Revolt at the State Department

During the Vietnam War there was so much internal criticism of official US policy that the State Department set up its own Dissent Channel. This office was a vehicle for disgruntled department experts to voice their objection to policy without any career repercussions. To this very day, the Dissent Channel remains operational. And within the last week, this same Dissent Channel has made international news, as fifty-one dissenters have come forward in opposition to the Obama administration’s lack of a coherent strategy with regard to Syria and the Middle East.

The State Department dissenters think that what is needed in Syria is a more muscular US policy. They say such a policy is necessary to force the Assad regime to make the essential concessions for a political settlement to the long-standing civil war. While it is true that only brute force will persuade Assad to negotiate the terms of his removal, Russia (for now) will play no part in such a scenario. Hence a more muscular US policy risks a dangerous escalation leading to a potential conflict between two nuclear powers. This is a risk that President Obama is simple unwilling to take. I completely agree with the president. But on the other hand, to continue current US policy is a recipe for either a long-lasting stalemate or worse, a Russian-Assad-Iranian victory.

This is the conundrum which has become the reality in the Middle East. There are now three very serious levels to the Syrian conflict. First is the internal Syrian component; second is the regional hegemonic struggle (Sunni vs. Shiite, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia); third is the global nuclear power standoff between Russia and the West. The Middle East has become a stage for proxy global conflict, similar to Syria itself which has been a proxy stage for regional supremacy. The old paradigm that the Israeli-Arab conflict was at the center of Middle East instability has now been eclipsed by an even greater dilemma. What is the world to do about Syria, and could Syria be the trigger to WWIII?

The crux of the world’s Syrian dilemma lies within the dysfunctional geopolitical history of modern Europe itself. By isolating Russia from the continent’s security architecture, NATO has been forcing Russia to seek leverage wherever it can. This involves many serious gambles. Syria is one of them. However, these are gambles that Russia must take. NATO’s hubris was in expanding eastward in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union. This ill-considered act put all the blame on Moscow for its occupation of Eastern Europe. Meanwhile within the last twenty-five years, successful German re-unification has been achieved at Russia’s security expense. But Moscow certainly wasn’t the aggressor in WWII. Nazi Germany was the aggressor. Where is the justice for a country, Russia, which lost tens of millions of its citizens to the barbarity of the super-aggressive Nazi Party of Germany? Is there a statute of limitations on an aggrieved nation’s security?

Now Germany has become the only economic powerhouse within the European Union. Meanwhile Berlin has become ensconced in a NATO Alliance which encroaches closer and closer to Russia’s border. In a sense, 20th century German aggression has succeeded. Russia faces an alliance to its west that claims only to be defensive in nature. But from a Russian perspective, it is NOT the self-declared nature of NATO’s eastward expansion, but rather the very close proximity that reminds Moscow of the huge sacrifices made during the horrendous 1940s. If aggression is allowed to eventually become successful (even decades later), there can be no basis for global understanding and peace between nations. Now Europe stands at a new precipice: Either it must be balanced into a collective security whole, or once again, Europe could lead us into global catastrophe.

However, neither the current US administration nor its dissenters from within the State Department seem to care much about sorting out the aggressive party from WWII. It was German aggression that originally initiated Russia’s occupation of Eastern Europe. In the same way, most of Europe and a large element in the US have forgotten about the decades-long nature of the military aggression being waged against Israel. But the security of the eastern border of Israel is as important to the Jewish state, as is the strategic viability of Russia’s western border is to Moscow. Yet as time moves forward, both Europe (protected by American power) and the US (protected by two oceans and two weak neighbors) seem unable to understand the nature of either Israel’s or Russia’s security requirements.

Nothing can change in the Middle East without US and Russian cooperation. But such cooperation is simply impossible without a non-bloc approach to European collective security. Assad must go in Syria, but in order for that to happen, Germany and France must step forward and help to define the nature of a European non-bloc collective security regime. Most importantly, this process must become collaborative with the Kremlin. Russia must meet all its various neighbors with a spirit of European entente and fellowship. But the same is true for Germany, France and the countries of Eastern Europe.

The concept of European non-bloc collective security has been espoused by the Russian leadership. Lately, similar currents have become nascent within the Social Democratic wing of the German government. But this concept must be given greater credence by definition of theory into substance, and also through the public acknowledgement of an enlightened French and German political class. By linking the Syrian conflict to the future of European security, both Russia and all the countries of the European continent might begin to envision an end to a most brutal Middle East war. This particular linkage could mean not only the end of the Syrian refugee crisis, but also the European trip-wire friction inherent in the close calls between the Russian military and NATO.

The world has become a very dangerous place. One hundred years ago, the “war to end all wars” was raging across Europe and the Middle East. The aftermath of that war led us directly to a second world war and then on to a Cold War. European history seems to breed a constant source of insecurity, leading to hostility and aggression. Who is to say that it can’t happen again?

The truth is that it is already happening. The US didn’t win the Cold War; it merely set the stage for a further confrontation. The dissenters at the State Department suggest that it is prudent policy to risk a confrontation in order to re-establish American hegemony in the Middle East. While I vigorously oppose Assad and Iranian ascendency, the idea of US hegemony in any part of the world has become an outdated concept. The same is true for any other nation (or group of nations) seeking such strategic advantage.

Humanity is at an historical crossroads. Either the world will learn to live in peace, or the crucial challenges of the current century — a sustainable economy within a nourishing and healthy environment — can not be addressed on an appropriate planetary basis. In this nuclear age the conventional structures, which have historically been unsuccessful, cannot be relied upon to deter war in perpetuity. In the final analysis, such a philosophy — “peace through strength” — is only achieved temporarily and at the detriment of others. The nations of the world must choose between two diametrically opposed visions. Either we make a complete global commitment to genuine non-hegemonic peace or, sooner or later, we will face the prospect of another world war.

Syria has become the test case for humanity’s historical crossroads. But the reality of the situation is that the dissenters at the State Department and their boss, Barack H. Obama, are both wrong. If we do nothing about Assad and Iran, the US global position will continue to deteriorate. This will cause havoc within the region of the Middle East and eventually lead to even greater Russian leverage. In all likelihood, such a scenario will lead to war anyway. However, if the US follows a more muscular path in Syria — without the cooperation and coordination of the UN Security Council — such a path will inevitably lead us to the very same hostile place.

Until the US and the West begin to understand the imbalance they have created on the European continent, the situation in Europe and the Middle East can only further deteriorate. With the whole world in such a precarious position, it is the height of folly to expect that Israel make dramatic concessions over its vital security. The very idea that France, England or the Quartet would demand an Israeli retreat from territory it won against blatant aggression, is now ludicrous. In today’s global geopolitical atmosphere — which has become as conducive to WWIII as has been witnessed since the height of the Cold War — the wild notion that both Israel and Russia no longer face existential territorial challenges is preposterous.

Europe and the US need to get their own houses in order before they dictate to the Jewish state, Russia or anyone else how to proceed with their own security. Israel will never accept an eastern security border nine miles from the sea. Only its enemies would expect Israel to accept such a permanent confinement. It is time the President of the United States set out an agenda for the world and its various regions which would allow for the conditions necessary to achieve a territorial structure for genuine peace. This agenda must also include a serious proposal for a US-Russia-China entente. For without such an entente, the war in Syria will grind on, and the risk of catastrophic escalation will remain as a global “Sword of Damocles”.

Only by means of a Great Power Entente can the nations of the world begin the task of rebuilding Syria and the greater Middle East. And only then will the idea of a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement begin to make any sense. As these new times demand, peace can only come through an entirely new paradigm in international relations. As a species, human beings have reached their moment of truth. History — as we have known it — must either end in an epoch of peace, or it will just simply end. We humans possess free will, and the choice is ours.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).