The Caeser Act and Syria

 

Caeser Act - Featured

War photographer “Caesar” and his work constitute one of the cornerstones of evidence that have revealed the atrocities Syrian Dictator Bashar Al Asad has inflicted on the Syrian people and the Middle East.  Caesar’s work and what it has revealed needs to be fully acknowledged by the international community. President Trump’s Caesar Act officially recognizes Asad’s atrocities, and seeks to make progress toward helping fix the catastrophe in Syria.

The Caesar Act does several things to attempt to help stop Assad’s atrocities and war crimes.  The act puts additional sanctions on anyone who would do business with Assad’s regime. These additional sanctions are a much more forceful augmentation to sanctions and restrictions already in place.  Previously, business with persons connected to Assad’s government was prohibited. Now with the Caesar Act, sanctions could be put in place on citizens of any country that work with Assad, as reported by foreign policy researchers.

These new sanctions will most heavily impact Iranian and Russian backors of Assad’s regime.  Iran and Russia’s financial and military assistance to Assad over the past years have been crucial in keeping Assad from falling from power.  More specifically, Iranian militias and mercenaries from Russia have been providing support to the dictator. The Caesar Act will provide the capability to clamp down on these international supporters.

The atrocities captured by Caesar’s daring reconnaissance into the unfolding Syrian tragedy reveal a depth that many leading foreign policy experts say the international community doesn’t fully acknowledge.  Some of the photos of events and death counts begin bring up a catastrophe that has an eery similiarness to the massive loss and suffering of the Holocaust in World War II, argued by Middle East policy experts at the FDD.  

The United Nations has has not been as helpful as it could be in attempting to alleviate the suffering of the Situation in Syria.  U.N. efforts to provide aid to Syria have done little more than provide resources to Assad and help prop up his regime. The U.N. has done nothing substantive to try to mitigate this, and may be causing more harm than good. Leading international diplomacy researchers have indicated severe problems with the U.N.’s aid programs.

Trump has made it known that in the case of Iran, he is on the side of the Iranian people against their authoritarian leaders.  It would be helpful for him to make the same declaration in the case of Assad’s subjects, to help further isolate the rogue regime, as argued by foreign policy think tanks like the FDD.  The act of making it clear that U.S. efforts in Syria are aimed at bringing down Assad, not people in Syria would help steer perceptions of initiatives like the Caesar Act in the right direction.

The Caesar Act is a valuable step in the direction toward helping bring down Bashar Al Assad.  But more needs to be done in the international community as many Middle East policy experts agree.  The United Nations and its donor states’ complacency with the unintentional subsidizing of Assad’s war efforts needs to be addressed.  The U.S. could take the lead the limiting its own donations to U.N. aide unless certain reforms are met. The U.N. providing subsidies to Assad should not continue to be given passive consent.

Was Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Driven By Russian Recommendation?

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While Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952, it has also had on-and-off relationships with nations that NATO has opposed. Considering Turkey’s geographical location one can certainly understand its need to maintain peace in the region, and yet, members of NATO often question the sincerity of its participation in the alliance. With this understood perhaps we ought to drill down into Turkey’s recent decision to move into Syria.

 In October of 2019, Turkey announced it was going into Syria. Its goal was simple; to push the Kurdish forces (PKK – Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê or Kuristan Working Party) out of the region just South of the Turkish border in Syria. Prior to this time, Turkey had an understanding with the U.S. not to conduct offensive military activities in Syria while the U.S. was fighting ISIS. Everything appeared to be going well. Turkey defended its territory from incursion and even shot down a Russian fighter-attack jet aircraft in 2015 that flew over a piece of its Southern territory with air-to-air missiles according to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

 What changed? Why did Turkey decide to go on the offensive? Well, it appears Putin convinced Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to go after the Kurdish forces in Northern Syria. This is of benefit to Putin since ISIS is now defeated and the Kurdish forces working with the United States are one of the last threats to Putin’s dual-control of Syria with Bashar Hafez al-Assad, Syria’s President. Russia has long had a warm water naval port in Syria, and now has two more military airbases in Syria.

 Essentially, Erdogan has chosen a new relationship with Russia over its alliance with NATO and relationship with the United States. Russia is also delivering an advanced S-400 missile defense system to Turkey. The U.S. Congress has voted to stop the importing of F-35 fighter-attack aircraft into Turkey. Russia has responded by offering to sell the Turkish military Su-35 and Su-57 fighter jets. Is NATO going to lose Turkey completely? Is Turkey going to voluntarily leave NATO?

In a news conference, Erdogan told Putin that the war in Syria was creating a huge humanitarian and migrant flow crisis into Turkey. Further, Erdogan is concerned that the Kurdish rebel fighters in Syria are too close to its borders and those Kurdish rebels will join other Kurdish factions in Turkey causing terrorist acts. The Kurds want to establish an area in Syria that they can have, as they have no country, rather have concentrated in Turkey and Northern Iraq.

If you look on a map, you can see why they’d like a piece of Northern Syria, as they are land-locked in Northern Iraq, and disfavored in Turkey, where there is an on-going conflict between the Turkish government and the 10-15 million (estimated 18% of Turkey’s population) Kurds who live there. Turkey sees the Kurds or a small percentage of them as their domestic terrorists, reported by researchers at FDD. This is why Turkey doesn’t want any more trained and battle-hardened Kurds in their country as the war in Syria draws down.

As the Syrian forces pushed back the Kurdish rebels to the Turkish border and surrounded them as reported by experts at the FDD. The Syrian and Russian Military realized that since the Kurds were being supported by the U.S. Military, they couldn’t risk a larger conflict. Additionally, even as the U.S. drew down its involvement, if Syria and Russia wiped out the remaining Kurdish forces there could be hell to pay on the international stage. So, Putin convinced Turkey’s Erdogan to move his military in to snuff them out. Thus, Turkey ends up looking like the bad guy, and Putin gets what he wants, all for a few defensive missiles and promise to sell Turkey some military jets.

Erdogan has been played by Putin, and while he may rid himself of some Kurds, in the end, Russia and Syria aren’t going to give him any slack until he’s out of NATO, and if Turkey leaves NATO, it in essence, becomes a client-nation for Russia, a situation that never seems to end well, notes leading non-partisan researchers.

 

What Are Human Rights?

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Some might say there is no such thing as ‘human rights’ and the concept itself is merely a made-up human construct. After all, humans, like any other animal on the planet evolved with the law of the jungle, a view most commonly cited by atheists. Most people now believe there are certain human rights, although what is considered and not considered a human right varies widely. 

Here in the U.S., our very wise founding fathers came up with the concept of ‘inalienable rights’ and reasoned these rights were granted not by government, but by the creator and a birthright to all. At the time this was considered a brilliant innovation for the cornerstone of our government, a guiding light for us to aspire. Today, we have grown accustomed to freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In fact, we expect and demand it.

Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy

When it comes to human rights and U.S. foreign policy pragmatism is more commonly practiced rather than sticking to any sort of straight definition. This was recently noted in a well-penned Op-Ed on ‘where human rights come from’ in the Wall Street Journal. Although we often perceive that the countries we trade with or align with have common values when it comes to human rights, all too often we allow exceptions when it is politically expedient in achieving a different goal such as winning a war, preserving peace, improving economics, acquiring resources, or involving issues of national security.

There are endless examples of the United States letting human rights violations slide in order to negotiate a peace accord, secure oil, or bring a somewhat rogue nation back into the fold of the international community. Still, our record on human rights has been pretty strong overall, comparatively speaking.

What Are Human Rights, Who Decides and Why Does It Matter

Recently, Secretary of State Pompeo asked about Human Rights. He put forth a number of questions. He explained the problem in making policy without any clear definitions, explaining that it gets complicated when there is such a diverse view of just what ‘human rights’ is actually supposed to mean. The definition varies greatly between nations and amongst human rights’ organizations, or organizations parading around as human rights groups.

What is included and not included in these definitions are also often contradictory and puzzling. Even more problematic is the ever-changing nature of what human rights encompass, and how fervently politics come into play when the topic comes up.

Should the United States take a leadership role in fostering a set of standards for human rights around the world? Should the U.S. focus on this now? If not the U.S. then whom, if not now, then when? One of the biggest challenges in international diplomacy is that when the United States makes a stand against human rights violations, we often test the strength of our alliances. All too often we end up making an enemy, and other nations who could care less about human rights go out and make a new friend of that nation or nation’s leader which we’ve inadvertently alienated.

Walking the Talk

 Standing on the moral high-ground can serve our nation well and do a great service to all of humanity. Are we up for the challenge or will this latest push for human rights come across as a threat to the leaders and cultures of other nations far and wide? Is it possible to get everyone on the same page? Is it a fool’s errand to try? Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies analyzes human rights and breaks down the politics, conflicts, and reasoning behind how we got here and how we must proceed.  

The leading researchers on human rights aren’t just looking towards the past for answers to humanity’s future. Now they are also focusing on better-defined definitions void of political agenda and based on discussions from human rights experts.  There appears to be a good opportunity here. That is ‘if’ we can get everyone on the same page and ditch some of the dark political agendas behind the scenes.

According to the latest news on foreign policy and human rights, the Trump Administration’s Mike Pompeo is serious about taking this dialogue to a higher level. Considering the past failures on human rights issues at the United Nations, it is about time the pendulum swung back in favor of humanity. All too often the biggest abusers of human rights violations were enabled by the very groups claiming to uphold those values. Maybe it is once again time to start calling out these abuses when and where they occur.

Hungary is Being Strong-Armed by the European Union

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If proof was needed that oppression and invasion can occur without arms being raised, then look no further than Hungary, according to Mark Dubowitz of the FDD, expert on foreign policy. A country which is no stranger to armed assaults on its culture and independence, from the Mongols to the Nazis, is once again being subjected to the assertive influence of a powerful outside force. The only difference is the new opponent to Hungary’s sovereign status is the EU, and especially German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

 

In the past decade, civil unrest and economic collapse spurred by a growing armed conflict in the Middle East has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II. Millions of Syrians have been displaced, with hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the crossfire. The resulting refugee population has fled the warzone by any means necessary to try to stay alive – and now the resulting mass migration is a source of conflict between the European Union and the Hungarian people. 

 

While Germany, France, and other countries of the EU have made a firm commitment to allow the mass immigration of people into their borders, not all member countries have appreciated the decision to provide this form of relief from the conflict. The Washington Times reports that the process of relocating the countless families displaced by the conflict has created a great deal of strife between countries willing to help and those determined to keep control of their own borders- instead of allowing the EU to dictate who  constitutes their own country’s populations.

 

According to Fox News, Hungary has persisted and even strengthened its efforts to resist the mass immigration plan set in place by the EU. Critics of Hungary’s resistance have called the demonstrated nationalism a form of xenophobia. 

 

But expert analysts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explained that while nationalism can lead to hyper-nationalism, chauvinism, and classism – that the extremities of Word War II’s Nazism and Faciscm were manifested by imperialist states who based their ideologies on the creation of empires. They were not nationalist states.  Nationalism is the belief in self-governance and self-determination of a people. In the context of the Syrian immigration crisis and the EU and Hungary, there is only one party attempting to assert itself over other nations.
According to sources in Hungary, the government doesn’t want to stop all migration efforts, it merely wants to control it and mitigate potential security risks. To that end, Hungary deems it inappropriate for the U.N. to demand Hungary house it’s “fair share” of refugees. According to FDD, analysts on foreign policy, Hungarians don’t want to change who they are or give up more control of their country the EU.  They believe it’s their right to challenge Chancellor Merkel and other EU leaders for attempting to coerce them to go against their wishes. See more videos from The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

A Deal with Iran Needs to Stop More Than Nuclear Weapons

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In July 2015, the five permanent members of the UN security council, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States reached an agreement with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Germany and the European Union also signed off on the deal as part of a multi-national effort to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons development and bring peace to a region long-fraught with political instability.

In exchange for taking steps to end their nuclear weapons development, the co-signers of the JCPOA agreed to lift economic sanctions that had been crippling the government and caused a great deal of civil unrest within the divided nation. Then President Obama, as well as his European counterparts touted the agreement as a significant step towards mitigating the risk of Middle-East instability turning into an outright nuclear war.

According to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, authorities on Iran deal, under the Trump administration, the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA deal as abundant evidence showed the agreement failed to reduce Iran’s ability to covertly produce nuclear weapons, while economically enabling the corrupt government to keep a stranglehold on their oppressed people. FDD.org is also known as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

While much could and has been said about the flaws with the JCPOA’s ability to meet its stated objectives there’s a greater issue at play with the way world-powers have dealt with Tehran so far. Experts say virtually nothing has been done to end the serious human-rights violations within the country’s borders and negotiators have acted as if achieving a nuclear-free Iran is worth it at any cost. Learn more about the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Linkedin.

This past January, the world saw once again what that cost is as the Islamic Republic of Iran executed a man in violation of the country’s anti-gay laws. This disgraceful humanitarian violation was done publicly while European leaders sought ways to usurp U.S. sanctions. A sign of the lengths some powers will go to have any deal with Iran.

Fox News Reports that Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany stated recently Iran’s actions “should be a wake-up call for anyone who supports basic human rights. Politicians, the U.N., democratic governments, diplomats, and good people everywhere should speak up – and loudly.”

This is not the first time the Iranian regime has put a gay man to death with the usual outrageous claims of prostitution, kidnapping, or even pedophilia. And it won’t be the last time they do it either. Read more about Iran’s history on persecution according to The Guardian.

Public executions are all too common and consensual homosexual relationships are punishable by death under the law. Children as young as nine have been sentenced to death under these laws and it’s unconscionable for any world leaders to consider a deal to lift sanctions that doesn’t put an end to these atrocities, and many prominent U.S. officials agree, The JPost writes.

While the controversy surrounding the U.S.’ withdrawal from the JCPOA was focussed on the agreement’s ability to enforce nuclear non-proliferation, many experts believe that any future deal will have to make a serious effort to put a stop to Iran’s civil rights abuses. See the latest videos on the Foundation for Defense of Democracies here.

Alliances in the Middle East- Iran and Syria

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In recent years tension in the Middle East has led to more and more division among the countries in the region. Local powerhouses Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran have strengthened relationships among their global backers like the US, EU, and Russia for protection and influence on the world stage. As a result, smaller nations have become splintered over their own alliances and forced to choose sides.

The country of Syria has experienced a great deal of conflict within its own borders due to the Syrian civil war which was started in 2011. The Bashar al-Assad regime has committed mass atrocities against its own people and fights for control of land dominated by ISIS. During this time, Syria’s already strong relationship with Iran has strengthened. As a result of these ties, Iran has provided the Syrian government with support in the form of technical, financial and combat training. They have even gone so far as to supply the Syrian government with ground troops.

Photographic evidence was captured by Israeli intelligence, proving that Iranian military forces have established a training facility outside Damascus. Some estimates put the total number of Iranian trained and financed extremist fighters at 80,000.

Syria’s relationship with Iran goes back to the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi due to his ties with the United States. Iran relies on Syria as a vital ally in the region. The philosophical similarities between the governments and the country’s geographic location–which provides close access to Israel, Iran’s sworn enemy–are two of the most likely motivators for Iran’s assistance to the Syrian civil war effort.

For many years the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has utilized the Syrian city of Zabadani as a strategic mid-point to supply Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. Before the war broke out it was not uncommon for Iran to station as many as 3,500 troops at a time in Syria to provide extra training and protection of supply routes.

Experts believe that Iran provided significant training to National Defense forces in Syria at the beginning of the war. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, led by Mark Dubowitz briefed members of Congress and State Department officials on evidence that suggests Iran flew supply missions to help Syrian forces.  You can follow Mark Dubowitz here:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-dubowitz-746301

The most vocal opponent of a Iranian supported Syrian military is Israel, Syria’s Southwestern neighbor. For decades Iran has stated unequivocally that it views Israel as an enemy and has expressed hostile intentions clearly. The Iranian forces’ proximity to Israel has given Western nations enough cause for alarm that the US intelligence agencies have increased use of satellite and surveillance aircraft monitoring along the border to identify Iranian forces and ballistic missiles hiding within the country.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been equally opaque about their determination to prevent an Iranian military stronghold from building up so close to their territory. The Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman stated: “We will destroy every military site in Syria where we see an attempt by Iran to position itself militarily.” Western powers are in agreeance that Iranian weapons in Syria do pose a legitimate threat to the country’s security, but there are fears that a preventative strike would set off a powder keg–sending both countries to war and dragging along their web of allies with it.

Turkey’s Anti-NATO Behavior

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In recent years alliances have been significantly tested all around the world. With every new conflict comes disagreements of policy which lead to otherwise friendly countries being at odds. Mark Dubowitz on his site, The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has outlined numerous drastic changes between powerful nations over recent months, including the U.S. withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

One such battle is between Turkey and the rest of the NATO member countries. Turkey is a critically important ally to the U.S. and NATO as a whole. Its geographical location makes it vital when responding to a crisis in the Middle East and it remains to be one of the strongest presences in the region. However, recently Turkey’s leadership, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has exhibited anti-NATO behavior.

To fight the Islamic State in Syria, the U.S. enlisted the help of a Syrian-Kurdish militia group known as YPG. This past January, Turkey began attacking those same forces in Afrin, (a district in northern Syria). The Kurdish people have a long history of seeking separation from the existing powers to create a sovereign Kurdish state. Since the 70’s, there have been a series of armed conflicts between the Turkish government and various Kurdish insurgent groups.

Due to this history, President Erdoğan has made it explicitly clear that he will never allow a Kurdish state to form, especially on Turkey’s Southern border. He views the YPG forces as a potential first step in such a state. What’s worse is these attacks against the U.S. backed forces were made with Russian support. Moscow controls the skies in that region, so Turkey needed their approval to carry out its assaults.

Mark Dubowitz of FDD states that Western nations have tried to persuade Erdoğan to cease attacks, but they have failed to condemn Turkey publicly. In the past several years NATO and the EU haven’t responded appropriately to Erdoğan’s numerous human rights violations. When one NATO member acts against the interests and values of the organization it significantly undermines the entire NATO community. Turkey’s recent actions show a disturbing willingness to abandon Western norms.

Turkey’s relationship with Moscow is also a sign of trouble for NATO. At a time when NATO is trying to isolate Moscow for its track record of aggression and hostility towards its neighbors, FDD warns this decision sends the wrong message globally and weakens NATO’s image. Learn more about FDD.

Within Turkey’s borders, the government under Erdoğan’s control has acted in ways that widely sway from NATO founding values. Since the 2016 attempted coup, Erdoğan has arrested hundreds of journalists and clamped down on its judiciary. Any NATO member that weakens its own democracy tarnishes the entire alliance. All NATO countries are bound to the same founding document, the 1949 Washington Treaty, the preamble of which states, “all members are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

NATO is not just a military organization. It is a political alliance with the preservation of democracy as a core value. All indicators suggest that Turkey is leaving democracy behind. An independent organization, Freedom House, recently downgraded Turkey from the status of “Partly Free” to “Not Free.” As a vital NATO member, Turkey’s military actions in the Middle East and the way it operates its government within its borders could jeopardize the entire organization.