By Harron Young 

Phot0: al jazeera

Civil war, hundreds of airstrikes a day, multiple players, and religious divide, yes this is Syria, but it is also Yemen, a country where the outcomes are just as devastating. With much of the world’s attention on Syria and Iraq, the lack of media attention to one of the most unfortunate civil wars, or more so proxy war, has failed to bring the news of Yemen to our TV screens and newspapers.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 80% of the population requires some form of humanitarian protection or assistance, 48% of the humanitarian response is unmet, and 95% of the civilians, noncombatants, were killed from explosive weapons. Looking at the most basic issue in Yemen, we have a civil war with the North controlled by the Shi’a Houthi rebels, versus the Sunni majority in the South aligned with the internationally recognized government. Characterizing this as simply a Shi’a versus Sunni issue, or North versus South, barely scratches the surface in Yemen; within those sects of Islam, there is a deeper conflict including the Zaydis, a school of thought within Shi’a Islam, and Islah Islam, an opposition party that falls within Sunni Islam, this along with southern separatists, other militants, and religious extremist all involved in this conflict.

Backing these divided religious groups are Middle Eastern powerhouses such as Iran supporting the Houthis in the North, and a Saudi led coalition of Gulf Cooperation Council States (excluding Oman), further backed by the United States, in the South. As the Houthi rebel group represents a strong population of Shi’as in the North, they support the idea of a two-region state where they would dominate the North, and by January 2015, the Houthis demanded 50% of key ministerial position in the Yemeni government.

  Further conflict ensued when Saudi Arabia saw these demands, and Yemeni President Hadi forced from his palace in Sana’a by Houthi rebels, as Iranian interference in the region. In March of 2015, Saudi Foreign Minister declared that Saudi Arabia would protect the region from aggression, with the only solution being reinstating the internationally recognized government, and eliminating all Houthi rebels from any government institution they occupy. Almost ten months later, and Yemen has turned into a miserable war zone in which the death toll, amount of displaced people, and those facing food and water insecurity has escalated at a much faster rate than the chaos witnessed in Syria.

Although the Houthis have loosely been supported by Iran, they are not operating under its control and have been an independent political group before the outbreak of this civil war. Iran’s intervention in Yemen has only been an attempt to seize more influence in the region. Since Yemen is close to impenetrable, it is difficult to quantify what role Iran is playing in Yemen, with its only support being a supply of weapons to the Houthis; this comes as no surprise as Iran has a history of helping Shi’a minorities in the region.

The GCC countries, specifically Saudi Arabia, have stated their reasoning for intervening in Yemen while also carrying out a hidden agenda. This coalition claims their actions are answering the official request of the legitimate government of Yemen, protecting the Yemeni people, and fighting al-Qaeda and Daesh in the region. The events of the past ten months disprove these claims; so far, the Saudi led coalition has done nothing to stop al-Qaeda in Yemen.  The coalition has only hurt the civilian population in both the North and South from multiple airstrikes a day, and by establishing a blockade on the major ports in Yemen; this blockade has stopped the flow of food and resources in and out of the country. Although this blockade was done to protect the legitimate government from outside militias, this military tactic only cut off the civilian population from the rest of the world and vital resources needed for survival. Such ports are necessary as this country depends on imports for 70% of its fuel, 90% of its food, and 100% of its medicine, all now extremely limited in Yemen.

The number of casualties and injuries caused by explosive weapons in Yemen is the world’s highest, in which the all parties involved in this civil war are responsible for the unprecedented count of civilian suffering. In a September report done by the United Nations OCHA, when explosives are used, 86% of people killed are civilians and this number goes up to 95% in highly populated areas. Airstrikes were the single biggest danger to civilians in Yemen in the first seven months of 2015. Explosive weapons in Yemen have killed or injured more civilians this year than any other country in the world, including Syria. This is a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by all parties involved in the conflict; through the principles of proportionality, distinction, and precaution, all parties to the conflict are obligated to limit the loss of civilian life.

With the lack of coverage on Yemen, first hand depiction of this state is provided by aid organizations on the ground, all of which have been struggling to provide civilians with the most basic level of support. Reports from Oxfam International, a major organization coordinating relief effort in Yemen, have announced shockingly high numbers; close to 20 million people have no food or water security, about 1.5 million people from Yemen are displaced with about 100,000 refugees in Somaliland or Djibouti, making Yemen one of the worst crisis in the world. Such destruction to the infrastructure and civilian population as a whole may be attributed to ground fighting and airstrikes. Indiscriminate bombings by both opposing parties have targeted all governorates in Yemen and have been happening 100 to 150 times a day for the past nine months. In total, this conflict has killed around 5,800 people since March, including 830 women and children, according to the UN. Not only is Yemen completely underfunded in terms of aid organizations being able to provide support to civilians, but the lack of media coverage on this war has failed to put a face to those suffering in this conflict.

The many states actively playing a role in this civil war have only perpetuated the situation, leaving unprotected civilians at the forefront of the destruction. If human rights violations and war crimes are not enough to bring this situation to the attention of the global community, then U.S. involvement in this war should also be noted. Although the United States does not have ground troops in Yemen, they have provided the Saudi led coalition with funding, weapons, and intelligence. A report done by the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy reported that the U.S. has $49 billion worth of new agreements of arms sales with Saudi Arabia, this along with $60 billion in weapons and intelligence last year. Second to Saudi Arabia in amount of weapons received by the U.S, is the United Arab Emirates, which received 1,600 guided bomb units that were explicitly used in Yemen. Although the National Security Council has called for the defense of the Saudi Arabian border and the Department of State has shared concern of aggressive actions by the Houthis, the helicopters, combat aircrafts, and missiles supplied by the U.S. to the Saudi led coalition have greatly contributed to the humanitarian catastrophe occurring in Yemen. In response to this, the National Security Council stated that, “the United States has no role in targeting decisions made by the coalition in Yemen.” Such actions have been addressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who accused all parties involved in Yemen, including the U.S, as responsible for the harm civilians in Yemen are facing.

The Obama administration has received backlash from such actions as 13 members of Congress (led by Reps. Dingell, Ellison, and Lieu) sent a letter to President Obama calling on the administration to urge Saudi Arabia to better protect innocent lives. This letter appropriately stated that “when U.S. weapons and intelligence are utilized, the decision to conduct an airstrike should correspond to the standards that would apply to any U.S. military operation.” Regardless, the United States continues to support the actions of the Saudi led coalition in Yemen, when instead the U.S. should be pushing their allies towards peace talks and humanitarian relief efforts. The United States must also be concerned with extremists, such as al-Qaeda, that has already captured much of the southeast province Hadramawt, and now a have a strong hold in Yemen due to the instability in the state and lack of military focus on eliminating the terrorist group by the Saudi led coalition.

This conflict in Yemen has only been getting worse, and looking forward will drive Yemen further into state failure if a ceasefire and resolution are not met. Currently, Yemen is attempting a second round of peace talks taking place in Switzerland, as their first national dialogue failed in 2014. Such peace talks only consist of Yemeni nationals, the Hadi government, the Houthi rebels, and the general People’s Congress, with no foreign states involved. This is a major step in the right direction as a political solution that addresses reunifying the country and preventing further casualties is the only way to end the crisis. For the success of the peace talks, and ultimately relief to the Yemeni people, a ceasefire must be initiated and followed by the Saudi led coalition, something the U.S. should push their allies to do. If and when a political solution happens, what is equally if not more important is a plan for the day after. A “day after” plan must ensure the agreements of such peace talks are met and humanitarian and infrastructure assistance is provided. This plan must build up the civil society, as a stronger and unified Yemeni military and local police force is necessary to eliminate extremist in the region. As the country becomes safer from lack of constant airstrikes, aid organizations and the Yemeni government will have to work endlessly to rebuild demolished infrastructure such as homes, schools, and water and sanitation systems. A political solution and the plans following will not be easy, much closer to impossible if anything, but the well being and safety of the Yemeni people, along with global security, desperately depend on a ceasefire and unified government in Yemen.


President Obama with Modi
Photo: Fox News

By Harry C. Blaney III

A lot of credit must go to President Hollande, his team, President Obama, and Secretary Kerry as they all worked beyond human energy levels for a positive outcome at the COP21 conference especially at the ninth hour and beyond on Saturday night December 12th. Also, some great credit must go to the political and diplomatic leaders that led the way and overcame major obstacles. Having attended a number of major conferences throughout my career, getting consensus or at least lack of opposition is a hard lift, and in too many cases an impossible task. I have long argued that one of the great historical moments in human history would be the decision by the global community to decide to act effectively to address the looming, if not already present disaster that is climate change or global warming. It is an existential challenge, not just to the nations states but for the peoples of the entire planet.

A reminder, it is not just this accord in itself that is key, but rather, the will to actually work towards its goals that are important. That will still take political will and the strong backing and daily support of citizens around the world along with strong and determined leaders who will stand by their work and their successors.

Here are comments, analysis, and questions on some of the key points of the agreement:


We need to be frank on this difference. The developing countries wanted to get some commitment to the 1.5 C target and they got that but it will be difficult if not impossible to achieve even the 2.0 C goal. But better to put this on the table for future debate as this compromise helped to get some of the developing countries on board for the entire Paris package. A number of NGOs also thought this was necessary as many scientist believe that even at 2.00 C could bring about catastrophic impacts, especially on the poorer and vulnerable nations like the Island countries.


Here there again were trade-offs. There was acknowledgment on the part of the economically advanced nations that they had an obligation to support those with few resources to deal with and address local climate change making assistance much needed. But there were few hard commitments towards specific amounts. America pledged $800 million but it will be up to Congress to appropriate the money, or it will come out of other development aid accounts. Already Republican leaders in Congress have said the money will not be voted on.


This is a tricky issue and one with much uncertainty. There are groups, many in the private sector, that are auguring for a “technological fix” or in other terms a “geo-engendering” of our planet on a mass scale. This, in effect, would employ new means to “capture” greenhouse gasses by storing them underground. Other technologies would include taking CO2 out of the air.

None of this has yet to be demonstrated as economically proven or on a mass scale feasible. The consensus was to informally embrace this concept especially since much of the funding for this approach will likely come from very rich persons who strongly believe that this is a key path to address warming since traditional approaches are not likely to work.

But others argue that messing with nature could have unforseen consequences. Final judgement: This approach is on the policy table but no new technology has proven to be a “quick fix” anytime soon. Finally, many experts believe that stopping deforestation, planting new trees, protecting the oceans, and letting photosynthesis do its job is a better, perhaps cheaper option, with many side benefits and within the capability of poorer large forested nations. The question is the money and the commitment on all sides there to make greening of the globe work.


The key answer is that the Paris accords taken together are a major advancement towards fully addressing climate change on the part of the entire globe –developed and developing nations – which in my view, is the absolute “sine que non” for a real chance to mitigate the catastrophic consequences within the lifetime of most on this planet. It is the necessary condition for a political and economic consensus going forward to build upon if future leaders recognize the dire alternative and are willing to pay the price for saving this planet.


As noted above, the masterful diplomacy of president Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry in getting the truly key developing nations on board, namely India, China, and others, moved the conference away from confrontation, which was never absent from the meeting. This was a key element in getting the final almost complete consensus and ,even more important, a sense of momentum and a framework for future progress. The introduction of a 5 year review progress was also a necessary element to give some hope of holding nations pledges to the fire, getting them to think of ways to improve their own pledges, and provide needed greater transparency to the agreement. The benefit will be future actions that will undoubtedly be required as we learn more of the science and have better tools to make improvements.


Yes this was a historic achievement but the success, as always, rests in the hands of, we hope, wise leaders and wise and empowered global citizens. We need better and more resourced international institutions to help shape our global response to the high risks and challenges to our globe, and the key test of this new international capability will be climate change, and the other will be new efforts at dealing with nuclear-proliferation.

Within America we need to better educate our citizens, of which nearly a third are skeptical of climate change due to the power of true crazies, including Republicans running for president, those with massive amounts of money, from the coal and oil industries, and right-wing think tanks, along with the lack of our mass media to say the truth in front of those that argue nonsense about science like the current Chairman of the Senate environmental and Public Works Senate committee James M. Inhofe. He said that the Paris talks were “full of hot air.” The danger to our nation and world are people like Inhofe and the people behind him, as they undermine American values, and our real security and global leadership by their insanity, ignorance and greed. 

We will need better leaders if our real national and global security is to be safeguarded and enhanced.  We will examine in the future how the Paris agreements are implemented.

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Photo: VOA News


Harry C. Blaney III

The final decision still awaits in the Paris Climate change outcome. The now revised shorter text of the agreement is being negotiated on Friday and Saturday and perhaps beyond. Still we see mutual recriminations both at home and globally from all sides. Having started down the road for agreement it seems that most key powers recognize the problem and are working to put together a final document that will hopefully move us all forward towards a cleaner safer and livable world. But problems abound.

The initial release of the draft COP21 climate agreement text was criticized by environmental groups as not going far enough, especially on the side of shutting down carbon based energy sources by 2050 and not providing enough funding to do all that needs to be done. A new shorter draft text has been issued which many think still leaves key issues unresolved.

There has appeared to be many objections by a wide range of nations to the draft text. India and Malaysia want a stronger text including more resources from the richer nations. Advanced richer nations want the text to apply to everyone as the best way to deal with the climate crisis.

As we have noted, the stumbling blocks towards the last days of the conference are appearing. China especially, has a wide range of objections to the existing text including not wanting to accept a “review every five years of the pledges of action to reduce carbon emissions and to reassess the target of no more than a 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperatures.” The Chinese representative said Beijing would not be able to change its climate plans for at least another 25 years.

Many other countries have agreed, including developed and developing to reviewing the targets. The Chinese representative was against trying to look at a possible goal of a rise of just 1.5C and said it was not something that is realistic. China opposed the measure in the agreement to broaden the base of nations delivering money to help poorer countries fight climate change. The 1.5C was also opposed by Saudi Arabia in another spanner in the negotiations.

On the other side Island nations and others said without the 1.5C limit they will cease to exist. This hoped for goal is supported by a wide groups of developing nations and Europeans to deal with the climate crisis. The real problem is that even with the pledges on the table now it will be hard to meet the goal of keeping temperatures well below even the 2 degree C target. The bottom line seems that more, much more will be needed now or in the near future if the science is right on emissions and means to limit them.

This new test was issued after intense overnight negotiations Wednesday, and the Conference is going into at least Saturday or Sunday. It would be a wonder if even that extension would be met unless major compromises were found. Island nations were especially asking for yet stronger language. The reality is likely that any agreement will likely have some changes but not meet fully what any side desires. The question is does the “imperfect” defeat any agreement that will move towards the needed solutions?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an $800 million climate pledge by 2020 from the U.S. at the UN climate change conference in Paris on Wednesday. He criticized deniers of global warming, saying: “Make no mistake: If, as a global community, we refuse to rise to this challenge—if we continue to allow calculated obstruction to derail the urgency of this moment—we will be liable for a collective moral failure of historic consequence.” He said also that deniers are “so out of touch with science that they believe rising sea levels don’t matter, because in their view, the extra water will just spill over the sides of a flat Earth.” (See speech here) Kerry came back to the conference to try to bring the sides together

On the other side, the climate deniers, coal, oil and other polluters and Republican supporters of the deniers and industry, already say it goes too far. Environmental groups in Paris believe it is too weak and they have a real case to be made, but these global negotiations are places of hard realities and the real question is are we truly moving forward? No document of this comprehensive and negotiated type, with 195 participant countries, will ever please all sides.

This new draft of 29 pages is down from 49, in which the key top members from the main nations will argue and work out a new, hopefully consensus, draft in the next few days, (or not), that will again not satisfy everyone likely. There are, according to reports, some 100 items where decisions have not been made due to conflicts over objectives or methods. Officials say the key issue is still how to define the obligations of nations developed or developing in addressing climate change.

The conference will in the future either be seen as a major negative catastrophic event for the globe or the starting point for some real progress. It is this text and the commitments that will follow that will prove if the international community – all sides – are in this together and all share a responsibility or we abandon our earth and the avoiding of mass disasters that we can in fact mitigate.

An assessment of the results and future paths and options will be posted after the results are known!


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Paris climate change conference
Photo: USAToday

All local leaders, investors, economic and social actors, citizens, must understand that the things have changed.” –Hollande

“We are the first generation to feel climate change and the last that can do something about it.” –President Obama


Harry C. Blaney III

With the opening in Paris of the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the ecological stakes are the highest, not just for dealing with the serious catastrophic impact of climate change, but also the ability of the international community to deal with high existential risks for the entire planet.  As President Obama has noted, this generation is the last that can possibly make a difference. But frankly, if participating parties do not all contribute to mitigating the danger, and let bitterness and self-interest overcome the common peril, then we are doomed.

As a person who has held positions in government that dealt with global environmental issues, and wrote about climate change four decades ago as part of what I characterized then as a “world at risk,” we are still sadly debating the reality of this at home, and even abroad. There are strong moneyed groups that are not just “climate deniers” but actively working to destroy any effort to acknowledge the problem and above all do anything about it.

The hopes are that somehow an agreement can be reach and likely some document will emerge but will it be enough to really have people and nations and institutions and the world’s power brokers on board? That last question in not likely to be answered for another decade. But you will know when each country adds or does not add to the resources necessary to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gasses and adds to the technology that can replace fossil fuel, and our oceans and forests are protected and made whole.

To simplify, somewhat, a very complicated problem, can’t be solved by just one action like a carbon tax, or one country like China or America taking initiative. The path towards addressing climate change is doing globally a million things, doing them well, and doing them as quickly as possible.

The reason to care is very simple; we are at the 11th hour of acting and beyond that is total disaster from the analysis of the best minds in this field on the globe. Yet if one had to bet, it is now sadly possible that the Paris negotiations will fail as we see initially a repeat of some of the vindictive and inaction that took place in the last meeting in Copenhagen. People came to avoid action and accuse others, and did nothing themselves.  But from the  speeches and some  early indication progress and perhaps compromise, may yet emerge. The earth has already paid a price in floods, droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, starvation, spread of disease, loss of forests, and habitat for the earth’s diverse species on land and in the ocean.

Yet, our global political and institutional system was not, and may not be up to the task of acting together and with the necessary political and economic commitment to get the job done.  I’d first blame weak leaders and the corrosive and myopic politics back home, not only in America but in many other countries as well. But equally, one could attribute the blame then and now to the powerful forces of the “polluters,” corrupt politicians, and countries and companies that profit from dirty energy, the destruction of forests, and the plundering of the ocean’s resources.

Real progress will not be made unless we recognize and act in light of today’s realities of what is possible and what can be achieved via some compromise.

The second factor that needs to be highlighted is recognizing the absolute actions that are necessary to get the world community on a clear path towards sustainability, and “institutionalizing” the process of stewardship of the earth beyond words and pieces of paper.

Here are some key points the reader can look for that may indicate we have returned to some rationality:

– The first is to recognize what ,in reality, a country or a political leader can or cannot do and work to maximize what is possible. For example, President Obama will never get the Senate to ratify a binding Climate Change treaty. But what he can do, and is doing is by executive authority and regulatory power, and diplomacy is achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gasses. So some countries are trying to find a modality that will permit less than “legal” commitments to achieve the necessary reductions.

– The second reality is the need to go beyond the old destructive North-South divide and the useless blame game that some developing nations are playing to push the whole effort of solving climate change upon the “rich countries,” and absolving themselves thereby of doing nothing but asking for amounts of money they are not likely to get.  And on the other hand, the need for the “rich” countries to recognize that real major support for the transition to a clean energy economy in the developing world will not take place without some external significant investment, probably from public and private sources, the EU, World Bank, and IMF. Sadly, it is unlikely that the Republican dominated climate denial Congress will add much to this effort and “other ways” will need to be found to contribute to a “global solution.” If both sides accept they ALL must make a concrete effort instead of throwing bricks at each other, and recognize that the developing world is most vulnerable, will we make real progress.

– The third outcome that one needs to look at is the acceptance of the need to reform or create new capabilities and responsibilities and resources on a broad international institutional scale that empowers old or new institutions to undertake major global commons repair and renewal. The creation of the most transparent and reliable organization to hold countries and institutions accountable for their actions or in-actions on a frequent basis, staffed by the most prestigious scientists, economists, and other experts, led by the highest profile hard headed global leader available, is also necessary.

There are clearly a thousand things that need to be done, like bring forth new clean technologies, restore denuded forests, invest in closing down dirty energy sources as quickly as possible, make cars and planes more efficient and less polluting, put in place more quickly and efficient machinery and conserving resources, making houses,  buildings, and factories more conserving of energy, etc. Great strives have been made by London School of Economics scholars among others, in indicating that such efforts can be economic, grow our economies, and even save in the long run our earth and make our societies more sustainable.

In the coming days, the indicator of success and failure or in between, will emerge but in Pogo’s words “it is us” that must take responsibility  if we are to save our next generation, and those that follow. Diplomacy and leadership is now key. Keep watch.

Please click on the title of this post where we welcome your comments!


Donald Trump
Photo: Associated Press

Harry C. Blaney III

The sad and tragic attacks in Paris have resulted in many disparate reactions on both sides of the Atlantic. It provided excuses for the far right to push their racism and ideology and hatred of “the other.” And on the liberal progressive side, while generally supporting action against ISIS, we see increased sense of sharing a common tragedy, trying to learn how these events may be a way to come together, and the need for healing against the conservative push to blame generally immigrants or refugees for these acts.

It has become the norm for conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic to advance far right ideological and often racist agendas.  There has been a significant reaction towards the more destructive, dismaying, and bias self-serving side. The Republican presidential candidates seem to want to use the attack in Paris to show an even more extreme and crazy adherence to the worst elements of  their stance of existing racism and xenophobic prejudices. Unbelievably, Donald Trump said he would be open to the idea that Muslims should carry a special ID and could be placed under surveillance “to learn about the enemy.” He added that mosques should be shut down, they represent “hotbeds” for terrorists.

Paris was an excuse for many Republicans to attack immigrants and refugees. Another prime example was the House of Representatives passing overwhelmingly with some Democrats, a law that aims to almost completely restricts Syrian refugees from entry into the U.S.  President Obama has already said it would be vetoed. Some states have also said they would not take Syrian refugees.

In Britain and continental Europe there has also been acts by many right wing parties and fascists groups to use the Paris attacks for their own, long held, ideological and racist goals. These include calling for restrictions on already settled migrants and Muslims, calling for identity papers to indicate if a person was is Muslim, and an imposition of new barriers to immigrants especially from the Middle East and Africa. Already some states have closed, almost completely, their borders to refugees, with some EU nations saying they would only take Christians. And these are only some of the proposal to marganialize immigrants and even settled residents.

There are moves by far right parties to pass laws that could increase loss of civil rights for certain groups. France has already passed a three months state of emergency act which restrict rights of citizens and France has also put up new barriers at their borders. Some of this is understandable given the extent of the killing, but it is also a way to institutionalize some discriminatory practices.

If these are the kind of prejudice filled restrictions and possible police widespread clampdowns that apply to Muslim citizens and new refugees, the result will only be more harsh marginalization of these groups and more resentment and sense of helplessness and anger.

In this case the terrorists will have won with their vicious acts in Paris. This will be a loss to terrorism, and a massive increase in military and police forces, which will cost the nations billions of Euros. They will have also won with their argument that Christians hate Muslims and will never permit them true integration in their nations.  

Further on the positive side, in the UK the initial reaction was to stand in unity with the French in their moment of tragedy. Here in Britain, there were many events of people gathering with flowers and candles, there was  a “friendly” European football match in Paris, between England and France, where both sides sang the French national anthem.

The media in Europe is divided on how to deal with these attacks and how to approach the serious problem of a large influx of especially Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan citizens, as well as North African immigrants and refugees. Here in London some conservative papers, which make up a vast majority of journals, have pandered towards the worst prejudices. And they also have argued for major police clamp down, increase of funding for police, and for a mostly military approach and solution to the Paris attack without much analysis of cost, means, or consequences. Also left parties have been attacked by these conservative news media for their lack of support of strong major military actions and questioned for their defense of the nation.

To be honest, the same seems to be true with American media. The Wall Street Journal in their 11/18  editorial “A Syrian Refugee Lesson for Liberals” and their publication of a  quote by the British right wing scholar and super hawk Niall Ferguson, seem together to think that all the problems of the Middle East, including ISIS and the refugee crisis, is due to President Obama, and liberals. Their aim seems to entice America to send massive armed combat forces into Syria and Iraq and accusing the West, especially President Obama, of “weakness.” They have learned nothing by Iraq, and again their only real answer is sending in more American solders to fight on a murky and unintelligible landscape with no idea of how to shape the end outcome and create sustaining peace in the region.

It is critical to winning the struggle against terrorism that the “better angels of our nature” are at work as an important and constructive element. We need a common sense of sympathy and shared compassion in the face of brutality. There have been in Europe, groups and individuals of Muslims and other religious traditions who have stated jointly their unity in both denouncing and opposing terrorism. Nations need to not permit discrimination or reprisals against the vast majority of moderate Muslims, to win against terrorism.

At this writing it is unclear whether the “better angels” or the bigots and war hawks will win in either Europe or in America — sadly.

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paris attacks memorial
Photo: CNN


Harry C. Blaney III

Almost everyone seems to agree that the attacks in Paris are a global wake-up call.  ISIS has tried to show that there is almost no limit to its power to do harm. But we need to understand, despite cries from different sides between do nothing to all out war, that other options are available and more realistic. Already, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have recently given more structure and an outline of a reinforced strategy to weaken and defeat ISIS. This was laid out with our allies in Vienna and Turkey as a strategy that prevailing, does not require large numbers of US fighting troops on the ground.

There seems at this moment a bit more unity by key countries to take on the challenge to degrade and defeat ISIS in their own territory after the Paris atrocities. France has already intensified its bombing campaign and Prime Minister David Cameron has signaled his desire to start a UK bombing campaign in Syria that earlier the House of Common rejected.

The most important development as noted was a full court press by Obama and Kerry to once again try to “herd cats” – namely Europe, Turkey, Egypt, the Gulf States including Saudi Arabia, and not least Russia, or at least to be together on the first page if not the entire book. The result was Turkey largely agreeing to close the gaps in its border with Syria, Russia to focus more, it seems, on bombing ISIS rather than its past attacks on moderate forces we have supported, who are against Assad. And now, greater Europe’s acceptance of responsibility for military action, and also humanitarian assistance and peacemaking efforts.

Russia has also acknowledged that its civilian plane over Egypt was destroyed by a terrorist bomb, and Putin has now vows he will destroy ISIS, who he said, was behind this act. But there is yet no consensus between the West and Putin on the ultimate fate of Assad, but for the moment, both sides see ISIS as the first priority.

Diplomacy is, without any doubt, the best tool we have, and as Obama and Kerry have said many times our most important means for defeating ISIS and indeed mitigating the conflicts in the Middle East. It’s work is in a most complex and difficult landscape. Yet is seems as if some progress is being made, despite republican carping, using both diplomacy as the key and a focused military element.

Further, in Europe there is ferocious debate between the forces on the far right, some of whom are urging a purely military solution, and on the left, some who want to do noting or very little at all, and those that do seek serious diplomatic efforts with a military component as needed. Many in the middle here see a reasoned two element approach of diplomacy and military action, especially an intensified bombing campaign after the Paris attacks.

The other key issues dividing citizens and parties in Europe, and are being used as partisan political subjects for narrow gain, namely immigration from conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa, is the treatment and acceptance of the Muslim population already settled in Europe,  and those simply seeking to play upon fear to obtain power.

But there is also a more kinder and thoughtful set of forces from the  Paris attacks — seen is also a a rare sense of unity with France and even in some sectors an acknowledgment that they would be stronger to withstand terrorism through cooperation and mutual help rather than the recent bouts of divisions and anti-EU sentiments and myopic prejudices directed at those from other European nations. There are even some who are pushing back against those showing hate for immigrants.  Whether these “better angles of our spirit” will prevail is still uncertain, but they need as much support from within and outside to come to an end point of common respect with increased sense of commonality and shared goals and values.

More on these forces and events at work in Europe in future blog posts from London.

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Photo: Carnegie Endowment For International Peace

by Harry C.  Blaney III

The Secretary of State recently made one of the most important speeches thus far on the challenges of the conflicts in the Middle East with a strong defense of our polices. His speech also included a summary and insight to the changes that are being made in the United States’ stance in these fast evolving conflicts in the region, and what key role diplomacy, as well as military, can play to achieve those goals. This speech was a plea for support from our allies and our not so allies, and it laid out, as few statements have so far, the U.S. strategy for dealing with the Islamic State, or ISIS, and called for the critical cooperation between the Shia and Sunni peoples, and also nations in ridding the region of the brutalities of ISIS. He reaffirmed that the defeat of ISIS was a key objective but also the importance of making Assad stand aside if peace is to be achieved.

Secretary Kerry’s Remarks 

Thank you very much. Thank you all very, very much. Bill, thanks so much for welcoming me to your new home, but thank you for remarkably generous comments. I’m very, really touched to hear them from somebody of Bill’s caliber, because as all of you know, he really was the State Department’s premier career diplomat par excellence to everybody’s standard. And now that you’ve been away almost a year, Bill, I know you’re missing all the travel, the early morning meetings, the late night calls, and you’re just dying to return, right? (Laughter.) But all kidding aside, ladies and gentlemen, the door to the State Department for Bill Burns is always open. And from President Obama through the entire security team to me to every former secretary of state, there’s no better diplomat and there’s nobody you could be better led by here at the Carnegie Foundation for Peace than by Bill Burns. So Bill – please join me, everybody, in saying thank you for a remarkable career to this man – a remarkable career. (Applause.)

Now, if I behave myself, which is never for certain, I’m going to try and restrain my voice, not be as passionate as I want to be about every word that I’m uttering today, but I’m trying to save a little case of laryngitis and make sure that I don’t exacerbate it, because I leave tonight for Vienna for two days of important meetings and I want to make sure that I can actually talk during those meetings.

I appreciate the chance to speak today to you, an audience of experts and students who are on their way to being experts, but all of you who spend an awful lot of time thinking about some very serious issues. And the truth is that, for generations, Carnegie has been training the foreign policy leaders of the future and generating at the same time real-time solutions for those of us who are practicing at that time.

It’s an understatement to say today that we’re facing a very different world, a world of remarkable complexity. All of you have probably read Henry Kissinger and Diplomacy or countless other books as I have. And Henry would be the first to tell you – I had the privilege of having lunch with him in New York during the United Nations meetings – that he never had it coming at him with the numbers of different places and crises and in a world that is as multipolar as now. I mean, a bipolar Cold War with the former Soviet Union, the United States and West was pretty clear about what the choices were in many ways. It didn’t mean they weren’t tense and they weren’t difficult and that there weren’t some proxy wars, as we saw in Vietnam and elsewhere, but it truly was not seeing what we see today, which is a world of violence where it’s not state on state, with a few exceptions. It’s non-state actors who are confounding states and the global order, and that presents a very different challenge.

So I can tell you that despite the complexity, and I am certain of this, the United States of America is more deeply engaged today in more places on more important issues with impact than at any time before in our history. And I could document – I’m not going to run around the whole world, but I mean, I could start with TPP and I could go to North Korea and I could start talking about South China Sea, and then I could roll into Afghanistan and Pakistan and India and roll around the world. I’m not going to do that. I want to focus on one particular – and particularly important – area of the globe today, and that’s the Middle East. And I’m not even going to go into all of the aspects of it.

But 20 years ago next week, after attending a peace rally, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by an extremist who claimed to be doing God’s will.

At the funeral, King Hussein of Jordan, Rabin’s one-time enemy turned partner in peace, declared, I quote: “Let us not keep silent. Let our voices rise high enough to speak of our commitment to peace for all times. And let us tell those who live in darkness, who are the enemies of life and true faith, this is where we stand. This is our camp.”

At the same ceremony, Rabin’s granddaughter Noa, a teenager, said that, quote, “Others greater than I have already eulogized you. But they never had the pleasure to feel the caresses of your warm, soft hands, to merit your warm embrace, to see your half smile that always told me so much, that same smile which is no longer frozen in the grave with you.”

Now, these quotations remind us that beyond all the cold statistics, beyond the headlines of the daily newspapers, beyond the clapping talking heads on one show or another and eternally perpetual talk show circuits, the impact of violence in the Middle East, there is humanity. There is a humanity of people just like us who yearn simply to help one another and to share affection from one generation to the next. And beyond all the complexities in the region, there is also something fairly basic going on – a struggle between people who are intent on opening wounds, or leaving them open, and those who want to close them and who want to heal and build a future.

It is this struggle between destroyers and builders that informs every aspect of American policy in the Middle East. Now, this is the glue that holds the components of our strategy together – and we do have a strategy – whether we’re backing an electoral process in Tunisia, mobilizing a coalition against terrorists, trying to halt the sudden outbreak of violence as I was last weekend with respect to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, or striving to put in place new foundations for prosperity and stability. Our goal is to help ensure that builders and healers throughout the region have the chance that they need to accomplish their tasks.

Now, I’ve heard some Americans wonder aloud, “Why should we care about the Middle East? After all, we’re on the verge of energy independence, so why don’t we just walk away?”

And the answer is that it would be directly and profoundly contrary to our nation’s interests to try and do that. We have to remember that the Middle East is home to some of America’s oldest friends, including our ally Israel, but also our many Arab partners in this now more complicated world. We also learned from 9/11 that regional threats become global very quickly. And we have seen that ideas transmitted by terrorists in Raqqa and Mosul can reach impressionable minds in Minneapolis and Mississippi. We are aware as well that events in the Middle East can affect perceptions on every single continent because people on every continent are influenced by the spiritual and ethical traditions that have their roots in those ancient lands.

I hear about this everywhere I go. People are amazed. It’s good to see the former prime minister here. I am amazed – he knows what I’m talking about. All over the world – foreign ministers, prime ministers, finance ministers, presidents say to me when I visit, no matter where I am, “You’ve got to do something about the Middle East. You have to change this because it affects us.”

Now, it is true, of course, that we rely less on Middle East oil than we used to, but it’s also true that the energy market is global. And any serious disruption of Gulf oil supplies could quickly harm our financial systems, lower exports, cost millions of jobs. That’s an interest.

So the Middle East matters, and it matters way beyond oil, my friends. It matters a lot in the context of this world where we are trying to bring people together to seize a future. That’s why it is so appropriate that Carnegie is launching this ambitious project this week called Arab World Horizons to examine trends that will shape the Middle East for decades to come. And I encourage you to begin this project with a healthy degree of optimism. And before you conclude that I’ve had too much caffeine – (laughter) – let me emphasize I mean what I just said, I mean it.

A couple of years ago, we asked the McKinsey Company to study the economic prospects of Jordan, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and the West Bank. And a good starting place for all of you is to go back to the Arab report – study report on economic growth of a number of years which was stark in its appraisal of what had not happened that should have happened in many of the Arab countries in the region. But interestingly, my good friend, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed, recently also commissioned a separate study which similarly showed what we looked at through McKinsey Company where we looked at every sector from farming to tourism.

My friends, the potential for growth is simply extraordinary. The potential of this region to be a driving financial center, harnessing the incredible technology and capacity of peoples in many of the countries is simply extraordinary. Just imagine a future where people from the Nile to the Jordan to the Euphrates are free to live and work and travel as they choose; where every boy and girl has access to a quality education; where visitors are able to flock without fear to the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I mean, think of that – the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I’ve driven by them. I haven’t even had time to stop at some of them. The place where John the Baptist christened so many people including Jesus, the temple near it, a Muslim mosque, which is one of the oldest in the region and most important, the extraordinary history of the generations of struggle that have taken place in the Middle East. There is something there for everybody – even a atheist who is a budding architect would have trouble not having an interesting time. And where you have – neighboring countries are actually eager to trade. I hear this from the ministers in each of the surrounding countries – how much they wish things could just change so they could begin to engage in the normal commerce of the region and ready to cooperate on projects that actually link their economies together.

Now, sadly, we have become so accustomed to dwelling on the problems of the Middle East that we sometimes forget that, staring us in the face, are some incredible opportunities – and we all ought to be doing more to focus on those opportunities, because the people in all the countries are beginning to simply lose belief in any of their leaders. Palestinians don’t have belief, Israelis don’t have belief, and people in the surrounding Arab countries don’t have belief. And what it takes is real leadership and real decisions and real events on the ground to begin to change those hopes.

So we ought to be doing more, all of us – and here I specifically include governments in the region – need to take advantage of these huge opportunities that exist today.

Now, let’s be honest with each other. Apart from petroleum, Middle Eastern countries right now simply don’t produce enough of what the rest of the world wants; they don’t trade efficiently even among themselves; and they aren’t making wise use of their human capital. Only about one woman in four participates in the economy and youth unemployment is at 25 percent or higher. This leaves millions of unhappy young people who – because of the pervasiveness of social media – are completely aware of what everybody else in the world has and they don’t. Everybody’s connected 24/7. You can be impoverished and they still have a smartphone and they can still Google and they can still Facebook and they can still figure out what the other person has, and they can talk to those people and they do in very simple, declarative sentences.

So what happens to all that energy and ambition?

In the United States, the average age is 35. In the Middle East and North Africa, it’s under 25. And many of those countries have populations where it’s 60, 65 percent under the age of 30, 35. So the region’s future really depends on the choices that these young men and women are going to get to make. But who are they going to listen to? You need to talk about that as you have this conference. What ideas will command their loyalty? What might excite their imagination? Individually, each one of these young people is a story that will end either in frustration or in opportunity. And collectively, they present a profound challenge, because the outcome of that race between frustration and opportunity will do everything to define tomorrow’s Middle East.

So to be clear, there’s no single way, there’s no just one way to win this race.

Governments in the region have to look both inward at their own policies and they have to look outward in order to compete in the global economy. And boy, do they have to start making a lot tougher decisions than they seem to have been willing to make. You can’t fake it. You just can’t drift along and pretend somehow it’s going to resolve itself.

Business people have to help bridge the gap between what graduates actually know when they leave school and the skills that they need to have in order to get a good job. And by the way, that’s the same right here in the United States of America and every other modern country today.

Women and girls have to be given an equal chance to compete in the classroom and in the workplace.

And civil society has to have the right to voice new ideas, advocate for reform, and hold leaders accountable.

Now, the United States believes deeply in the future of the region. That’s why we remain so engaged. And that is why we have invested in a variety of worthwhile programs, everything from the rule of law initiatives in Jordan to public-private partnerships in the Palestinian Authority, which Salam Fayyad worked so hard, and I had the pleasure of working with him, to try to implement. But we also know that the pace of progress will depend, in part, on improved security – and that is a major goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East. And we don’t just mean security for one country or another. Israelis have to be secure; Palestinians have to be secure; the people in Gaza have to be secure; everybody has to be secure. And it’s our common enterprise now to fight for that security.

So here I go back to the struggle that I mentioned earlier about the destroyers and the builders. If the builders are going to succeed, they’re going to have to be protected from the dangers that are posed by terrorists, by strife, by violence, by weapons of mass destruction; and America’s security strategy in the Middle East is precisely designed to try to aid in each of these areas.

That’s why President Obama placed such importance on achieving a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear program. As all of you know, this man over here, Bill Burns, played a critical role in helping to get those talks with Iran off the ground and in helping to forge the interim plan that set the stage for the final agreement that we’ve reached, and that is an agreement that is imposing dramatic constraints on all aspects of Iran’s nuclear activities.

Ten days ago, the deal became official and the implementation began. And that implementation will require the mothballing of two-thirds of Iran’s centrifuges, the shipment abroad of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, the destruction of the core of its heavy water nuclear plutonium reactor.

The whole process will be monitored by the IAEA and no sanctions will be lifted until that Agency verifies that Iran has done exactly what it promised to do. Now this gives Iran every incentive to live up to its commitments, just as it did, by the way, during the 18 months leading up to the final agreement. People don’t realize this, that almost – I think more than two years now – just about two years exactly of Iran’s compliance with the interim agreement has now taken place. And you haven’t heard of major breaches or anything because it’s been adhered to.

So I hope now that everyone who was for the agreement and everyone who was against it will come together to support its full and verifiable implementation. That’s the goal. And I promise you, I am absolutely convinced that the United States will be safer, our allies will be safer, and the world will be safer if Iran doesn’t have and isn’t anywhere close to getting a nuclear weapon. And we believe, as our Energy Department, our intelligence community, and our military know, that because of the verification measures and transparency of this agreement, we will know whether or not they are.

Now, as you recall, when negotiations were going on, there was speculation about what an agreement might mean for relations between Washington and Tehran. Was it possible that a breakthrough on the nuclear issue would be able to open the door to broader cooperation? Some welcomed that prospect and some, to be truthful, were alarmed by that prospect.

So I want to be clear that we meant exactly what we said: the Iran deal was considered on its own terms. Not, “What is it going to do here?” It was just nuclear – nuclear terms. It was the right thing to do whether or not it leads to other areas of cooperation. Now, we’re not making any assumptions about Iran’s future policies because we base our approach on observable facts. And what we see, obviously, is that Iran continues to engage in playing to sectarian divisions in the region and it continues to detain several American citizens, in our estimation, without justification. And Tehran’s policies are one reason that we are working so closely and so supportively with our partners in the region including the Gulf states and Israel.

In fact, we have established an unprecedented level of cooperation with Israel on military and intelligence issues; and we are coordinating in enforcing sanctions and in trying to stop terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah from getting the financing and the weapons that they seek.

We also support Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens, and we do that in many ways. We also support all of the GCC countries in the work we did at Camp David and in Doha and that we will continue to do, and that I even reaffirmed when I was out in the region just a couple of days ago. Within the past week, I have met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas, with King Abdullah, with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, others. And we all agreed on the importance of ending the violence in Israel, Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, and of and making it clear that the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif will not be changed.

Now, I want to be clear that the kind of violence that we have been seeing in recent weeks hurts everyone: the innocent victims and their families; the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel; the Palestinians who yearn to have their aspirations realized – hurts everyone. And this is yet another indication of the folly of believing that efforts at permanent peace and reconciliation are somehow not worth pursuing. I can’t imagine the notion of just throwing up your hands and walking away and saying good luck. The current situation is simply not sustainable. President Obama has said that publicly many times. I’ve said it publicly.

And it is absolutely vital for Israel to take steps that empower Palestinian leaders to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life for their people on a day-to-day basis. And it is equally important – equally important – for Palestinian leaders to cease the incitement of violence and to offer something more than rhetoric; instead, propose solutions that will contribute in a real way to the improvement of life, to the reduction of violence, and to the safety and security of Israel’s – of Israelis. Firm and creative leadership on both sides is absolutely essential. A two-state solution with strong security protections remains the only viable alternative. And for anybody who thinks otherwise, you can measure what unitary looks like by just looking at what’s been going on in the last weeks. The United States absolutely remains prepared to do what we can to make that two-state – two peoples living side by side in peace and security – to make it possible.

Now, another core element of our security strategy in the Middle East is centered on the coalition that we have mobilized to counter and defeat the group known as ISIL, or Daesh. The list of crimes for which Daesh is responsible is truly mind-boggling. It’s as disturbing as anything that I have ever contemplated in my life. Daesh are smugglers, they’re kidnappers. They butcher teachers and burn books, destroy history. They execute journalists for doing their jobs, trying to report on the truth. They execute people just for their religious beliefs. They execute them for who they are by birth – nothing said, nothing done – just because they’re different. In Iraq, Daesh has been auctioning off women and girls, teaching – teaching people that the rape of underage non-Muslim females is a form of prayer.

According to Daesh’s online propaganda, their militants supposedly live in virtual paradise, but we’re beginning to see how different the reality really is. There are multiple reports of Daesh executing fighters who signed up and then had second thoughts and were trying to get out. Consider the case of a teenage boy who had been recruited in Syria and sent to Iraq. One morning, he approached a Shiite mosque in Baghdad; he unbuttoned his jacket, opened it up, told the guards, “I’m wearing a suicide vest, but I don’t want to blow myself up.” And the boy said later that he had volunteered to wear the vest because it was the only way that he could think of to escape. He had joined Daesh to serve his religion and fight Assad. But when he witnessed the execution of a young person very much like himself, he decided to reverse course and get out.

This past summer, the terrorists picked up sledge hammers and smashed half a dozen statues in the ancient city of Palmyra. They destroyed the Roman arch, as you know. They blew up historic tombs and destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple. Then they seized the city’s director of antiquities, the man who was trying to protect history, and they made him kneel in a public square, and they cut off his head. The man was 83 years old and spent a lifetime saving history. He’d been in charge of preserving Palmyra’s cultural heritage for more than 50 years.

My friends, between this Saturday night and Sunday morning, we’re all going to be turning our clocks back one hour. Daesh and groups like it want to turn the clock of civilization back a millennium or more. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

And that is why President Obama is ratcheting up what we are doing. Under President Obama’s leadership, we have led a 65-member coalition to take on Daesh. For more than a year, we’ve been doing that. And we have saved communities – Kobani and (inaudible) and Tikrit – Tikrit has seen 100,000 Sunni be able to return to their homes. And we’ve said from the beginning that this would be a multiyear effort, but I think we’ve already accomplished a lot. We’ve launched more than 7,300 airstrikes. We’ve forced Daesh to change how it conducts military operations. We’ve impeded its command and control. From the critical border town of Kobani all the way to Tikrit, we have liberated communities and made a difference in the nature of this battlefield.

I spoke earlier about the impact of our policies on ordinary lives. Last week – just to underscore to you the degree to which we are ready to take this fight, and the degree to which we are raising our capacity – a U.S. special forces operation carried out a rescue directed against a Daesh prison in northern Iraq. Our troops freed 69 hostages who were about to be executed one by one, with a mass grave that had already been dug.

Now, I have spoken to our people in our embassy. I talked actually with our special envoy, who is in Baghdad even as I speak to you right now. I talked to him last night. He told me he went and visited these people who had been released. He said you could not imagine the emotion – their expression of gratitude to President Obama and to the American people. And they told us of the enormous debt they feel to the family of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler who gave his life in that operation. I think that’s a debt that we all owe, and I will say to you what I have said many, many times throughout my life: that we are deeply privileged to be represented and protected by the quality and caliber of the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States. And we express our gratitude to them.

Meanwhile, the – (applause). Meanwhile, I want you to know that the combination of coalition airpower and the Iraqi ground forces is being felt. We’re supplying Iraq with armored bulldozers and mine-clearing equipment that’s making it much harder for Daesh to resupply its fighters in Ramadi. An Iraqi force just retook the Baiji oil refinery, strategically located on the road that links Baghdad and Mosul. In northern Syria, the coalition and its partners have pushed Daesh out of more than 17,000 square kilometers of territory, and we have secured the Turkish-Syrian border east of the Euphrates River. That’s about 85 percent of the Turkish border, and the President is authorizing further activities to secure the rest.

Now looking ahead, we know that some of our key allies – including the British, the French, and the Turks – are stepping up even more with their help. And President Obama recently gave a green light to send more ammunition and other aid to our allies on the ground. The President has made clear that we are determined to degrade Daesh more rapidly.

Now, I want to underscore as well that military operations are but one of the many components of what the coalition is doing. We’re working hard to counter Daesh’s propaganda and to deter potential foreign fighters from joining it. In partnership with the UAE, we have established a center in Abu Dhabi that is offering positive messages across the region on the internet and all through social media, talking about politics, religion, and the responsibilities of faith. And we’re striving to cut off Daesh’s funding so that it becomes bankrupt politically, just as it is morally.

But ultimately, to defeat Daesh, we have to end the war in Syria. And that is America’s goal. In thinking about how to do this, you have to think about how the conflict began. Early in 2011, toward the start of the Arab spring, a popular uprising challenged the Assad regime, which father and son had ruled for more than four decades – 40 years, folks. Assad sent thugs to beat up the young people who were protesting in the streets and looking for jobs, looking for a future. That’s all they wanted. But the thugs went out and beat them up. And when the parents got angry at the fact that their kids were met with thugs, they went out and they were met with bullets and bombs. That’s how this started.

So having made peaceful change impossible, Assad made war inevitable and he soon turned to Hizballah for help, and Iran, and Russia. And this exacerbated tensions between Sunni and Shia communities, and it paved the way for Daesh to emerge. The result has been four and a half years of nonstop horror. This is a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes in the 21st century. You all know the numbers; we have a fundamental responsibility to try to do something about it. One Syrian in twenty has been killed or wounded. One in five is a refugee. One in two has been displaced. The average life expectancy in Syria has dropped by 20 years.

My friends, the challenge that we face in Syria today is nothing less than to chart a course out of hell. And to do that, we have to employ a two-pronged approach, intensifying our counter-Daesh campaign and, on the other side, our diplomatic efforts to try to bring the conflict to a close. These steps are actually mutually reinforcing. And that is why we are stepping up the fight against Daesh by resupplying the moderate opposition fighters in northern Syria to help them consolidate the gains that they have made across broad swaths of territory and to begin to pressure the chief city of ISIL, which is Al Raqqa. We’re also enhancing our air campaign in order to help drive Daesh, which once dominated the Syria-Turkey border, out of the last 70-mile stretch that it controls. But at the end of the day, nothing would do more to bolster the fight against Daesh than a political transition that sidelines Assad so that we can unite more of the country against extremism.

We have to eliminate the mindset – which was encouraged from the beginning by both Assad and Daesh – that the only choice Syrians have is between the two of them; you either have terrorists or you have Assad. No, no, that’s not the choice. This is the mindset that drives those who fear the terrorists to side with the dictator and those who fear the dictator to side with the terrorists. And this is the mindset that has transformed Syria into a killing field.

We have a different vision. I just returned from meetings in Vienna that included a remarkable session, that broke some new ground, where we had the quartet of Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. And I will head back to Vienna tonight to take the next step in our discussions with representatives from an ever broadening group of nations, including Iran, which will join one of these multilateral gatherings for the first time. And while finding a way forward on Syria will not be easy – it’s not going to be automatic – it is the most promising opportunity for a political opening where recognizing what is happening – that Syria is being destroyed; that Europe is being deeply impacted; that Jordan is being greatly put under enormous pressure, Lebanon, Turkey, the region; and so many millions of Syrians are displaced within Syria itself, most compelling of all, the tragedy that Syrians are living every single day – the best opportunity we have is to try to come to the table and recognize there has to be the political solution that everybody has talked about.

As part of this diplomacy, I’ve had many conversations with my Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. And as everyone here knows, Russian airstrikes in Syria began about four weeks ago. So there’s a fundamental choice here. Is Russia there just to shore up Assad or is Russia there to actually help bring about a solution? We’ll know. We’ll put that to the test. And contrary to the claims of officials in Moscow, it has to be underscored that most of the strikes thus far have been directed not against Daesh, but against the opponents of the Assad regime. So that is not, in our view, the way to try to bring the war to a close. But that will be part of the discussion that we have in the course of our Vienna meetings. The likely results of that strategy, by the way, will be to further radicalize the population, prolong the fighting, and perhaps even strengthen the illusion on Assad’s part that he can just indefinitely maintain his hold on power. And if that’s what he thinks, I got news: there’s no way that a number of the other countries involved in this coalition are going to let up or stop. It won’t happen.

There’s another thing that’s critical, though. Russia, the United States, and others share an amazing amount of common ground on this. We actually all agree that the status quo is untenable. We all agree that we need to find a way to have a political solution. We all agree that a victory by Daesh or any other terrorist group absolutely has to be prevented. We all agree that it’s imperative to save the state of Syria and the institutions on which it is built and preserve a united and secular Syria. We all agree that we have to create the conditions for the return of displaced persons and the refugees. We agree on the right of the Syrian people to choose their leadership through transparent, free, and fair elections with a new constitution and protections for all minorities in the country. We agree on all that. Surely we can find a place where one man does not stand in the way of the possibilities of peace. So we agree that all of these steps can only be achieved – and Syria can only be saved – through a political settlement.

So my message to Foreign Minister Lavrov, to President Putin, to all concerned governments is that we each have a responsibility here to contribute to an early end to this Syrian disaster through a transition already agreed upon in the context of the Geneva communique that will unite the country and enable this beleaguered country to rehabilitate itself, bring back its citizens, and live in peace. That is the purpose of the inclusive diplomatic process that we’re continuing to pursue beginning with this trip back across the Atlantic this evening.

And before closing, I just want to make two additional points quickly.

First, to skeptics who say that democracy can’t make it in the Middle East and North Africa, I reply with one word: Tunisia. (Applause.)

Here, where the Arab Spring was born, we’re not finding a paradise. But we’re finding a place where leaders from opposing factions have been willing to put the interests of their nation above personal ambitions; where civil society played a vital role in spurring political dialogue; where power was transferred peacefully from one leader to the next in accordance with the rule of law; and where diverse perspectives, including both secular and religion, are not being repressed, but they’re actually being encouraged and taken into account. What is happening in Tunisia is important for the people there, obviously, but guess what? It is instructive for the entire region. Tunisia is showing what it means to be builders in the Middle East.

My second point is more of a plea: Please do not accept the view of some that the Middle East must inevitably be divided along sectarian lines, especially between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Nothing fuels the propaganda of Daesh and other terrorist organizations more than this myth. This simplistic and cynical view is not only not true historically, it’s not true today.

After all, the coalition to defeat Daesh includes virtually every Sunni majority nation in the Middle East, and Daesh, as we know, is made up of Sunni. And last June, when Daesh suicide bombers attacked and killed 27 Shiite Muslims while they were praying in Kuwait right at the start of Ramadan – and 27 were killed – what happened? The emir and the speaker of the parliament – both Sunni – immediately rushed to the site of the tragedy. Thirteen hundred people volunteered to give blood on the first day. Sunni religious leaders urged their followers to show solidarity by praying at Shia mosques. The government flew the bodies of the victims to Najaf for burial in accordance with family wishes. And back in Kuwait, 35,000 people of every single tribe came together and attended a funeral for others who were killed. The emir stood up and up and said the mosque will be rebuilt. And a Sunni businessman volunteered to do the job for nothing. Daesh will rise or fall on its ability to drive good people apart, and that is precisely why I say it will fail.

On that horrible evening 20 years ago, when Yitzhak Rabin descended the city hall steps in Tel Aviv and he walked towards his car and towards his killer, there was a sheet of paper in his pocket that would soon be stained with blood. And on the paper were the words to Shir LaShalom, the “Song of Peace” – words that warn of the permanence of death and hence the imperative of replacing hate with something better.

The Middle East today, my friends, is still marred by the sounds and spectacle of violence, but it need not be, because the region is also pulsating with life. It is the home of populations that are energetic, youthful, forward-looking, and far more interested in plugging into the world economy than slugging it out with historic foes. It is in them that we place our faith. It is for them and for their horizons that we dedicate our collective efforts. And it is with them that the United States of America is determined to turn back the destroyers and build a future that is characterized by prosperity, by peace, and by dignity for all people. That is a worthy fight.

Thank you all very, very much.

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the Future of U.S. Policy in the Middle East, October 28, 2015

We welcome your comments on this speech and the strategy outlined.