Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 20, 2014

Syria’s suffering as precursor

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2014

Since 2011 at least 100,000 Syrians have been killed, probably closer to 150,000.  At least one-third have been non-combatants.

More than 2.5 million Syrians have sought refuge outside Syria.  The number of internal displacements is estimated at over 6 million.

The conflict between Sunni and non-Sunni has been amplified and often personalized, each side demonizing the other.

An already volatile region has been further destabilized.  Turkey — a NATO ally — Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq have been especially impacted.

Approximately 12 million Syrians who emigrated over the last century, and their first and second generation descendants, view the continuing slaughter with increasing frustration and despair.

The barbarity of the battle — barrel-bombing civilian neighborhoods, mass execution of men, women, and children, starvation used as a military tactic — has inured many participants to brutality.

Just this week a Sydney man killed in January fighting in Syria’s civil war was identified as a former Australian soldier who went absent without leave from the army in 2010.

On Monday a California National Guard enlistee was arrested at the Canadian border. Prosecutors claim he was on his way to fight in Syria. He has also been accused of planning to attack the Los Angeles mass transit system.

British security officials say at least 200 veterans of the civil war in Syria have returned to the United Kingdom.

Osama bin-Laden and many of his peers were, in part, radicalized by the mass murder of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya, horrified by how the world seemed ready to look-on and do nothing.

And again?

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Comment by Arnold Bogis

March 20, 2014 @ 12:25 am

“In part” being the important, uh, part. Most studies point to the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia as the primary focus of radicalization of that generation of Al Qaeda. Combined with the public support of the Mubarak regime in Egypt.

As horrible as the conditions on the ground may be in Syria, this history suggests the long-term best interests of the U.S. are not to get involved in the conflict. We can try to pick winners, but as history in Afghanistan and elsewhere shows us, we can’t control outcomes.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 20, 2014 @ 2:00 am

Arnold: I will concur with both of your paragraphs… and I will persist in my argument. In regard to Syria, even retrospectively I do not see clear, credible opportunities to avoid ending up close to where we are today. As you imply we might have ended up somewhere even worse. We may still. My main point is given the unfolding, there are — increasingly likely — homeland security implications.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 20, 2014 @ 2:14 am

The militarization of US foreign policy for whatever the reasons and approach to international relations generally, usually by Presidents without military or foreign policy experience has totally left the US open to the savage aftermath of this trend. We do NOT fund language and cultural training of our citizens in anywhere near the number for participation in a globalizing world. We pay the price for our ignorance.

And the academic world has largely failed to provide students except in the STEM disciplines largely dominated at the graduate level by foreign students with a deep understanding and critical thinking as to the important gifts other cultures and peoples, and yes belief systems [religions?]can provide to humanity!

Elites in the US are in fact undereducated and seldom have lived in other cultures. Elites in most of the world want their children to grow up in Britain, Canada, or the USA.

Americans and America are not exceptional still just largely the beneficiary of being allowed to exploit a continent and technology with still some marginal comparative advantages mostly wasted.

Domestic peace and prosperity has been our greatest comparative advantage but that may soon be ending.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

March 20, 2014 @ 4:21 am

The U.S. Gets the Kurds Wrong – Again

by Michael Rubin
The Wall Street Journal
February 13, 2014

“After decades of ignoring Iraqi Kurds, Washington came to embrace them as their best allies in Iraq. Mr. Kerry, however, refuses to learn from past mistakes. The leaders of Hasakah province receive no invitations to the Geneva peace talks, and the State Department refuses to talk to them for three reasons.

First is Turkey. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), which enjoys about 90% local support, has links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that once fought an insurgency inside Turkey. The two sides, however, signed a cease-fire last March, and no Syrian Kurd ever attacked Turkey. That Turkey has labeled the PYD a terrorist group is ironic, given that Turkey both supplies and allows jihadists transit into Syria. Yet, when given a choice between al Qaeda and secular Kurds, Ankara has chosen the former. Washington should pick the latter. Mr. Kerry should not insist on being more Turkish than the Turks if it means empowering Islamic radicals.

Second, American diplomats accuse Syrian Kurds of refusing to cooperate with the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition coalition. This charge is true. Kurds and local Christians, however, explain that Mr. Kerry ignores extremism and Arab chauvinism within the coalition, and that it does not respect federalism or reflect reality on the ground.

Third, the State Department accuses Syrian Kurds of cooperating with Assad. Here, there is some truth. The Assad regime controls pockets of Qamishli. Syrian Kurds fly to Damascus and Latakia to attend university. And Assad pays salaries to some civil servants who moonlight for the local autonomous government.

Then again, Iraqi Kurdish leaders like Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani cooperated with Saddam Hussein until 2003 in similar ways. Kurdish YPG officials say their truce with Assad lets them concentrate on al Qaeda and save lives: If the truce ends, surrounded Syrian army troops would either fight to the death or surrender—and surrender would mean exposing their families to torture, arrest or death.

The Kurds understand this reality. Accusations that their truce translates into regime sympathy rile these Kurds, many of whom bear scars from Assad’s prisons and point out that Mr. Kerry now talks to regime officials more than they do.

With a terror-sponsoring regime and a terror-embracing opposition, American officials are right to be frustrated by Syria. Just as in Iraq, however, the Kurds provide an alternative, federal model. That they are also secular and pro-American is icing on the cake. How ironic it is, then, that the State Department seems so committed to making them pariahs”

Submitted by:

Christopher Tingus
HLSWatch 20th March ’14

Comment by Quin

March 20, 2014 @ 10:43 am

I would have to lean towards Arnold on this. This sounds like an argument for RTP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsibility_to_protect
Unfortunately, when a war leads to the creation of a systematic killing machine, which has what has happend in Syria, there is precious little that can be done other than kill it or let it run its course. And by kill it, I mean killing/destroying enough of the system (in this case the Asssad regime but you’d also have to take out ISIS and Al-Nusrah who are just as bad or worse) that it is pummeled into dust, otherwise it will just wait us out or morph into something else. That’s not a short intervention with precision weapons, SEALs and light infantry, that’s occupation and restoration of law (preferably through co-opting the existing elites rather than full on COIN but that is another debate for another time). Practically speaking, outside of finding a small competent force within the FSA and grooming it over time to take out its rivals and eventually Assad, there probably isn’t much we can do other than provide assistance to the displaced and try and prevent the instability from spreading to Iraq or Jordan. I’d like to be wrong….

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 20, 2014 @ 12:23 pm

In an effort to be especially clear:

I don’t see in my original post any call for direct intervention in Syria (or, for that matter, indirect intervention). I can certainly say there was no intent to argue for intervention.

My post does point to a perception that U.S. (and Western) engagement in Syria has been ineffective and compares this to previous cases that will seem to some as analogous. I then suggest this perception will potentially produce difficult consequences for the United States and others (as it did in the historical analogies).

There are many situations where there is no “good” choice. Rather, we are left to choose between bad outcomes. I believe we have done this in Syria. I am not trying to blame. I am not second-guessing the choice. I am arguing that the homeland security community should be alert to the potential of the bad outcome chosen.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 22, 2014 @ 9:12 am

So what is the bottom line on the ARAB SPRING? Short or long term?

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