Focal Points Blog

Applying the Lebanese Template to Syria

Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, architect of the Taif Accord. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, architect of the Taif Accord. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Syria’s devastating civil war is unfortunately nothing new in the Levant. A similar civil war, in fact—marked by sectarianism, the involvement of foreign states, and the loss of tens of thousands of lives—ravaged Syria’s smaller neighbor Lebanon for over 15 years.

Like Syria today, Lebanon unraveled along sectarian lines. The pluralistic composition of the population—composed of Shias, Sunnis, Maronite Christians, Alawites, and many others—set the stage for a free-for-all conflict that nearly led to the disintegration of the country from 1975 to 1990. Massacres from one side followed massacres from another side, as foreign powers such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Iran frequently intervened and provided patronage to differing sides.

Indeed, the commonalities between Syria today and Lebanon just a few decades ago are so rife that a lay person could hardly be blamed for mixing them up.

Once thought to be an endless conflict without hope for a solution, Lebanon’s war eventually came to a peaceful end. How? Hint: it involved negotiations, not more bombs.
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Putin Could Steal That Nobel From Kerry

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

On Sept. 8, Secretary of State John Kerry made the offhanded suggestion that if Syrian President Bashar al Assad were to “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” the United States would call off its plans to launch missile strikes at Syria. Russia then offered a proposal to Syria, which it accepted, to submit its chemical weapons to international supervision under which they would eventually be destroyed. Acting Editor of Foreign Policy in Focus Peter Certo wrote: “John Kerry may have just accidentally earned himself a Nobel Peace Prize.”
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Germany’s Third Generation East

Landsberg, Marie

Marie Landsberg of Third Generation East

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

It’s already been nearly a quarter of a century since the two Germanies were reunified. An entire generation that never experienced life in a divided country has already graduated from university. Common sense suggests that young Germans are looking exclusively at the future, and the country has moved on from the debates over reunification and the fate of East Germany.

But common sense is wrong.

Born in East Germany, Marie Landsberg was only six years old when the Berlin Wall fell. When she was growing up, like so many of her peers in what had once been East Germany, she didn’t pay much attention to the past.

“It wasn’t cool,” she told me in an interview in February in Berlin. “Everyone tried so hard to be Western. At school when we did history, we didn’t really deal with the GDR past. We had so much about the Second World War for years and years, and it was like the teachers didn’t know how to touch this topic because it was still so close. The first one that tried to touch the East-West situation, the GDR, and West Germany was a very young teacher from West Germany who tried to deal with it in the lessons. But he was also a bit insecure because he didn’t want to touch anyone’s emotions. It was still very touchy business. The schoolbooks were very one-sided, very much written from the Western perspective on the GDR. We didn’t really deal with the past.”
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Syria: Suddenly a Race to Peace?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Suddenly it seems as if the United States is competing with Russia to find an alternative to attacking Syria.

As we posted this morning:

“The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible U.S. military strike, Interfax news agency quoted Syria’s foreign minister as saying on Tuesday,” reports Reuters.

Now, reports Politico, “in response to a Russian offer Monday that Syria should give up its chemical weapons in order to avoid the prospects of military strikes”
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Will Turning Over Control of Its Chemical Weapons to Russia Prevent the U.S. From Attacking Syria?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible U.S. military strike, Interfax news agency quoted Syria’s foreign minister as saying on Tuesday,” reports Reuters this morning.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “Syria had agreed because this would ‘remove the grounds for American aggression,’ the report said.”

Of course, Lavrov is scarcely speaking for President Obama, who spoke for himself with Scott Pelley of CBS News about the proposal.
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Prompt Global Strike Too Prompt for Its Own Good?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS), still under development, is a weapons system designed to provide the military with the option to strike fast, even on the other side of the world. It affords the speed of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, but without nowhere near the destructive power of a nuclear warhead.

I know, it’s odd that intercontinental missiles have never been developed without warheads, or that they weren’t developed first. Even though it’s not nuclear, CPGS comes with its own set of problems. Foremost among them: that a state targeted might experience difficulty determining if the incoming is a CPGS or a nuclear warhead – with the retaliation decisions the latter would entail. At Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman outlines its other problems.
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Assad and Obama Whiff at Chances to Defuse Crisis

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The hypothesis that the Syrian chemical weapons attacks may not have been perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad – or the opposition – has been graining traction. Reuters reports (Sept. 8):

Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four-and-a-half months, according to radio messages intercepted by German spies, but permission had always been denied … Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper reported on Sunday, citing German intelligence.

In other words

Syrian government forces may have carried out a chemical weapons attack close to Damascus without the personal permission of President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 6, in a New York Times op-ed Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) lamented the Obama administration’s failure to share intelligence on Syrian chemical-weapons attacks with – never mind the public – lawmakers themselves.
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Syria: Helps to Know Whodunit Before Sentencing

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

With Syria, the United States has been judge, jury, and hopes to be the executioner. The trouble is that its idea of who the accused is remains ill-defined. The United States seeks to hold the Assad regime responsible, but, if it has any idea who ordered the attack – the president, top military command, or local commanders – it’s not letting us in on the secret. As is often the case, that hasn’t stopped us from rushing to judgment, declaring the administration and military guilty, and sentencing them.
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Attacking Syria to Undermine Iran

Iran President Hassan Rouhani. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

As many have noted, launching missile strikes against Syria might once again harden the arteries that, since Hassan Rouhani was elected president, has been transporting fresh blood to Iran’s relationship with the West. Unfortunately, turning the relationship toxic again may be what the Washington and Israel wants.

At the Independent, Robert Fisk asks of the strikes, “But why now?” He attempts to answer his own question.

I think that Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless army might just be winning against the rebels whom we secretly arm. With the assistance of the Lebanese Hezbollah – Iran’s ally in Lebanon – the Damascus regime broke the rebels in Qusayr and may be in the process of breaking them north of Homs. Iran is ever more deeply involved in protecting the Syrian government. Thus a victory for Bashar is a victory for Iran. And Iranian victories cannot be tolerated by the West.
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What Happens if Syria Strikes Back?

Copy of a detail of “The Battle of Anghiari,” Leonardo da Vinci’s lost depiction of the futility of war. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Copy of a detail of “The Battle of Anghiari,” Leonardo da Vinci’s lost depiction of the futility of war. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

A few days ago, writing about the Obama decision to postpone a military strike against Syria, we speculated:

At the least, it buys time to build opposition to such a reckless course. At the most, it is the beginning of a change in direction. Too early to tell. we would hope the latter but fear the former.

Didn’t take long for the smoke to clear on that one.

Having lost a key ally as Great Britain announced it would not participate in a military strike, Obama saw his foreign base of support shrink to nearly naught. He made a tactically clever move: to shore up his domestic support to compensate for the loss. From the tenure of the discussion in the Senate yesterday, which we forced ourselves to watch (for a while anyway), it was pretty clear that the U.S. Senate will stand behind Obama and formally support military action. Although there are stipulations, limitations to Obama’s field of action (no troops on the ground, a sixty-day window for military strikes with the possibility of a further Congressional approval), war has a way of escalating from one set of conditions to another and those limitations might turn out to be “flexible,” as they were in the case of Libya where a no-fly zone transformed almost immediately into an “air attack zone.”
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