February 16, 2015


The situation in Syria is only going to get worse ... and here's why (Melissa Fleming, 16 February 2015, The Guardian)

As humanitarians dedicated to helping Syria's survivors heal, we share their growing despair. We have registered their traumas one by one, as the numbers swelled into the millions. We have negotiated and worked on their behalf for land, for shelter, for medical care, for food and schools, and watched as even the basics become ever more difficult to find. We have cried with them as their children died of severe illnesses for lack of treatment.

All the while, we have kept hope for the future. But today, that hope is getting harder to maintain every day. Here is why:

1. No political solution to the conflict in sight...

The only real solution to Syria's humanitarian catastrophe is an end to the conflict. Unfortunately, that end looks a long way off. The fighting inside Syria continues to erupt and shift, and despite continued attempts at peace - including talks in Moscow and a ceasefire proposal for Aleppo - the warring parties, and the countries with influence to stop them, remain divided. Making matters worse, the fighting is feeding into other regional conflicts. In a recent speech to the UN General Assembly, António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said with some exasperation: "in the absence of the political will and foresight required for effective prevention, all that the international community can do is react to new crises, lament the suffering they cause, and try to come up with higher and higher amounts of money required to cover the resulting cost... no one is winning the wars of today; everyone is losing."

The political solution could hardly be clearer:

Syria map

There is no Syria.  Carve it up into its constituent pieces and focus on removing Baathist control of the Alawite rump state. Meanwhile, the Islamic State remains a free-fire zone.

How much of a state is the Islamic State? (Quinn Mecham February 5, 2015, Washington Post)

Rather than assessing the "Islamic" qualities of the Islamic State group, I will focus instead on the "stateness" of this group as it has developed in early 2015. The contemporary name of this group implies both that it is Islamic and also that it is a state. My principal argument is that while the Islamic State does not have all of the characteristics that we usually attribute to states, it does have many of them, and that its trajectory to date is toward increasing levels of stateness. This matters a great deal, not only because it shapes the lives of the people who live within Islamic State-controlled territory, but also because it has implications for how outside actors should engage with this group. In particular, the more the Islamic State actually resembles a state, with its security provision and regulatory institutions, the less international actors will be able to "degrade" or "destroy" the group without also degrading or destroying the fundamental functions of the state. 

As we've long argued (particularly vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Pakistani Tribal Areas), forcing that statiness on them is the key to winning these wars.  In asymmetrical warfare we face certain limitations that make it eassy on our enemies.  Make it symmetrical and we can even nuke them with impunity.

Posted by at February 16, 2015 9:30 AM

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