Why can’t America just take out Assad?


A roll of pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri
A roll of pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

David Alpher, George Mason University

The Trump administration has done an abrupt about-face on Syria, contradicting its own nascent foreign policy. Within 24 hours, it went from calling out the Assad regime for using chemical weapons to launching missiles at military targets. As limited as the strikes were, there are also statements that plans are in the works to target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: It “would seem there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Assad on April 6.

As costly as inaction has been in the six years since the Arab Spring uprisings first took hold in Syria, recent history suggests that removing Assad in a hurry would be an even bigger mistake. In 16 years studying and working with complex conflicts like Syria, I have yet to see an exception to this rule.

We know where this goes next

Targeting Assad would likely give birth to the same kind of catastrophe we saw in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall. In Libya, with no true civil governance to hold the structure together, tribal alliances collapsed and a four-way fight for power emerged. It continues even now, accented by a growing presence of the Islamic State. The power vacuum that would follow the sudden and unwise removal of Assad could be worse than the current warfare, and nourish the already fertile growing conditions for violent extremist and paramilitary actors.

Assad shouldn’t remain in power – he’s been proving that for six years. The recent Sarin gas attack is only the most recent on a long list of other human rights violations. But he should be part of a political and legal process that removes him. That process must come from the Syrians themselves, not from the outside. His departure should be negotiated with Syrian civil society leadership to legitimize the claim to power of a civilian government. Justice for his crimes should be served by Syrian courts.

Here’s why:

Nature abhors a vacuum: Unlike in a game of chess, in war removing the king is not the end, but only another beginning. The idea that Syria still exists as it looks on the map is a fantasy. Part of its territory is held by the government, part is lost to the Islamic State, part of it is in rebel hands. It won’t come cleanly back together should the fighting suddenly end tomorrow. Tensions among rebel groups – which are already high – and between pro- and anti-IS forces will only increase with one combatant removed from the field. We can only attempt to predict where Assad’s loyalist forces will go with their leader removed.

In order for Assad’s withdrawal to be beneficial, it needs to come in the context of a sound Syrian-driven plan to move from immediate containment of violence to a return of civilian Syrian leadership and security. That plan currently doesn’t exist.

Outside solutions never work: In the international development world, it’s been repeatedly shown that solutions to complicated problems can’t be imposed from outside. They won’t be sustainable and often do harm. Solutions have to come from inside a country’s own civil society. Otherwise, the result is to undermine the legitimacy of the same systems of politics and justice that are necessary to hold a population together in the long term. At present there is little left of Syrian civil society, but local councils continue to provide the connective tissue that holds the country together in areas not held by Assad. These organizations can jump-start efforts to create new democratic institutions.

What’s the endgame? The classic underpinnings of our own strategic doctrine stress that military action should never be taken without a clear goal for a desired end-state. Of all the possible actions the U.S. could take, regime change is the most deceptively simple – but it doesn’t qualify as an end-state. In fact, it would usher in a more chaotic and violent environment that would be hard to contain even by several countries working together militarily.

Libya and Iraq both demonstrated this all too clearly. They fell into chaos despite the efforts – or perhaps because of the efforts – of multinational coalitions. Thursday’s strikes only increased the sense of crisis and confusion, as everyone from the Syrians to the Russians to America itself wonders what the next move will be. Most worrisome, it’s unclear whether Trump himself has a firm grasp on what he’s doing next or why.

Whither the ship of state? Most of America’s high-level diplomatic positions are still unfilled. These are positions that manage complex State Department processes, and which have the political heft to hold their own with the Department of Defense in fights over direction and leadership. They coordinate with international partners to ensure there are no miscommunications and that missteps are minimized. They provide much-needed analysis about dynamics and changes in conflict zones. They also help to mitigate the heightened probability of accidental clashes with international actors such as Russia in the confusion and increased tension that follows military action.

The infrastructure through which Assad mounts his offensives cannot be decisively destroyed by anything limited and quick. They are too dispersed and numerous. Unless the United States is willing to commit to a sustained and substantial campaign or to throw its weight behind a political end to the war, Thursday’s strikes are an empty gesture. At the same time, it’s also true that even a sustained and substantial military campaign would not bring about peace and security, and would put American troops on a battlefield that’s essentially one big crossfire. It’s a catch-22.

The fact that the U.S. has now literally fired its opening salvo limits the American government’s options – but the political process is a sustainable path that offers a way out of the catch, and there’s still time to put our weight behind that. It does neither the Syrian people nor our own security any good to find urgency overnight, only to make a bad situation worse.

David Alpher, Adjunct Professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation


The Failed coup in Turkey Matters

Emergency meeting held at White House Saturday
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

“A failed coup in Turkey – a longtime ally of the U.S. and a member of NATO -could have significant and wide-ranging implications for the U.S.”

Why Turkey’s Coup Attempt Matters for U.S.

WASHINGTON (CNN) —The Turkish government appeared to be regaining control of major cities Saturday the morning after a faction of the Turkish military tried to take over the country. A failed coup in Turkey — a longtime ally of the U.S. and member of NATO — could have significant and wide-ranging implications for the U.S.

That’s particularly the case, since Turkey is one of the world’s few Muslim-majority democracies and it sits at a key crossroads between the West and the Middle East, with Turkey playing a critical role in the fight against ISIS in Syria, the handling of Syrian refugees and in serving as a transit point for foreign ISIS fighters.

The impact was felt almost immediately as a key asset in the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign, the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey just 60 miles from the Syrian border, was forced to halt operations amid the uncertainty.

As of Saturday morning, Turkish military authorities had closed the airspace around Incirlik, making it impossible for U.S. airstrike missions against ISIS from that location, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.

“U.S. officials are working with the Turks to resume air operations there as soon as possible,” Cook added.

He also said the U.S. military was working to adjust its counter-ISIS operations “to minimize any effects on the campaign.”

A U.S. defense official told CNN that the Pentagon is looking to conduct operations out of other bases in the region because of the Incirlik shutdown, which the military specifically needs to operate drones to fight ISIS, also known as ISIL.

Even once the airspace is reopened, though, the U.S. military may be reluctant to restart operations until it is certain who is in control of the Turkish armed forces.

Additionally, tensions between the U.S. and Turkey could increase as an extradition battle now looms. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Fethullah Gulen, who currently lives in Pennsylvania, of being behind the coup and demanded the U.S. hand him over, though the exiled cleric has denied any involvement.

Here is a look at what else this could mean for the U.S.

Read more:

Source: Why Turkey’s coup attempt matters for US | Politics – KCRA Home

Other related media:

Turkey arrests 100 judges, military officials for alleged coup ties

US-based Turkish cleric denies involvement in coup plot

Attempted Turkey Coup: U.S. Would Consider Extradition Request for Blamed Cleric

Turkey Interrupts U.S. Air Missions Against ISIS at Major Base

Turkey Blames Coup Attempt On Group Led By U.S.-Based Cleric

After Coup Attempt, Turkish President Demands US Extradite Muslim Cleric Fethullah Gulen

Who Is Fethullah Gulen, and What Is His Role?

Turkish PM: Any country that stands by cleric Gulen will be at war with Turkey

A Short History of Modern Turkey’s Military Coups

Sibel Edmonds Explains the CIA’s “Reverse Engineering” of Erdogan

Why Is A Cleric In The Poconos Accused Of Fomenting Turkey’s Coup Attempt?


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Court Convicts Auschwitz Guard, 94, of Accessory to Murder – ABC News

SS Sgt. Reinhold Hanning
SS Sgt. Reinhold Hanning

A 94-year-old former SS sergeant who served as a guard at Auschwitz has been found guilty of more than 170,000 counts of accessory to murder for helping kill 1.1 million Jews and others at the Nazi death camp.

The Detmold state court sentenced Reinhold Hanning to five years in prison, though he will remain free while any appeals are heard.

Hanning showed no reaction as the judge, Anke Grudda, read her justification for the verdict and sentence.

“You were in Auschwitz for two and a half years, performed an important function. … You were part of a criminal organization and took part in criminal activity in Auschwitz,” she said.

Several elderly Auschwitz survivors testified at the trial about their own experiences and were among 58 survivors or their families who joined the process as co-plaintiffs as allowed under German law.

“It is a just verdict, but he should say more, tell the truth for the young people,” said Leon Schwarzbaum, a 95-year-old Auschwitz survivor from Berlin.

“He is an old man and probably won’t have to go to jail, but he should say what happened at Auschwitz. Auschwitz was like something the world has never seen. ”

Read More:

Source: Court Convicts Auschwitz Guard, 94, of Accessory to Murder – ABC News

U.S. says it will stay in Black Sea despite Russian warning | Reuters

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter sets sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Black Sea in Istanbul, Turkey, June 6, 2016.

The United States will maintain its presence in the Black Sea despite a Russian warning that a U.S. destroyer patrolling there undermined regional security, the U.S. Navy Secretary said.

The USS Porter entered the Black Sea this month, drawing heavy criticism from Moscow. Turkey and Romania are expected to push for a bigger NATO presence in the Black Sea at the NATO summit in Warsaw next month.

Aboard the USS Mason, another U.S. destroyer, in the Mediterranean on Thursday, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Reuters that it was the U.S. Navy’s job to deter aggression and keep sea lanes open.

 “We’re going to be there,” Mabus said of the Black Sea. “We’re going to deter. That’s the main reason we’re there — to deter potential aggression.”
Read More:

Source: U.S. says it will stay in Black Sea despite Russian warning | Reuters

Dozens of England Soccer Fans Arrested in Lille, France 

French police used tear gas to disperse rampaging English soccer fans at the European Championship on Wednesday.

The French police action in Lille followed violent clashes between Russia and England fans in Marseille ahead of their European Championship opener, a 1-1 draw on Saturday night.

Source: Euro 2016: Dozens of England Fans Arrested in Lille, France – NBC News

Kerry Cancels Return to US as Iran Talks Deadline Looms

assetContent (1)US Secretary of State skips event in Boston to ensure deal on Iran’s nuclear program is agreed by March 31.
March 29, 2015
Displayed with permission from Al Jazeera

US Secretary of State John Kerry has cancelled plans to return to the United States for an event honoring his late Senate colleague Edward Kennedy in order to remain at the ongoing Iran nuclear talks in Switzerland. The State Department said Kerry had been looking forward to participating in the dedication of the Kennedy Institute in Boston with the family of the late Massachusetts senator on Sunday and Monday but that “given the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Switzerland, the secretary regrets he will not be able to share this special time with them in person”.

Kerry’s decision to stay comes as the talks approach a March 31 deadline for the outline of a final deal to be negotiated by the end of June. US and some European officials have spoken of obstacles they have faced in general terms, citing Iranian resistance to limits on research and development and demands for more speedy and broad relief from international sanctions.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays

The frantic last push to get an Iran nuclear framework deal is underway.

Foreign ministers from France, Germany and China have joined US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javed Zarif.

Ministers from UK and Russia are on their way.

Meetings have continued all day and late into the night, even though they lost an hour because of the time change from daylight saving hours.

Iranian officials are sounding confident, but most observers believe there are still likely to be long difficult negotiations ahead.

Amid the grueling schedule some are catching what moments they can to relax. John Kerry went on another long bike ride late on Saturday afternoon, while Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi surprised reporters and Swiss police with a jog beside Lake Geneva.

Follow Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor James Bays for the latest updates  @Baysontheroad

With just three days to go, negotiators were meeting multiple times in various formats. Kerry has been in discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Swiss town of Lausanne since Thursday. The foreign ministers of France and Germany arrived on Saturday and their counterparts from Britain, China and Russia are due to arrive on Sunday.

‘Serious work’ remains

The State Department said late on Saturday that “serious but difficult work” remained for negotiators and that the pace of discussions is expected to intensify as “we assess if an understanding is possible”.

Meanwhile, Zarif said on his Facebook page late on Saturday that the talks had become more complicated with the arrival of more foreign ministers. “We have made progress towards an acceptable solution, but several important questions still remain,” he said.

Progress has been made on the main issue: The future of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme. It can produce material for energy, science and medicine but also for the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

The sides have tentatively agreed that Iran would run no more than 6,000 centrifuges at its main enrichment site for at least 10 years, with slowly easing restrictions over the next five years on that programme and others Tehran could use to make a bomb.

The fate of a fortified underground bunker previously used for uranium enrichment also appears closer to resolution.

Officials have said that the US may allow Iran to run hundreds of centrifuges at the Fordo bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites which would be subject to international inspections, the Associated Press news agency has reported.

But questions persist as to the fate of the economic penalties against Iran, and Tehran continues to negotiate for fewer constraints of developing advanced centrifuges.

Six world powers – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – have been involved in the negotiations seeking to scale back Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

The West suspects Iran’s nuclear programme is intended for military purposes, but Tehran says it is meant for power generation.

Continue reading Kerry Cancels Return to US as Iran Talks Deadline Looms

UN pulls out of Yemen, ending hope for brokered peace


SANAA, Yemen — With Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in its third day, the United Nations on Saturday withdrew its remaining personnel from Yemen’s capital, dashing whatever hope remained that the fighting would stop and U.N.-sponsored peace talks would resume. The UN staff, about 140 people, left in three planes bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Just after midnight, Jamal Benomar, the Moroccan who is the U.N.’s special envoy to Yemen, made one last effort to broker a settlement, contacting the parties to Yemen’s fighting and inviting them to join him on his flight out. All agreed except the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, whose capture of Sanaa and march toward Aden had alarmed the Saudis.

The Houthis deliberated all night, and then rejected the invitation Saturday morning. Benomar left Sanaa in mid-afternoon.

Schools, universities, shops, works, parks, and most public services in the capital have closed.

A Saudi airstrike against a Houthi-occupied military base in the Al Kamb area of the northern Yemeni province of Sadah killed more than 100 soldiers, but caused at least a dozen casualties, some fatal, among a group of internally displaced civilians who were trying to reach a nearby refugee camp, local humanitarian aid groups said.

A second strike in the town of Khamis Menbah, also in Sadah, the heartland of the Houthi movement, killed at least a dozen civilians, including three children, according to locals and humanitarian aid groups working in the area.

Airstrikes also targeted military bases loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed from power after an Arab Spring-inspired uprising in 2011, and a number of strongholds of the Houthis.

Residents of Aden said there were explosions in the Hadeed Mountain military zone and clashes around the airport, which has been the scene of a battle for control between supporters of the Houthis and Saleh forces and fighters allied to president Hadi.

According to head of the Aden health department, more than 61 have been killed and more than 500 injured in clashes there in recent days.

Fighting also continued in Lahj province between Houthi forces and military units loyal to the country’s internationally recognized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. On Friday, Saudi airstrikes targeted Al-Anad air force base, once a key headquarters for U.S. military operations in Yemen but now controlled by the Houthis. U.S. troops left the base last week.

As the country headed into more chaos, Hadi appeared at the Arab League summit in Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt, to call for the Saudi intervention to continue.

Hours later, Saleh, the former president, , called on Saudi Arabia and its allies stop the bombing.

Saleh, who fought several wars against the Houthis but is now aligned with them, asked the Arab leaders to stop gambling on a “failed horse,” referring to Hadi, and adopt a plan for early elections.


(Al-Muslimi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Roy Gutman in Istanbul contributed to this report.)

Continue reading UN pulls out of Yemen, ending hope for brokered peace