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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/15/14

Syria at the Edge of "Shock Doctrine"

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Along with near global opposition to a bombing campaign against Syria last September, the futility and probably negative results of such a plan may have also figured into the Obama administration's decision not  to initiate military action. Whatever, that decision not to pull the military trigger against Syria, followed by Washington's negotiations with both Syria and Iran, are some of the (few) wiser decisions that President Barack Obama has made on Middle East policy since coming to office in 2009.

Regarding Syria, another hard truth, even for sincere humanitarians, is that U.S. (or U.S.-led) military intervention is not likely to improve the humanitarian tragedy unfolding there but instead could even worsen the already bleak reality. Though surely, a U.S.-led bombing campaign would kill many Syrians, including civilians, there is no certainty -- none -- that it would in any way resolve the conflict.

Rather than ratcheting up the dangers of the Syrian conflict, is it not the time to do just the opposite? Despite the predictabe frustrations, should we not, instead, press for a negotiated political solution to a conflict that has proven it will have no military solution? Admittedly, the Geneva negotiations over Syria to date have been little more than a charade, but then are we -- the world -- not in a better place wrangling over how to settle the Syrian crisis politically rather than fighting over which targets U.S. drones and Cruise missiles might be targeting?

The failure of this round (Geneva II as it is called) cannot be blamed, as the authors do, on Russian machinations. To the contrary, Russia and most particularly its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, are looking more like the peacemakers in the Syria crisis than is Washington. Global public opinion recognizes very clearly that the Russians have played a positive, if not decisive, role in moving the Syrian crisis from big power military confrontation to negotiations while the Obama administration's approach is more confused and contradictory.

After a sharp U-turn away from military confrontation last year by agreeing to multi-party negotiations on Syria, the Obama administration seems to have gotten cold feet about pursuing the Geneva process seriously. The fact of the matter is that there is no way, none, that Washington can "resolve" the Syrian crisis independently on its own or to its liking. The Obama administration plan for "regime change" in Syria -- what it has been working on now for several years -- appears dead in the water.

What is the alternative vision to ending the humanitarian crisis in Syria? What can be done to stop the bleeding? The following are some steps I would recommend that might just make considerably more sense than bombing Damascus or sending U.S. troops to die in yet another Middle East war. It is a global peace offensive  that is needed, not military intervention.

1. The international community could and should call on all parties to initiate an immediate multi-sided ceasefire. Of course, pressure from outside allies would be key. If it would be expected that the Russians and Iranians would hold the Syrian government to task, it would also be expected that the United States and the Saudis would hold their allies on the ground to the same standard.

2. The recruiting, training and arming of all foreign mercenaries should end.

3. Assuming that the ceasefire could be established, then a massive humanitarian aid program, directed by the United Nations, supported by a Security Council resolution should be implemented as soon as possible.

4. The Geneva peace process has to be actively supported. Frankly, as Ibrahim Kazerooni and I have stated on our radio program, in our op-eds for the past three years, in public forums and elsewhere, there can be no military solution to the Syrian crisis. It can only be resolved politically and diplomatically (a position that President Obama has said that he shares).

5. The Geneva negotiations should center on talks between the Assad government and the legitimate Syrian opposition. By the latter is meant, those domestic opponents to the regime, whose grievances against the government are longstanding (and genuine) and whose roots in Syrian society are organic and undisputed. Such negotiations need to be pursued without preconditions beyond maintaining the ceasefire.

6. The Obama administration has to be more engaged in the multilateral Geneva peace negotiations. While Washington made an important decision by not going to war last September, it seems to be essentially paralyzed in moving the negotiating process. Once again, it is time for Obama to display the political courage he showed the world in September by pressing the United States to negotiate seriously in Geneva and not let the domestic political opponents to his Syrian policy (neo-conservatives, AIPAC, etc.) once again gain the upper hand.

Rob Prince is Teaching Professor at the University of Denver's Korbel School of International Studies. In recent years, he has written extensively on North Africa. He is also the publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

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