Last Wednesday I attended a lively seminar about Syria at Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb’s National Security Forum in Reno. The featured speaker was retired University of Nevada, Reno, political science professor Dr. John Jandali, a brilliant Syrian-American who just happens to be the late Steve Jobs’ biological father.
“Major international players, especially the U.S., Russia and Arab Gulf States, don’t see any military solution to the Syrian conflict,” Dr. Jandali said, “and seem to agree that the only way to end death and destruction in Syria is to find a political solution acceptable to all parties.” His call for negotiations will disappoint those such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who seek a military solution to the Syrian crisis.
President Obama has taken a cautious approach to Syria, approving the shipment of small arms such as AK-47s to moderate factions among rebel groups while keeping his negotiating options open. Unfortunately, some of the more extreme rebel groups are affiliated with al-Qaida and/or the Taliban.
At last week’s meeting of G-8 nations in Northern Ireland, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Obama that although their positions on Syria don’t match — Russia supports Syrian dictator Bashar Assad — they have a shared interest in stopping the violence in that war-torn nation, which has already claimed more than 60,000 lives and sent at least 600,000 Syrians into exile in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Obama acknowledged their differences but said both leaders want to stop the violence and prevent Assad from using chemical weapons against his people. Left unsaid is the fact that Syria is the focal point of a struggle for power and influence in the oil-rich Middle East between the U.S. and Russia.
The Syrian crisis illustrates the difficulty of finding long-term solutions to complex international problems. Some problems are virtually insoluble, and the U.S. doesn’t have a solution for every crisis. Nevertheless, diplomacy offers the option of doing something without intervening militarily, an approach known as “benign neglect.”
Dr. Jandali supports a transition plan drafted by a Syrian group that backs moderate elements within the rebel Free Syrian Army. “This plan provides for a transitional justice system that would impose penalties against die-hard members of the Assad inner circle, but offers amnesty to most of his Alawite (Shia) supporters,” Jandali said, noting that the majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims.
The Seattle Times praised Obama’s cautious approach on Syria.
“Obama is appropriately reluctant to put the U.S. in the forefront of another Middle East conflict,” the paper opined in a recent editorial. “Nothing about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan ... suggests that the U.S. has particular credibility in the region or a recipe for political or military resolutions” to the crisis. In other words, there is no “Made in USA” solution for Syria, or for the rest of the Middle East.
And the influential New York Times has urged Obama to weigh our “legitimate humanitarian concerns” about Syria against “what’s in the best interest of American security.” That’s good advice, because we should never intervene militarily overseas unless America’s vital national security interests are at stake.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, spent nearly 30 years in the U.S. Foreign Service.