A recent headline from The Hill offers a rare piece of good news about Syria: The U.S. and Russia are talking. They’ve agreed on a basic first step toward resolving this bloody and ruthless conflict: “Safe zones” should be established where civilians can live in peace, apart from the forces in combat. This is crucial for saving lives in the short run. So bravo, presidents Trump and Putin! Please make sure this happens yesterday. Thousands of lives of helpless old men, women, and children are at stake.
What the two superpowers need to do next is to build on this foundation. They must do so with an intelligible goal in sight: a decentralized Syria that allows ethnic and religious minorities to live in peace. The Stream laid out the broad sketch of such a plan last month. In fact, there’s a plan like this languishing on the negotiating table: the Astana talks, which looked toward devolving power to Syrian regions.
The alternatives are too ugly and futile to contemplate:
Let Assad’s vicious but anti-Islamist regime try a bloody reconquest of the country, with Russian help.
Allow al Qaeda allies and other Islamists backed by the Saudis and Turks to ethnically cleanse all the Christians, Alawites and Yazidis from the country.
Let Turkey use its massive, American-armed NATO military to obliterate the Kurdish/Christian alliance that the U.S. has backed so far in its war against ISIS and resistance to Assad. This would expel all American influence from the country and make it a Turkish colony.
There is no happy fourth option, where “moderate rebels” steeped in the U.S. Constitution install a liberal democracy in Syria via New England town meetings. At the urging of neoconservatives like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, we tried that in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trillions of dollars and thousands of dead or disabled U.S. soldiers later, we learned: You can’t grow that orchid in the desert.
A Decent Outcome in Syria Is Possible
But there is a non-horrible option — which isn’t always true in the Middle East. Thanks to the courage and hard work of Christians and Kurds, moderate Sunni Arabs and brave Yazidis, there already is a potential safe zone in Syria. In fact, it’s larger than Lebanon. It’s called the Federation of Northern Syria, and The Stream has reported on it extensively. Its soldiers work with American advisors, and it already gets some (not enough) U.S. military aid.
It’s organized in Swiss-style cantons, with decentralized power and complete religious freedom. Women serve in its parliament. Its leaders have pleaded with President Trump to designate it the first “safe zone” in Syria. It deserves the title, since within its borders Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Christians and Yazidis live side-by-side in peace. They cooperate. Nowhere in that tortured country, or in most of the Middle East, can you say the same.
This mini-state should be the model for a Syria reborn. The Russians can pressure Assad to step aside and go into exile, allowing another Alawite to take control of the region now held by Syria’s government. The Islamist rebels would probably keep the region they already run. The regions reconquered from ISIS should be divided along religious and ethnic lines, and granted local governance. Slowly, in fits and starts, a Swiss-style decentralized Syria could emerge from the smoking rubble.
Turkey Threatens American Troops With Missile Attacks
Who threatens such a solution? The Turks. Tayyip Erdogan, their president, has just managed a massive constitutional putsch, granting himself sweeping new powers. He has imprisoned thousands of journalists. Erdogan blackmails the European Union for concessions with the threat of dumping two million more Syrian migrants across its border. He bullies European governments like Holland’s, trying to exert control over Turkish émigrés living there. Most recently he has called on all Turks in Europe to have five or more children per family, to outbreed the Christian natives.
And Erdogan is obsessed with crushing any hope of Kurdish autonomy, even in Syria. He fears it will stoke the hopes of the Kurds he represses in Turkey. Last week he even attacked the U.S.-allied Federation of Northern Syria. It took the U.S. moving its troops to the border to protect the Syrian Christians and Kurds whom Turkey was threatening.
What’s Turkey’s response? To threaten America. Erdogan’s close aide İlnur Çevik has warned the U.S. that Turkey might fire missiles at U.S. troops. So Turkey is contemplating an act of war against the United States of America. A civil war within NATO. That’s what we’re dealing with in this regime.
Turkey Is the Spoiler in Syria
The U.S. must see that Turkey, not Russia, is the spoiler in Syria. It is Turkish hunger for conquest and control of Kurds in Syria that is the biggest obstacle to peace. The Trump administration, along with Russia, should rebuke Turkey’s threats. It should designate the Federation of Northern Syria as the first “safe zone” where civilians will be protected. A no-fly zone that keeps out both Erdogan’s and Assad’s air force would be an excellent start.
But it can’t end there. The tortured people of Syria deserve an alternative to failed socialist nationalism and totalitarian Islamist regimes. Localism and liberty saved Switzerland from tearing itself apart, and allowed the fledgling United States to grow and thrive. They could do the same in Syria. Let’s pray that the U.S. and Russia give peace a chance. (For more from the author of “Will Trump and Putin Bring Peace to Syria? Not If Turkey Attacks American Troops.” please click HERE)