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Europe Can Still Save Syria

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 19/02/2016 Saad Khan

Syria is a European problem. It was one before the influx of millions of refugees. The carnage meted out by Bashar-al-Assad and his Iranian proxies was a blot on the European conscience. After all, this was a continent that experienced first-hand the horrors of sieges, carpet bombing and mass starvation campaigns. Still, Europe had the luxury to look the other way. The once distant, abominable state-sponsored terrorism has become an existential crisis for the European Union. Britain is already contemplating a departure while others are calling for border controls. Denmark is enacting repressive laws, jettisoning the reputation of being one of the most liberal-humanitarian states in the world. All things considered, Europe can still tackle this challenge and emerge stronger. And it could do it without assistance from the United States.
The Obama administration's self-inflicted impotence on Syria has reached epic proportions. There was never a genuine empathy for the embattled Syrians. The mounting death toll, which is now estimated to be as high as 470,000, was but another ignorable statistic. The intransigence also hindered European plans for a greater role in resolving the Syrian crisis. The Turkish proposal of imposing a no-fly zone and safe havens for displaced persons was a novel idea. Obama ensured the plan bite the dust and didn't offer any alternatives. Russia was only bolstered by the inaction to enforce its own agenda. American appeasement of Iran, which has the lion's share of committing atrocities in Syria, further complicated the situation.
Unlike U.S., Europe doesn't have the luxury to stay indifferent. It's not shielded by two expansive oceans and is facing the dual barrage of refugee influx and Russian provocations. The yet-to-be-implemented ceasefire is destined for failure given the Russian high-handedness and the mounting human toll. Thousands more are pouring into Turkey as Russia bombs hospitals, schools and other civilian targets. Many of them will try to sneak into Europe - with dozens of more drownings expected in the Mediterranean. Europe has to act.
It can do three things to counter the crisis. First, it can work with Turkey and other willing partners to impose a no-fly zone around Aleppo and the areas adjoining the Turkish border. This will help stem the tide of refugees while also allowing for setting up of relief camps inside Syria. It could be done though not on as varied scale as was possible before the Russian intervention. This will essentially call for the presence of some ground troops. The EU can work out the details where it can provide the aerial support while the rest of the tab picked up by Turkey and Persian Gulf states. This can also help in targeting the ISIS holdouts in eastern Syria, which, ironically, have been largely spared by the Russians. The same enclaves can be used to relocate the refugees stranded in different parts of Europe.
Second, the EU needs to curtail its rapprochement with Iran. The state midwifed the rise of ISIS by using pervasive oppression of Sunnis in Iraq and later in Syria. Iran-backed Shiite militias -- and increasingly the Revolutionary Guards -- have unleashed waves upon waves of terror in support of the Assad regime. The same actors are now engulfing Aleppo, creating more human misery and multiplying the refugee population. EU should not ease the sanctions as long as Iran continues committing war crimes in the region.
Third, and the more important step is to strengthen the security architecture that was shaped by the Cold War. Nato needs to be revitalized and Europe should go for a last-ditch effort to rally the US behind its cause. This is not to say Europe will falter without US aid. Things are not as grim as they were after the Second World War. Germany, France and UK make formidable powers if they genuinely work towards safeguarding their interests. The unraveling of the trusted transaltantic partnership will still be very tragic with significant consequences for all the parties involved.
Russia is using diplomacy in the service of military aggression and Europe has to answer in kind. Russian plans of fracturing the EU by inundating it with refugees and instigating chaos should not be allowed to succeed. Syria has become intrinsically linked with the future of the Union. There has been a tacit realization of this grim reality. Germany is coming up with educational programs to instruct the young male refugees on how to behave responsibly in Europe. A better alternative will be to train this demographic -- after serious vetting -- to go back and fight the regime and ISIS. Although fraught with challenges, this remains a viable option.
Concurrently, the EU should not discontinue its engagement with Russia. This calls for some serious tightrope walking and requires exceptional continental leadership. While this leadership may remain elusive for some time, stemming the tide of refugees by providing them with safe havens inside Syria is still a doable job. Europe should seriously pursue this goal along with imposing sanctions on Iran. This may turn out to be the first stepping stone in resolving the crisis.

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