The U.S. Can Still Act in Syria Before It’s Too Late

March 14 2018

As of tomorrow, the civil war in Syria will have lasted for seven years, with no end in sight. James Stavridis, a retired American admiral and the former supreme commander of NATO, explains why and how the U.S. can help end the war while protecting its interests against Iran and Russia:

The small contingent of U.S. troops present in eastern Syria only marginally stabilizes territory liberated from Islamic State (IS) while preventing Iranian and Syrian government forces from seizing the region. The Trump administration has ended the CIA’s arm-and-equip program for the Syrian moderate opposition, a program that was created under President Obama [and] was never sustainable or substantial. In effect, the U.S. has allowed whatever leverage it had on the ground to atrophy significantly.

This is a mistake. . . . It cedes the region to Russia and Iran; puts at risk our closest ally in the region, Israel; discourages our friends in the Sunni world (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states); and continues the drift of Turkey out of the trans-Atlantic sphere, weakening NATO significantly. After Bashar al-Assad, the big winner of the civil war is Vladimir Putin, who has gained greater power at minimal actual cost. Because he has employed proxies, there have been few Russian casualties. The Russian public sees Putin as a strong global actor who gets things done. Meanwhile, they see the U.S. as weak and distracted by its daily domestic drama. We must get into the game or risk being permanently marginalized in a crucial region of the world. . . .

First, [the] U.S. must work with the international community to find an effective means of getting resources [and humanitarian aid] to the region. . . . Second: repair relations with Turkey. In the end, U.S. policy in Syria rests on the U.S. and Turkey working together. . . . While the campaign against IS proved successful, it is not sustainable to stabilize former IS-held areas with a Kurdish ground force that is not credible to Syrian Arabs and is vehemently opposed by a NATO ally. . . .

Third, [the U.S. should] threaten additional, immediate sanctions of Russia. Putin is directly responsible for the Syrian government’s actions. Options at the UN have been exhausted. . . .

Read more at Time

More about: Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy


The Danger of Hollow Fixes to the Iran Deal

March 20 2018

In January, the Trump administration announced a 120-day deadline for the so-called “E3”—Britain, France, and Germany—to agree to solutions for certain specific flaws in the 2015 agreement to limit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Omri Ceren explains why it’s necessary to get these fixes right:

[Already in October], the administration made clear that it considered the deal fatally flawed for at least three reasons: a weak inspections regime in which the UN’s nuclear watchdog can’t access Iranian military facilities, an unacceptable arrangement whereby the U.S. had to give up its most powerful sanctions against ballistic missiles even as Iran was allowed to develop ballistic missiles, and the fact that the deal’s eventual expiration dates mean Iran will legally be allowed to get within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear weapon. . . .

A team of American negotiators has been working on getting the E3 to agree to a range of fixes, and is testing whether there is overlap between the maximum that the Europeans can give and the minimum that President Trump will accept. The Europeans in turn are testing the Iranians to gauge their reactions and will likely not accept any fixes that would cause Iran to bolt.

The negotiations are problematic. The New York Times reported that, as far as the Europeans are concerned, the exercise requires convincing Trump they’ve “changed the deal without actually changing it.” Public reports about the inspection fix suggest that the Europeans are loath to go beyond urging the International Atomic Energy Commission to request inspections, which the agency may be too intimidated to do. The ballistic-missile fix is shaping up to be a political disaster, with the Europeans refusing to incorporate anything but long-range missiles in the deal. That would leave us with inadequate tools to counter Iran’s development of ballistic missiles that could be used to wipe Israel, the Saudis, and U.S. regional bases off the map. . . .

There is a [significant] risk the Trump administration may be pushed to accept the hollow fixes acceptable to the Europeans. Fixing the deal in this way would be the worst of all worlds. It would functionally enshrine the deal under a Republican administration. Iran would be open for business, and this time there would be certainty that a future president will not act to reverse the inevitable gold rush. Just as no deal would have been better than a bad deal, so no fix would be better than a bad fix.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Donald Trump, Europe, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy