Syria: You Want It Darker
Syria: You Want It Darker
By Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens
The last of the recording of song/poems of Leonard Cohen before his death is called "You Want it Darker", a reflection on what was once and no longer is. The title song has the repeated line "You want it darker, we kill the flame". The same line can be used on our current analysis of the armed conflict in Syria. March 2018 marks the seven-year cycle of the first protests followed by the armed conflict.
If the number of persons killed, tortured, uprooted, made refugees were not enough, there are now three elements for those who want to make it darker and to put out the flame of possible negotiations in good faith to end the fighting and to create the basis for a broader-based and more just government.
The first of the new elements is the entry of Turkish forces and their Syrian allies into the city of Afrin after two months of fighting in the area of this largely Kurdish-populated city on the frontier with Turkey. It is impossible to know if this is a limited show-of-force or the first steps of a broader anti-Kurdish policy in northern Syria. It is very difficult to know how foreign and military policies are set in Turkey. While President Erdogan is certainly the spokesperson for these policies, the group of ideologues, military, security and financial people creating policy is in the shadows. Their long-range vision is not clear. Moreover, it is difficult for groups such as the Association of World Citizens to try to influence Turkish policy from outside the country. The Turkish media is increasingly under government control; there are journalists and blog writers in prison for expressing their views. Many teachers and professors have lost their jobs after the failed coup. The consequences of Turkish policy toward Syria are impossible to know in advance, but they are more likely to make things darker.
The second element of potential darkness is the change in the security/foreign policy services of the USA. John Bolton, known as a "war hawk" has been appointed as the National Security Advisor in the White House. Bolton had been the US Ambassador to the United Nations for a little over a year, from August 2005 to December 2006. He had what is called a "recess appointment" - that is he took the place of the outgoing ambassador for the time remaining of the appointment. A recess appointment does not need confirmation by the US Senate. When Bolton was to be confirmed by the Senate, he was refused in light of his aggressive and "undiplomatic" behavior. He has long been an advocate of "America First" and ill-at-ease (if not just hostile) with multilateral diplomacy. In recent years, he has been a news analyst for Fox News and outspoken in his opposition to Iran. Iran is one of the key players in the Syria drama.
Bolton is likely to have an ideological kin in Mike Pompeo, currently head of the CIA and nominated to be Secretary of State. The post of Secretary of State needs confirmation by the Senate, that of the National Security Advisor does not. The Senate debate on the confirmation of Pompeo may tell us more about US strategy, but both men are known for their hostility to Iran. There are non-governmental possibilities to try to influence US government policy. However, in the seven years of the Syrian war, non-governmental influence for a negotiated settlement has been weak.
The third new element, not directly related to Syria but with implications for the Middle East is the growing tensions among the US, Europe and the Russian Federation. The charges of Russian influence in the election of President Trump has led to nearly daily attacks on Russian policy and practice. In Europe, the charge of Russian involvement in an effort to kill a former Russian "Double Agent" in England has led to the mutual expulsion of diplomats. At a time when difficult negotiations on Middle East issues needs to be taken, the diplomatic services are weakened.
Thus, we start a new cycle in the war in Syria with at least three negative currents. There may be possibilities to light more candles, but for the moment, there seem to be more singing along with Leonard Cohen "We kill the flame".