If anyone is interested in a serious answer to what we should be doing about ISIS and Syria:
We need to get the UN involved. In the past that would have been a problem because Assad’s sponsor Russia would veto any proposal from the US/France/Britain, but now that Russia has stepped in directly and paid the price (the recent bombing of a civilian Russian airliner over Egypt), they may be willing to seek a coordinated solution with other interested parties. And ALL nations in the region are interested parties. None of Syria’s neighbors wants ISIS’ influence to spread — not Iran (which has been fighting them all along), not Turkey, not Lebanon (where Beirut was bombed just a few days ago), not Jordan, not Iraq (which has its own ISIS probem), not Egypt, not Saudi Arabia or the Gulf Arabs. If there was ever a chance for Russia, the US, the EU, and all the Middle Eastern regional powers to unite on one thing, it’s getting rid of ISIS. Of course from there, interests diverge drastically — but perhaps we can all agree to act on the thing we agree on.
What’s needed are the following:
- A no-fly zone to keep Assad from barrel bombing his own countrymen, under UN auspices. The exception being that UN forces (which might include Russia, NATO, the US, or Arab nations) would be authorized to attack ISIS from the air in a way designed to protect civilians from ISIS incursions. The model would be the air campaign in Libya against Qaddafi’s forces.
- Safe zones on Syrian territory to provide humanitarian aid and shelter to refugees fleeing active conflict. These safe zones would be protected by UN peacekeepers (“boots on the ground”) provided by neutral nations.
- All other forces (pro- and anti-Assad) agree to a ceasefire among each other and a political process, so as unite their efforts against ISIS. The ceasefire would lead to a new constitution, the replacement of Assad with a provisional government, and eventually, free elections open to all parties that renounce violence. The Assad mafia state would need to be dismantled, and this could be done under UN supervision over a period of 2-3 years. To appease Russia they would need to have rights to their naval base guaranteed under the new system. Turkey and the Kurds would need to reach some mutually beneficial agreement regarding control of the common border. Iran and others also have interests they would want protected, so all these parties need to be part of the settlement. But the common goal remains: Assad cedes power and all efforts are concentrated against ISIS.
One possible mechanism for accomplishing all this would be to expel Syria temporarily from the UN with a vote of the Security Council, and place them under the protection of a neutral nation under UN auspices, as outlined in the UN Charter and described here.
The UN actually has substantial powers that are never used because the Big 5 can never agree. But remember that the Korean War was fought under the UN flag. And if the humanitarian crisis in Syria and ISIS’ menace to regional security don’t provide an urgent cause for agreement among the world’s powers, I don’t know what ever will. I certainly hope the Obama administration will consider a much more proactive engagement than they have in the past. Of course, any successful engagement will need to employ political courage and diplomatic imagination as much as military muscle. And we will need to work with every single one of Syria’s neighbors, not just the ones we consider our friends.