the Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; Economics, Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 100 professional papers.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Syria: Avoiding a Hurried strike without Strategic Content

Syria: Avoiding a Hurried Strike without Strategic Content
                       Dr. Michael Sakbani

It is probable but not certain, that the use of chemical weapons on the 21 of August 2013, upon the innocent civilians in al Ghota will finally force the hands of the ever reluctant President Obama to strike the Syrian regime. Mr. Obama has searched every means to escape intervention in Syria. He has many political, but not moral, reasons for that: the US economy does not well support at this point an expensive military adventure; the US budget cannot pay the bill; the US public does not support military action and the foreign policy strategies of the Administration have shifted emphasis from the Middle East to the pacific. In the conflict itself, the time to do something passed one and a half years ago when Syria was not yet a host to Islamists extremists and al Qaida affiliates.  In retrospect, the international community has left the Syrian tragedy to fester and exact a terrible toll on the country. To act now is to act late. But if such a grave violation of international law passes without response, it is better to act, for Assad will certainly repeat it.
In the Assad-regime, Mr. Obama has faced a player with no red lines; the regime would do anything to win and survive. Mr. Obama`s red line on the use of chemical weapons signified for the Syrian regime only a line in the sand. We now know from Mr. Cameron parliamentary statement on 29/8/2013, that Syria has already used small scale chemical weapons 14 times. Mr. Assad probed and found no international response; he, therefore, went this time for the kill. On the early hours of 21 August, he killed in a few minutes anywhere between 800 and 1426 civilians, four hundred of whom children in their sleep. The pictures of the bundled children laid in rows intact in their death repose, shocked the world. Mr. Obama`s credibility was this time engaged. He could no longer watch the Syrian tragedy with benign neglect.
  Like the Bourbons of France, the Assad regime has learned nothing from this conflict and its beneficiaries and supporters have forgotten none of their old habits. After killing more than 120,000 Syrians and maiming half million as well as rendering refugees a quarter of the population, Mr. Assad and his associates still want to continue governing a country they have destroyed. Similarly, the hapless moderate opposition still refuses to compromise and unify despite its lack of success on the ground and its eclipse by the imported Islamists. The latter, want to establish with Syrian blood their Islamist emirates and foist it upon a people who do not believe in this dangerous utopia.nor have been in their history associated with fundamental religious thinking. This many-sided mess is now subjected to military treatment which seems to lack strategy and is bereft of good form.
That the chemical attack has taken place is beyond doubt and that one side in this conflict has perpetrated this crime is also in no doubt. But before the action commences, the good form requires giving the UN inspectors sufficient time to complete their task on the scene and then determine the guilty party on the basis of their report`s findings. In the event, the credibility of Western intelligence shattered in Iraq cannot be relied upon. And as the parliamentary debate in London showed, parliaments are not prepared to give their governments blank checks any more. In this context, President Obama is well advised to engage the US Congress in this affair. In law, he does not need their accord; he can launch military action for 90 days without prior approval by Congress. If he succeeds in lining up the Congress behind him without necessarily seeking approval, he will be armed with a wide and legitimate democratic authorization. The fear, however, is if he uses the Congress to avoid action.

Unfortunately, the preparations demonstrate that the strike is conceived as a punishment for on act and not a treatment of the tragedy on the ground. To be sure, punishment should be exacted, but for it to be more than retribution, it ought to be a part of a strategy that leads to stopping the killings and the destruction of Syria. There is little assurance that a limited strike would change the behavior of Mr. Assad or degrade significantly his capabilities and more doubt that if it is just a shot across the bow as President Obama said yesterday, it would  bring him to negotiate seriously a transition of power as Geneva I envisaged. For a political solution to happen there is a need for a strike with strategic content.
Specifically, the strike should be conceived to break the prevailing stalemate and convince Mr. Assad that he will not be allowed to win. As regards the armed opposition, the strike should be coordinated with their forces so as to exploit it to alter the situation on the ground and redress the military balance. But such alterations must be accompanied with the strict understanding that all this would be the lead-act to a political compromise in Geneva II.
The proper legal framework for this action is the protection of civilians and the maintenance of international security under chapter seven of the UN Charter. Unfortunately, the Russians and the Chinese have blocked the Security Council of exercising its authority. Hence, the legal alternative is to invoke the right of intervention without sovereign approval sanctioned by the UN GA in 2005. Thus, the relevant question is the help and protection extended by this act to the Syrian population whose lives are turned upside down, whose families are dispersed maimed, and weighed down with loss and suffering. Was there any thought given to using this opportunity to establish by force safe passages to deliver humanitarian aid and medical help? There is no indication of that.
It is puzzling that the US and its allies have revealed their strategy before acting. Why telling the World that they will hit important command targets from the sea and that the strike will only last a short time.
 These and similar other questions are the parameters within which a useful and meaningful strike should be designed. It should be a part of a strategy to save Syria and envision meaningful aftermath. The strike should create a settled conviction that no side will win the war and that the alternative to Assad will not be the extremists and the fundamentalists with an international agenda but a negotiated political solution that brings about a liberal pluralistic democratic and unified country. In such a Syria there should be room for all. To be sure, there will be political majorities and minorities but not ethnic, religious, sectarian, or regional ones. The endogenous political Islamists should have room provided they play the democratic game and present programs for a modern civil state and not a mere appeal to religious beliefs and past historical examples. Those in the present regime, who are not guilty of crimes and acts of genocide, should also find their place. To justify the extra destruction, the strike should help a transition towards a state of modern democratic institutions and not be a simple punishment. 
Waiting for a week or so to get the inspectors' report and prepare a strategic strike is much preferable to hurried retribution. But one should strike a note of caution, If the US President does not act this time, the credibility of the US and the strategic logic of its foreign policies will be thrown into question. Let us hope Mr. Obama acts this time as a leader and the leader place is always in front and not behind.

Geneva 8/30/2013