For the Palestinians, Hamas may well be an unsavory group, but it is seen as their only means of defending themselves from the Israeli government’s thorough neglect of their interests. Although the Israeli government may have subdued criticism of its recent overly-aggressive military campaign against Hamas, thanks in part to Hamas breaking initial seize-fire agreements with renewed rocket attacks, and weakened support for Hamas, its latest appropriation of nearly 1,000 acres of Palestinian farmland in West Bank completely undermines claims that the Jewish state seeks peace. Feeling emboldened by its latest victory, the Israeli government apparently feels it has the right to treat the Palestinian People as it pleases, but this latest move is thoroughly deserving of criticism.
What Israel’s move does is undermine any trust the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world might have in Israel as a partner for Middle Eastern stability while it clearly provokes a fight with Hamas. In the words of Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas feels "alone in the field" due to a lack of support from the Muslim world. Israel's latest move will not only undermine the Palestinian Authority's effort to reassert its influence over the Gaza Strip and help revive support for Hamas among Palestinians, it will resonate well with jihadists looking to target Israel. Israel might have the military might to treat the Palestinians as it pleases, but it does not have enough military might to fight off the rest of the Muslim world. Quite frankly, Israel is making itself an even more attractive target for extremists while it also becoming a destabilizing force in a globalizing Muslim world, thus it is making itself a threat to its neighbors and itself.
With the shocking progress of the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, as well as the mass execution of up to 250 or more Syrian military personnel, the Assad regime is under growing pressure from the Islamic State and its allies to take control of the situation. It even reached out to suggest coordinating operations with the US would be possible. Quite frankly, the United State is never going to bolster the Assad regime. At best, US strikes against Islamic State forces in Syria would be conducted to support Western-friendly Free Syrian Army forces and, potentially, corral both the Islamic State and the Assad regime into a mutually destructive war. That said, the US and its allies are open to supporting the Syrian People, so Assad does have a better third option that helps him stay alive and prevent his rule from destabilizing the region.
The Islamic State, much like any extremist organization, is a threat to regional stability and the national security interests of countries around the world. While Iran, as well as other actors, has an interest in propping up the Assad Regime in order to support its ambitions to be a regional power with substantial influence over its neighbors, what fleeting benefit the Assad regime could potentially offer Iran in the distant future is dwarfed by the current threat of the Islamic State. Meanwhile, Iran’s influence over Iraq clearly shows Middle Eastern nations can collaborate with the United States and still be influenced by Iran. Consequently, supporters of the Assad regime have a greater interest in seeing the US help contain the Islamic State than ensuring the Assad regime survives.
If the United States, its Western allies, and regional partners had the support of the Syrian military, the hazards of intervening in Syria with airstrikes would largely disappear. If Assad and the rest of his government were to leave power, the Obama Administration would be under serious political and diplomatic pressure to act against the Islamic State in Syria. The fortunate reality of the Free Syrian Army being commanded by forcer Syrian military leaders is that they are qualified to take control of Syrian forces in such a way that the West can have confidence knowing the Assad regime is honestly giving up power. Due to Iraq’s often-conflicting partnerships with both the United States and Iran, which is also linked to the Assad regime, there is even an opportunity to indirectly implement a coordinated strategy against the Islamic State.
What Bashar al-Assad and his most infamous officials need is a way out of Syria, which Iran could offer them asylum, so they can prepare to leave behind an intermediate leadership capable of maintaining what government functions are still being undertaken and transferring power to a transitional government. It must first, however, stop attacking its own citizens and Western supported Free Syrian Army forces then quickly move to develop an agreement with the Syrian National Council on how a power transfer might occur and what officials will stay behind to implement the transition, starting with the command of Syria’s armed forces. As Assad is likely to reject this solution, both his internal and external supporters need to recognize Assad has no future in Syria, thus they need to pressure and/or force him to leave before the gains made by the Islamic State are irreversible. For Iran, supporting the inevitable failure of the Assad regime now would move Syria toward stability quicker and earn Iran favor with the United States as both rivals struggle to mend fences.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin offered humanitarian aid to those in Eastern Ukraine who were affected by fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists, the West expected anything from another PR stunt to make Russia look like a generous benefactor being vilified by the West to a covert invasion of Ukraine. After the humanitarian convoy of over 200 trucks trespassed into Ukraine via separatist controlled border posts, instead of waiting for the Red Cross to be able to escort the aid into Ukraine and check all of the trucks, which were largely empty, the world was left searching for answers when the convoy returned to Russia within hours. Although it was possible Russia may have been attempting to evacuate Russian troops, rebel forces, and other evidence from Eastern Ukraine as part of a drawdown strategy, this hope was quickly dashed when supposed separatist-controlled tanks were spotted entering Ukraine from Russia a day later.
Since then, the world has seen mounting evidence of a Russian invasion as supposed-rebel forces began taking over new territory along the Ukrainian-Russian border, which would give Russia a land route to the Crimea territory it blatantly stole from Ukraine in March and secure Russia’s control over the Sea of Azov’s energy bounty. Given Russian troops have been captured within Ukraine and NATO has observed Russian forces flowing into Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see even the most minuscule validity in Putin’s version of reality. The Russian government, however, continues to spin the truth for the sake of an audience disillusioned with the West and/or seeking the favor of Russia. If Putin was going to allow the Ukrainian Crisis to be resolved, he would have used talks between Russia and Ukraine to make his government appear heroic, but Russia does what it wants and Russia wants to secure its influence over Ukraine.
As winter approaches, Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas for heating, the ability and willingness of political leaders to implement sanctions against Russia will only wane. Meanwhile, the US and its allies are trying to deal with the Islamic State crisis in the Middle East, among other issues, thus Putin understands the West wants to see the Ukrainian Crisis resolved as soon as possible. Given Russia’s duel track strategy of engaging in talks with Ukraine and the increased military activity occurring in Ukraine, it would appear Russia may well be giving the West an “out.” That is, Putin is giving the West the diplomatic solutions we want so Western powers can save face and reverse our sanctions against Russia while quickly moving to suppress Ukrainian independence in order to avoid political backlash that protracted conflicts tend to attract when stories continually saturate the news. Quite frankly, the West should not abandon Ukraine as doing so would only undermine the legitimacy of the International Community and encourage Russia, as well as other countries, to simply force their will onto weaker states. Consequently, the West needs to aggressively balance Russian propaganda with well-framed facts and ratchet-up sanctions against Russia to their highest possible level in order to end this conflict before war becomes the only solution.
In spite of mounting pressure for the US to expand its Iraq bombing campaign into Syria, the Obama Administration’s hesitation is thoroughly appropriate. While the Islamic State is a regional threat that cannot be addressed if the terrorist organization is allowed to use Syria as a safe haven, the US cannot act to empower other hostiles, including the Assad regime, the Al Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra front, and lesser threats. Although it may be tempting to forgo addressing the broader and long-term ripple effects of engaging the more immediate threat that is the Islamic State, the US, its global partners, and regional security forces should attempt to use one stone to kill two birds.
When the activities of the Islamic State were largely contained within Syria, the threat to global and regional interests was only a potential; whereas, the threat to the Assad regime was not only imminent, it actually served Western and regional interests. It is when the Islamic State started attacking Free Syrian Army forces, conquering Iraqi territory, and pushing into other nations like Lebanon that the Islamic State became a regional and global problem. What the US and regional security forces need to is develop a strategy that reestablishes this once beneficial dynamic. Assad wants US and regional cooperation on addressing the Islamic State and the Islamic State wants the US to stop bombing them, so it only makes sense to give them what they want in order to secure American interests in the region.
Because the US cannot fully eliminate the Islamic State and/or Assad’s forces without a major military engagement and commitment over years, even with the aid of regional security forces, the US should seek to corral the Islamic State and Assad’s forces into a single war zone. Providing support to protect Western friendly forces could utilize the limited airstrikes America is willing and able to provide in order to help regional forces funnel Islamic State fighters into territory controlled by Assad’s military. In other words, the US should strategically allow the Islamic State shifting save havens with boundaries determined by what territory is controlled by friendly forces that make a war with Assad forces the easiest battle for the Islamic State. Engaging in such a strategy would likely help weaken and/or defeat both sides.
Increasing numbers of people around the world demanding their interests be met through political engagement is a boon for the democratic way of life, but the failure of governance through the world is a terrible threat to all nations and our modern world. As France and Ukraine dissolve their governments over conflicting interests on every issue from economics to national security, competing factions struggling to establish themselves as the legitimate rulers of places like Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan, coupled with a lack of consensus governance in major powers like the US and Japan, a growing pattern is starting to reveal a major global problem.
If the issue were limited to just the United States, which faces persistent partisan gridlock, the issue could largely be explained away by a lack of leadership. If the issue was limited to a country like Afghanistan or Pakistan, the world could blame a history of ingrained dysfunction. If the issue was limited to a place like Iraq, the world could simply blame the problem on irresolvable cultural differences. Limiting the issue to Spain, for example, would indicate a problem rooted in degenerative fiscal policies while the situation in Ukraine could be classified as a distressing situation brought on by damaging outside influence. As dysfunctional governance is a globalized issue, all these factors and more must be blamed as the world has embraced a culture of dysfunction that is not yet fully understood.
When an individual encounters an obstacle in his, or her life, that person is able to overcome that problem given enough time, resources, support, knowledge, experience, skills, and perseverance. When a person’s capacity to cope with a situation is overwhelmed, the ensuing crisis results from an inability to resolve the issue (s) at hand. The same is true for state actors, i.e. governments. Considering the myriad of issues faced by governments around the world, as well as personal differences, political leaders are overwhelming their capacity to cope, thus they shut down, conflict, and/or engage in other defense mechanisms that is culminating into dysfunctional government.
Unfortunately, there is no one straightforward answer. Solving the problem does, however, starts with individual leaders who must engage government in order to represent the interests of their supporters, balance those interests with the broader interests of everyone, offer balanced solutions to issues, and try to work under the frameworks of broadly supported already existing solutions while being willing to embrace personal sacrifice, which Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did in the end, instead of consistently taking hardliner stances and pursuing personal interests over national interests. It also involves working with other governments and security forces to suppress those who willfully use violence when others refuse to submit to their self-serving demands. Finally, globalized dysfunctional governance must be addressed by the Peoples of the world proactively engaging their governments in a constructive manner, i.e. helping to find practical, viable issues that balance the interests of all fellow citizens.
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