent the conscience-shocking atrocities that did not stop after the Holocaust.
Alyson Brozovich is an intern at PSA and a graduate of Whitman College where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in History.
Situation in Syria: Why the U.S. Needs to Move Beyond Iraq
Mark Twain said, “History never repeats itself, but it does rhyme.” Senator Angus King (D-ME) reiterated this notion during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last month on the situation in Syria. Twain’s quote illuminates the core of the Obama administration’s reluctance to get involved in Syria— the points of similarity between the current Syrian state and the Iraq War. Many aspects of the situation in Syria mimic Saddam Hussein’s Iraq— a minority ruled the majority, Iran’s interest in the nation’s future, and the menace of chemical weapons. However, the Syrian conflict has the potential to destabilize its neighbors, posing a potential threat to broader U.S. national security interests in the region. This distinction between the two situations delineates why Obama should recognize that Syria is only an echo—not a repeat—of Iraq. In order to respond to the circumstances appropriately, the administration must get beyond the foreign policy missteps of the preceding presidency. (more…)
by Laurie Dundon
Senior Fellow, Partnership for Secure America
Policy-makers have been looking for some good leverage to affect the situation in Syria for months. Americans, and those around the world, are watching in horror at the violence. The moral imperative to do something is clear: each day the atrocities continue; each day the disproportionate use of force affects innocent civilians; and the situation is going from bad to worse. However, decisions about what course of action to take are complex. Experts point to the complications of a campaign against Syria’s sophisticated air defenses, the practical challenges of training and equipping the Free Syria Army (FSA), the limitations of implementing safe-zones without significant ground force protection, and the risk of getting drawn into a messy proxy-war with very real effects throughout the region and direct effects for Americans. On top of that, the majority of Americans are weighted with “intervention exhaustion” and extremely hesitant to get involved in another military conflict in the Middle East.
If there were Foreign Service action figures (and budding toddler foreign policy wonks out there, you know you would want one of these), then the Robert Ford one might well be the hot toy for this holiday season. For the last six months, Ford, the US Ambassador to Syria, has brought increased attention to President Bashar al-Assad’s escalating campaign of violence against anti-regime demonstrators. The toll has become harder and harder to ignore; to date, at least 2,700 have been killed and more than 20,000 have been detained. But so have Ford’s actions, meeting with activists and documenting the unrest, all the while facing blowback (sometimes severe) from those loyal to the regime. Until recently, though, he had been serving on a one-year recess appointment. Now, in lieu of an action figure, Ford has gotten the next best thing: on Monday, he was finally confirmed by the Senate to serve a full term as the Ambassador in Damascus.
Ford’s actions certainly eased his road to Senate confirmation, but it is worth remembering that the idea of sending an Ambassador back to Syria was a contentious one only less than a year ago. The post had been vacant since 2005 after Washington withdrew its ambassador following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and some contended that filling the post again was a bad move. When President Obama appointed Ford to a recess appointment last December, incoming Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen argued that it sent the “wrong message” and that “making undeserved concessions to Syria tells the regime in Damascus that it can continue to pursue its dangerous agenda and not face any consequences from the US.” Rather than a sign of strength, an American ambassador there was seen as a sign of weakness.
Brian J. Davis served in the Canadian Foreign Service for 37 years, including postings at 8 missions abroad and in a range of senior assignments in Ottawa. His career in the Foreign Service culminated in his posting as the Canadian Ambassador to Syria from 2003 to 2006. Since leaving the foreign service in 2007, Davis has worked on several projects related to the Middle East Peace Process, written and published articles focusing on the Levant, and has undertaken speaking engagements related to the Middle East.
SYRIA – What do we do now?
The situation in Syria is unfolding as many experienced observers expected when the protests began last March. The Assad regime is attempting to crush the protesters with force, not only to destroy them but to intimidate the rest of the population. Assad has promised reforms, while continuing to warn Syrians and the international community that if he goes down, sectarian violence will follow and Islamists may assume power. The reality, as many Syrians realize, is that any political reforms by Assad would be illusory. He will only introduce them after he has found a way to keep the controls in his hands.
It is surprising that the protesters have continued to demonstrate, despite suffering deaths, injuries and detentions. Average Syrians have not dared to speak out for decades, despite the frustration and despair many have felt due to their deteriorating economic circumstances and lack of freedoms. Now, however, they have been encouraged by the success of similar insurrections during the “Arab Spring” and by Assad’s mishandling of the protests.
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.