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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/25/15

Before And Beyond The Syrian Calamity

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Message Alon Ben-Meir
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Reprinted from Alon Ben-Meir Blog

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What started as a civil war in Syria nearly five years ago has now evolved into an international crisis unmatched by any other since World War II. The global community now has a solemn obligation to end this humanitarian disaster, but it cannot do so unless all the powers affected by the conflict set aside their differences in order to end the suffering of millions of Syrians. The UNGA annual meeting, which is now in progress, offers the US, Russia, and Iran a momentous opportunity to come up with a solution, which is absolutely within reach if they only will it.

The search for a solution to Syria's civil war and the unfolding tragedy of the Syrian refugees can be found only by defeating ISIS while simultaneously formulating a political solution to prevent the complete disintegration of the country.

To achieve this goal, it is necessary to engage all the parties vested in Syria, especially the US, Russia, Iran, and the Assad government, in this process, whose full cooperation is central to a durable solution.

No solution, however, can be found without first establishing the historical perspective and the root causes that gave rise to this catastrophe. Sadly, the countries which must now cooperate -- mainly the US, Russia, and Iran -- are largely the culprits behind this crisis, albeit for different strategic reasons.

The 2003 Iraq War, and the US policy that fueled it, shattered the relative stability of the Middle East. The war instigated the Sunni-Shiite conflict, destroyed the US's decade-long mutual containment strategy to prevent either Iran or Iraq from gaining the upper hand, allowed Iran to play a dominant role in Iraq, made Iraq the battleground between Sunnis and Shiites, and gave rise to ISIS as early as 2005.

Assad's brutal crushing of the 2011 peaceful demonstration in Daraa which led to the civil war, and the violence in Iraq and Syria, enabled the convergence of scores of extremist groups into Syria. This includes al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the formal rise of ISIS, further intensifying the civil war and creating a refugee crisis of historic proportions.

Subsequent to President Bush's disastrous misadventure in Iraq, President Obama swung the pendulum of US policy in the opposite direction. He replaced President Bush's bellicose and misguided policy with a policy infused with vacillation and aloofness laden with intellectual treatises, far removed from the reality of the region, while forgetting the indispensable global role of the United States in conflict resolution.

Conversely, Russia's President Putin demonstrated all along a clear and decisive policy in support of his ally President Assad. Putin was and remains determined to safeguard Russia's interests in Syria by preserving the Assad regime, which remains central to his strategy. As he has done in the past, Putin will continue to block any solution to the Syrian crisis unless it is done on his terms.

He disagrees with the US that Russia's deeper involvement in Syria could escalate the conflict. Sensing a lack of American resolve and a sound policy to address the Syrian crisis, Putin proceeded by sending more arms, trainers, and building a new major air base, further augmenting Russia's presence in Syria.

Putin's message to the US is that Russia will be assertive in the Middle East and will do whatever it takes to prop up Assad's weakened hold on power while strengthening Moscow's hands in any future negotiations with the US to resolve the conflict.

For Iran, maintaining its influence in Syria remains the central requisite to protect its larger goal of being the dominant power in the Gulf, as Syria provides the lynchpin to Tehran's crescent extending from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. Iran continues to supply Assad with massive military support replete with advisers, intelligence, and ground troops.

Iran is also in a position to prevent any solution to Syria's civil war unless its strategic interest is guarded. Regardless of the extent of the destruction that has been inflicted in Syria, Tehran will continue to support Assad to the last Syrian soldier.

Although Assad's staying power depends largely on the continuing support of Iran and Russia, he remains, contrary to the views still held in Washington, an important part of any solution.

Assad also knows that although Iran and Russia can take many unilateral actions in Syria, they cannot defy the US with complete impunity, especially because the US is leading a coalition made out of many states that are battling ISIS, which serves Russia's, Iran's, and Assad's own interests.

As such, Assad's importance and role will diminish once ISIS is defeated, and since he irreversibly lost much of his international legitimacy, he will become dispensable in the eyes of Russia and Iran once the two countries secure their interests in Syria post-Assad.

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Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. His dedication to writing about, analyzing, and (more...)

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