A les­son from Brexit: Stop ig­nor­ing Syria

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - [Joyce Karam is the Wash­ing­ton Bureau Chief for AlHayat News­pa­per, an In­ter­na­tional Ara­bic Daily based in London. She has cov­ered Amer­i­can pol­i­tics ex­ten­sively since 2004 with fo­cus on U.S. pol­icy to­wards the Mid­dle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Jo

TJOYCE KARAM HE po­lit­i­cal earth­quake that Great Bri­tain wit­nessed last Thurs­day with the vic­tory for the Brexit camp set­ting the stage to the UK’s exit from the EU, is not only a prod­uct of David Cameron’s mis­takes and Europe’s strug­gle with its own demons, but has its roots 2,000 miles away in the rag­ing war, the coun­tert­er­ror­ism night­mare and the hu­man­i­tar­ian disas­ter called Syria.

The Syr­ian war is the ele­phant in the room when it comes to the rise of iden­tity-pol­i­tics, and the pro­tec­tion­ist wave across Europe and in the United States. The un­prece­dented refugee in­flux, the largest since World War II com­ing pri­mar­ily from Syria, and the coun­try’s trans­for­ma­tion into a hub for ev­ery Ji­hadist group and ex­trem­ist recruitment ma­chin­ery, has sent shockwaves through Europe and is feed­ing a po­lit­i­cal rhetoric of hate and racism across the con­ti­nent.

This rhetoric won’t nec­es­sar­ily go away if Syria is re­solved, but it will only grow if the con­flict is left to spread and fes­ter. Syria is not con­tained For five years, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity stood by as the Syr­ian war un­rav­eled and frag­mented a coun­try of 23 mil­lion, sit­ting one bor­der away from Europe, and in the heart of the Mid­dle East. Rus­sia ve­toed four Security Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions that at­tempted to pres­sure its ally Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad as he con­tin­ues to bar­rel bomb schools, bak­eries and chil­dren’s hospi­tals.

This is while the US backpedaled on its early red­lines to pun­ish As­sad for us­ing chem­i­cal weapons, and for him to step down. In­stead the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has now cho­sen a min­i­mal­ist ap­proach to­ward Syria, de­signed to con­tain the ISIS threat and keep the coun­try to­gether.

Five years into the war in Syria, it is time to ac­knowl­edge the grave cost of in­ac­tion and that what hap­pens in Aleppo re­ver­ber­ates in Molen­beek and London

To­day, Syria is nei­ther con­tained nor to­gether, and the thou­sands of airstrikes against ISIS have failed in ad­dress­ing the larger con­flict, while back­fir­ing on Europe. State­ments of con­dem­na­tion from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and end­less in­ter­na­tional meet­ings in Geneva, Istanbul and Vi­enna have done lit­tle to mit­i­gate the disas­ter. If any­thing, the in­ac­tion in Syria has helped fuel ter­ror re­gion­ally and at­tract Ji­hadists from London, Brus­sels and Paris into ISIS and Nusra ter­ri­tory.

The ter­ror at­tacks that rocked France, Bel­gium, Turkey, Le­banon and Jor­dan, since last Novem­ber, all have threads to Syria, with ma­jor­ity hav­ing di­rect op­er­a­tional links to ISIS. Deny­ing or wa­ter­ing down this re­al­ity for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses won’t make it go away. Western ex­trem­ists such as Ji­hadi John or some of the per­pe­tra­tors of the Paris at­tacks have trained with ISIS in Syria.

It is dan­ger­ous and naive to dismiss Syria as another civil war such as Congo or Le­banon, or to pre­tend it’s another Afghanistan. The Tal­iban was never a stone’s throw away from Europe, and French ex­trem­ists are not fight­ing in Congo. Syria to­day is the epi­cen­ter of ter­ror­ism and the min­i­mal­ist ap­proach that Wash­ing­ton is lead­ing has di­rectly con­trib­uted to the spillover, di­min­ish­ing any talk of con­tain­ment.

The re­sponse to the wave of hate and fas­cism across Europe can­not be ad­dressed with­out a real strategy for Syria. That means go­ing be­yond half mea­sures such as strik­ing ISIS while look­ing the other side when it comes to As­sad. The hu­man­i­tar­ian disas­ter in the coun­try started pri­mar­ily in 2011 be­cause of As­sad’s bom­bard­ment of cities, and that re­mains ISIS and alQaeda’s best re­cruit­ing and ex­pan­sion util­ity.

Wash­ing­ton can­not stand idly wait­ing for Rus­sia to change its mind on As­sad be­cause it has not done so since 2011, and seems to have di­rectly ex­ac­er­bated the tragedy with its bomb­ing. Rus­sia’s re­ported use of phos­pho­rous mu­ni­tion and pur­su­ing a Chech­nya model in its bomb­ing, re­flects a bru­tal strategy from Moscow that in­ten­si­fies the con­flict in Syria, and then con­trib­utes to the refugee flow as a weapon of in­sta­bil­ity into Turkey and Europe.

It is no co­in­ci­dence that the fas­cist rhetoric heard in Europe is at­tract­ing smiles and cheers in Krem­lin as it looks to con­front the old con­ti­nent and re­store the Soviet glory.

While the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will un­likely change course or con­front Rus­sia, be­fore it leaves of­fice, es­tab­lish­ing safe zones in the South and the North of the coun­try is the only way to con­tain the disas­ter in the short term, and ease the refugee bur­den while pres­sur­ing As­sad on the ground to com­pro­mise po­lit­i­cally.

Ac­cord­ing to an Arab diplo­mat, these plans have been pro­posed by Jor­dan as early as 2012, and later by Turkey, the Gulf states, France, and Ger­many but have all been re­peat­edly blocked by Wash­ing­ton.

Such zones would be put in place to ab­sorb the mas­sive flow of refugees given that the war is un­likely to wind down and with no po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion in sight. Surely, safe zones carry mil­i­tary risks and a de­fense com­mit­ment, but the geopo­lit­i­cal and na­tional security cost is far less than the con­se­quences of not act­ing.

The refugee num­ber is only bound to grow as the US starts its ISIS of­fen­sive, and Europe bor­ders are more likely to be com­pro­mises as Le­banon, Jor­dan and Turkey have reached a tip­ping point.

Five years into the war in Syria, it is time to ac­knowl­edge the grave cost of in­ac­tion and that what hap­pens in Aleppo re­ver­ber­ates in Molen­beek and London. Not rec­og­niz­ing this re­al­ity will only play into the hands of the Trumps and Farages of the West, who drive – un­op­posed – a nar­ra­tive built on fear, con­tin­ued suf­fer­ing and iso­la­tion­ism. —Cour­tesy: AA

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.