IPS Blog

Guatemalan President Perez Blows up the War on Drugs

Otto Perez MolinaThe war on drugs is America’s forgotten war. For over 40 years, it has continued largely unnoticed outside the region and, for the last decade, has been almost completely overshadowed by the war on terror and the related conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the illicit drugs trade and the militarised government responses are the greatest threats to state and human security in the Americas; many analysts and policymakers now conclude that the war on drugs has largely failed.

Open Briefing has today published a policy briefing outlining a ‘sustainable security’ alternative to the war on drugs.

Rehabilitating the war on drugs: Central America and the legalisation debate assesses the implications of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina’s surprise announcement that he wants to open a regional debate on the legalisation of drugs. The authors, Chris Abbott and Joel Vargas, conclude that decriminalising some drugs and legalising others should form the foundation of a sustainable security strategy to tackle the violent crime associated with the illicit drugs trade in the Americas. The report outlines the following integrated programmes that would constitute an effective strategy:

  • Decriminalising some drugs and legalising others in a staged process.
  • Separating the law enforcement and military elements of tackling drug-related organised crime.
  • Addressing citizen security challenges, including lack of personal safety.
  • Addressing police corruption through career-long training, supervision and assessment.
  • Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programmes for former cartel members.
  • Radically increasing funding for drug education and treatment programmes in North America.

By focusing on ineffective supply reduction strategies, the war on drugs is destroying the countries of Latin America in order to protect those of North America. The Sixth Summit of the Americas on 14-15 April needs to allow for a proper debate on the potential legalisation of drugs, and Central American leaders must be prepared to develop policy strategies that also ensure the health and security of their own citizens rather than only benefiting others. The sustainable security strategy outlined in Rehabilitating the war on drugs could form the basis of such an alternative to the war on drugs.

Chris Abbott is the founder and Executive Director of Open Briefing.

Many Share Blame With Sgt. Bales for Killing of 17 Afghans

John Stephenson for McClatchy reports that Afghan army chief Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the chief Afghan investigator in the killing of 17 civilians with which U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been charged, says “there’s strong evidence that only one killer was involved, a view that puts him at odds with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai.”

A U.S. defense official said “such speculation was ‘commonplace, especially in small villages and especially about something as horrific as an event like this.'” Referring to a relative of victims, Karzai said: “‘In his family, in four rooms people were killed — children and women were killed — and then they were all brought together in one room and then set on fire. That, one man cannot do.'”

Gen. Karimi reiterated that. “And everybody said (to the president), ‘Sir, it was not one person. … How can one guy shoot people in four rooms, kill them, then lift them, bring them to one room and set them on fire?'”

But, if Bales acted alone, by returning to the base after the first round of shootings and heading out again for another, it’s as if there were two shooters since it happened in two stages.* Or to put it another way, since it was two separate incidents, Bales is a serial killer.

In any event, failure to notice his exit not once but twice — how often does an American soldier leave his base in Afghanistan in the middle of the night? — makes the army complicit in the murders. From the soldiers on his base to the Pentagon to the president and everyone responsible for our Afghan policy, the killers were legion.

*Incidentally Marcy Wheeler of Empty Wheel speculates on a plausible explanation for Afghan suspicions of more than one shooter. (Thanks to Steve Hynd of the Agonist and Newshoggers for the link.)

… I’m suggesting that it’s possible Bales went first to Alkozai and in a spray of gunfire killed 4 or 5 and wounded at least 5 more, then returned to the base, told others what he had done, and more followed him in helicopters to Najiban. That would explain the larger number of men described by Dawood’s children, how 11 people in 4 rooms were killed in Wazir’s home, and also how Bales was able to drag all 11 bodies to one room and attempt to burn them (though the timing is still short, given that Najiban is at least a mile from the base and Bales was reportedly gone just an hour total on that second trip).

Cuba: Ever the Scapegoat Closest to Hand

Cross-posted from Other Words.

It’s election season. When they’re not kissing babies or holding staged conversations with average voters at coffee shops, presidential hopefuls will dust off tired arguments about the national security threat posed by Cuba, an island with a population the size of Ohio.

Thanks to Florida’s sacred 29 electoral votes, the candidates spend an outsized amount of time bowing before the altar of the creaky Cuban embargo. The GOP contenders made their views on the economic blockade clear in the run-up to the primary there. Before claiming that “jihadists” and Iranians were planning to use Cuba as a platform for attacks on U.S. soil, Rick Santorum said, “We have and have had for 50 years a dictatorship in Cuba. We’ve had sanctions on them. They should continue. They should continue until the Castros are dead.”

Mitt Romney seemed to suggest that he would sanction an assassination attempt against Fidel Castro. “If I’m fortunate to become the next president of the United States it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet,” he said.

And while President Barack Obama has courageously rolled back some travel and humanitarian restrictions on U.S. citizens and Cuban-Americans, he too has stated his continued support of the embargo.

Why, in an era of unprecedented partisanship gridlock, is there such widespread support among Washington’s leading politicians for an outdated and inhumane embargo?

It’s certainly not because the policy has succeeded. The embargo began in 1960, soon after the successful revolution led by Fidel Castro ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista and nationalized a great deal of property belonging to U.S. corporations and citizens. Washington has amended and tightened the embargo, even expanding its reach to punitive measures against foreign companies doing business with Cuba, many times in its half-century of failure.

The embargo certainly hasn’t weakened Cuba’s regime. Nor has it changed its political or economic systems.

In fact, the embargo may have helped brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro retain power by offering a ready-made excuse to point to when things go poorly in the country.

While leaving the government unscathed, the embargo has had a punishing impact on the Cuban people. From restricting the availability of medication to limiting access to technology, it has caused widespread hardship.

Last September, Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno suggested the embargo had cost his country a total of more than $104 billion in economic damages.

The rest of the world wants the embargo to end. Once a year, the United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution calling on Washington to end the embargo. In 2011, UN members voted 186-2 on the latest version of this measure. The United States and Israel cast the only “no” votes.

Even here at home, many polls show that voters are ready to move beyond the embargo and re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

The reason Washington is so head-over-heels in love with this Cold-War-era failure speaks more to what’s wrong with Washington than what’s wrong with Cuba. An entrenched special interest group — the well-heeled Cuban-American lobby — has scared both major political parties into believing they must toe the line on the embargo or lose Florida.

But don’t assume this lobby represents ordinary Cuban Americans. It doesn’t. A 2008 poll by the Florida International University showed that 55 percent of Cuban Americans oppose continuing this antiquated embargo.

Maybe this campaign season, voters — not special interests — can dictate the direction our foreign policy toward Cuba.

Jess Hunter-Bowman is Associate Director of Witness for Peace, a nonprofit organization with a 30-year history analyzing U.S. economic and military policy in Latin America.

Justifications for Slaughtering Muslims Were in Ample Supply for Crusaders

First crusadeIslamic extremists have been known to cite passages of the Koran to justify killing non-believers. Western conservatives, in turn, such as those at ReligonofPeace.com (facetious), delight in such quotes. For example:

(8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”

As well as Hadith (sayings ascribed to Muhammad):

Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 327: - “Allah said, ‘A prophet must slaughter before collecting captives. A slaughtered enemy is driven from the land.”

On the other hand, conservatives are only too happy to give the Old Testament of the Bible a pass on its vaunted violence. From ReligionofPeace again:

Unlike nearly all of the Old Testament verses of violence, the verses of violence in the Quran are mostly open-ended, meaning that they are not restrained by the historical context of the surrounding text. They are part of the eternal, unchanging word of Allah, and just as relevant or subjective as anything else in the Quran.

In two previous posts — Sanctifying the Killing of Muslims and The Secret to Islam’s Rapid Expansion: Free Love (?) — I wrote about and excerpted Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (Basic Books, 2011) by American medieval historian Jay Rubenstein. The first Crusade provided Christians with their first opportunity to indulge in wholesale killing of Muslims, which include. The book of the Bible they used to justify it — if not the decapitation and even cannibalism that succeeded the killing — was Deuteronomy. From Armies of Heaven again:

According to Deuteronomy 20:20-15, if the Children of Israel intended to attack a city, they were obligated first to offer it peace. If the city accepted, its inhabitants would be spared but enslaved. … if negotiations failed, the Israelites were to lay siege to the city, capture it, kill all of the men, and claim everything else therein — women, children, and livestock — as plunder.

Tough to figure out why that has to be included in a holy book. But, wait, it gets worse. Rubenstein explains that “Deuteronomy describes a third possible outcome: ‘In the cities of the nations that the Lord God is giving you as an inheritance [alleged author Moses is stretching the definition of the word inheritance pretty wide here — RW] — “do not leave alive anything that breathes. Complete destroy them.”

Thus did the first Crusade apply these laws to the grisly Siege of Antioch on the way to Jerusalem. Rubenstein:

Albert of Aachen estimated the number of Saracens [Muslims] dead at 10,000 and said that the Franks [Crusaders] “spared none of the [Muslims] on the basis of age or gender, as the earth grew covered with the bodies and blood of the dead.” As Raymond of Aguilers [a Crusade commander] hurried to see the killing, he found it “an amusing spectacle,” … “All the public squares were filled with dead bodies,” another eyewitness observed. … “In truth, no one could walk through the city streets without treading on corpses.”

The crusaders not only used rules from the Bible but sought to emulate battles from the Bible. They compared another battle that turned into a slaughter to, Rubenstein writes, “what happened to the tribe of Benjamin in the Book of Judges [when the Israelites] killed 25,000 of the [Benjaminites] and then afterward they destroyed their cities, their animals, their women, and their children.”

In short …

Had the crusaders ever followed this ethos in their European homeland, their actions would have been viewed as atrocities. But in the context of a holy war intended to re-create those same Old Testament battles fought in the same deserts where the Israelites had wandered, atrocities were standard practice. The result was a new level of violence, leading to battles that in scale and character were truly apocalyptic.

No doubt more atrocities ensued when the crusaders reached Jerusalem — my history is weak and I’m 100 pages from concluding the book. But at least there’s this …

The levels of bloodshed and brutality were so far beyond ordinary warfare that the experience of it would have changed the warriors’ sense of their own humanity.

Enduring post-traumatic stress syndrome is a small price to pay when God is on your side.

Congress Tunes Out Lt. Col. Davis’s Allegations It’s Been Misled on Afghanistan

Cross-posted from Other Words.

When Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis returned from his second tour in Afghanistan, he knew that what he’d witnessed firsthand didn’t match the rosy progress reports that top military officials were giving Congress.

What Davis decided to do next could be called courageous or, perhaps, idealistic. The 17-year Army veteran put his career at risk by speaking out for what he felt was right — he publicly called out his superior officers on their assessments of the war.

Specifically, Davis alleged that top commanders had misled Congress and the public. He briefed four members of Congress on his version of events and sent reports he authored, one unclassified and the other classified, to the Department of Defense Inspector General.

Then, he took the extraordinary step of bringing his story to light: He did an interview with The New York Times and authored an op-ed for the Armed Forces Journal. His unclassified report was linked to by both Rolling Stone and the Times. With all of this national coverage of Davis’ report, which alleged that senior military officials have lied to Congress about conditions on the ground, you would think that Congress would be jumping at the opportunity to hold hearings. At least six members of Congress have come forward publicly supporting Davis, but no hearings have been scheduled.

It’s incredible that Congress has virtually ignored Davis’ allegations that it’s been misled. You might expect that the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, or Intelligence Committees would jump at the chance to hold hearings on Afghanistan and ask Davis to testify. But you’d be wrong.

Why should we listen to Davis? He’s a soft-spoken, unassuming soldier who was described in one evaluation as someone whose “devotion to mission accomplishment is unmatched by his peers.” Davis also made the point that he is no “WikiLeaks guy part II”— he’s made a concerted effort to protect classified information.

“Entering this [most recent] deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing towards self-sufficiency,” Davis wrote in his op-ed. “Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on every level.”

In Davis’ 84-page unclassified report, he outlined the misconduct he perceived among senior officials in Afghanistan after interviewing a reported 250 soldiers — from low-ranking 19-year-old privates to division commanders. He alleged that the March 2011 congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus on the surge in Afghanistan ranged from “misleading” to “completely inaccurate.” Petraeus is now the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Additionally, according to Davis, the “inaccurate assigning of the reason for the 2007 Iraq surge’s success had profound implications for our current war in Afghanistan and doubly so for the surge forces ordered by the President in late 2009.” One senior ground commander who led much of the U.S. fight in Anbar province told Davis that “75 to 80 percent of the credit” for the success in Iraq’s surge lay elsewhere.

A bipartisan group of representatives sent a letter on Feb. 14 urging House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to hold hearings on Davis’ allegations because they are supported by the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan. The 2011 NIE has not yet been declassified, but two members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama in February asking that he declassify it.

According to The New Yorker, which also called for the document’s declassification: “[The NIE] is said to raise doubts about the authenticity and durability of the gains the military commanders believe they have made since Obama’s troop surge began in 2009. The findings also raise questions about the Administration’s strategy for leaving behind a stable Afghanistan.”

The lawmakers’ letter is on target. If taxpayers are to get a full picture of what’s happening on the ground, Obama needs to declassify the National Intelligence Estimate. Additionally, whistleblowers like Davis shouldn’t be dismissed once the media fanfare has died down. His allegations should be seriously considered in congressional hearings. With the cost of the Afghanistan War climbing far past the Obama administration’s estimate, the public deserves to hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

Dana Liebelson is the Beth Daley Impact Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight.

Organizing Across Generations

On Sunday night, the legendary TV talk host, Bill Moyers, focused on hope. His guests were three of the most dynamic young leaders in social movements today: George Goehl of National People’s Action, Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice, and Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

The three laid out the plans for the 99% Spring, which their groups and IPS are planning with over 40 other groups. This included hundreds of trainings coming up next week and the actions later this spring to take on corporations.

Sarita and Ai-jen also laid out the plans for the Caring Across Generations campaign (which IPS is also a part of). Caring Across Generations is uniting dozens of groups to transform care for elders and the lives of the 2 million women who provide the care. The three were so great that they inspired Moyers to add a “Take Action” section to his show’s website.

To Know Your “Enemy,” Know Yourself: Towards a More Profound Objectivity

“Objectivity” in reporting and analysis has developed a bad rep in recent years. The mainstream media is often blamed, but they’ve long considered it their responsibility to pit the two prevailing positions against each other. You could say it’s not the media’s fault that said positions, far from conservative and liberal, are most often center right to extreme right. But in the perceived need for access to power, the media too often accepts how far right well-funded conservative groups have slid the Overton Window.

When the spotlight is trained on reporting and analysis on our perceived enemies, the issue of objectivity is more deeply illuminated. In the spring issue of the Journal of Psychohistory (print only), psychoanalyst and Journal of Psychohistory assistant editor David Lotto explains in an article titled “On the Pot Calling the Kettle Black: The Perils of Psychohistorical Partisanship.”

Much of what psychohistorians are interested in is to understand the why of the many violent and destructive events which have and continue to cause so much misery in our world.

Difficulties ensue because …

A psychohistorian, being a part of the human race, is most often a member of or identified with one or more groups: an ethnic group, a nationality, or religion or perhaps more than one of each. … When the subject of a psychohistorical inquiry is one of these groups that the investigating psychohistorian does not belong to or is not identified with, the possibility arises of a biased or partisan account being given.

Especially “where the other can be accurately described as your enemy.” What Lotto is referring to, in part, is the endless psychoanalyses of the “terrorist mind” undertaken by authors and institutions. In other words, much more effort is expended on figuring out what makes al Qaeda and suicide terrorists tick than on what motivates the war-making mentality — and will to dominate — of the United States. “So what can be done?” asks Lotto.

One solution would be that anyone who is an “interested party” should remain silent — as a lawyer or judge might recuse her or himself from a case in which there was some meaningful connection to one of the parties.

But …

As psychohistorians we also want to encourage and not discourage those who want to explore, analyze, and hypothesize about the psychological motives that drive the actions of large groups or nations. Writing and publishing about such matters should be welcomed, not censored.

Aside from owning up to one’s affiliations, Lotto suggests (emphasis added) …

… that when engaging in psychohistorical analysis it would be useful to examine the behavior and motives of one’s own group or groups with whom one identifies that are similar to those being examined with respect to the other before embarking on the psychohistorical analysis of one’s enemies.

Furthermore, Lotto writes, if one sees only “the faults and psychopathology of others while being blind to similar processes operating within oneself and one’s own group. … there is the suspicion that projective identification is occurring — that one’s nasty and unacceptable aspects are too readily seen as being present in the enemy while absent in one’s own group.” As well “it affects the credibility of the source.”

Whenever I see a negative or harsh analysis of an enemy group which ignores the similar sins and shortcomings of one’s own group, I am immediately skeptical, as anyone who takes psychoanalytic psychohistory seriously should be, of the arguments made and conclusions drawn.

To help us further understand how to approach a “traumatic historical event such as a war, genocide, massacre, or forced migration that involves victim and perpetrator groups [Lotto] would argue that it would be beneficial to discuss the trauma history of both groups.”

The purpose of this would be to attempt to avoid the demonization of the perpetrator group by understanding that the perpetrator group may be responding to some historical trauma of their own which is being enacted through the violence directed to the victim group.

Lotto concludes that …

… the two actions of applying one’s analysis of the enemy other to one’s own group and of attempting to be aware and open about one’s own identifications and personal motives for writing about the subject under consideration could lead to a lessening of the influence of unconscious and unacknowledged motives and feelings.

Islamic terrorists, he adds …

… have replaced the godless communists whom were the enemy that we obsessed over for almost 50 years. The hypocrisy, in which an analysis of the behavior and motives of our terrorist enemies that makes no effort to acknowledge behavior and motives that are identical or very similar to those for which the United States is responsible, can be seen as an expression of American exceptionalism.

Which is [insert drum roll introducing the money quote here] …

… basically a form of national narcissistic personality disorder.

The Lineup: Week of April 2-8, 2012

In this week’s OtherWords editorial package, Chuck Collins explains what’s behind the “99 percent spring” and Bill Wenzel discusses a proposal that would boost the farmers and ranchers who supply the local food system. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. The 99 Percent Spring / Chuck Collins
    The people aren’t powerless in the face of extreme inequality.
  2. Our Failed Cuba Policy Fixation / Jess Hunter-Bowman
    In an election year, presidential candidates spend a great deal of time bowing before the altar of the creaky Cuban embargo.
  3. Catching up to the Local Food Revolution / Bill Wenzel
    Government policies and spending primarily support industrialized agriculture and the giant farms and corporations that profit from it.
  4. Congress: Listen to Lt. Col. Daniel Davis / Dana Liebelson
    The 17-year Army veteran risked his career by speaking out about the Afghanistan War.
  5. Riding on the Wrong Track / Donald Kaul
    Stop the world; I want to get off.
  6. Congress Opts to Keep Poisoning Children / Jim Hightower
    Lead poisoning is entirely preventable.
  7. Energy: Too Important to Leave to Corporations / William A. Collins
    In the United States, profits rule while the environment takes a back seat.
  8. Off Our Backs / Khalil Bendib
Off Our Backs, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Off Our Backs, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

If Health Care Reform Falls, Look in the Mirror

Supporters of Obama’s health care reform are “keeping a stiff upper lip” reports The Hill as reaction to three tough days of oral argument and questioning on aspects of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA).

 Supreme Court rules on ObamaCare. Illustration by DonkeyHotey.

Supreme Court rules on ObamaCare. Illustration by DonkeyHotey.

The entire health reform effort seems to hang in balance, dangerously. It looks like a very real possibility that Americans who do and will need health care, and who do or will have health conditions — i.e., pretty much everyone — will again be excluded from coverage for pre-existing conditions and others priced out of coverage at alarming rates if the unusually conservative and ideological Supreme Court backs the GOP.

It didn’t have to be this way. We had the power to make things different. In fact, we still have the power to make things different.

As poorly as the administration calculated, strategized, composed and communicated their reforms, they did what Administrations do. They brought industry to the table, they excluded single payer advocates, they vastly overestimated their ability to bring the other side on board, they vastly underestimated the extreme ideology that opposed reform and they botched the messaging of all of it.

Candidate Barack Obama campaigned on universal coverage. He told would-be supporters that, if he were “starting from scratch,” single-payer would be ideal. Indeed, he even understood that the only true reform, that would sufficiently control costs and actually achieve universal coverage, was a single payer, government-sponsored health care system. The evidence is overwhelming that only such a system can achieve those goals.

President Barack Obama however, not only quickly abandoned any thought of a fight for a true universal system, he set his left flank where he wanted to end up: the public option. In addition to current private plans, geographical regions would have another choice, a “public option” which would have the power of the federal government behind it to negotiate down premiums. Absent a single payer system, there could be some real cost savings this way and, some thought, an opening to a future single payer system. Though perhaps this weak option is all one could expect from a centrist administration, it was not what progressives and the Democratic base either really wanted nor should have fought for.

But progressives did fight for the public option. With some notable exceptions, almost exclusively. Instead of being the rallying grassroots campaign and reasonable solution desired by all progressives, universal, single-ayer health care became the pariah of the organized progressives, scoffed at and scorned as unachievable.

It should have come with no surprise that starting where you want to end in a negotiation is a sure way to not get what you want. Progressives could have not only kept their integrity, but they could have provided a left flank as a foil for the administration. Centrist Dems and less-extreme Repubs could have seen a public option as a place to go. The administration should have allowed it, encouraged it, engaged it, used it. Progressives should have fought like hell for it.

No one can say that the outcome then would have been the public option, or wouldn’t have. No one knows what the political climate could have been with a strong, organized fight from progressives for Medicare for all. But without a strategy that included such a fight, it could easily have been predicted that public option would not be the outcome.

If we had ended up with a single-payer system, then of course the “individual mandate problem” is non-existent. Even if we had ended up with a “public option,” we would not have had this the question before the Supreme Court this spring. Justice Kennedy himself suggested so in his comments that the Individual Mandate problem could be avoided by a tax funded single payer national health service.

So, while progressives, Democrats, Americans who want affordable health care for all of us go forward wringing our hands and “keeping a stiff upper lip,” blaming the misinformed conservative ideologues in Congress, in the Supreme Court, in Tea Party get-ups, perhaps we should take a long look in the mirror.

This is a fight for the most basic value a society can have. Will we care for our people or let them become sick, bankrupt, disabled and die unnecessarily because we failed to fight for an affordable quality health care system that covers everyone. Will we slash every other government program virtually out of existence to fund an ever-escalating for-profit insurance system? Isn’t it time to fight for Medicare for all?

Friends of Syria Meeting Today a Tipping Point?

Friends of SyriaCross-posted from the United to End Genocide blog.

There have been a lot of developments around Syria this week but ultimately landing the world in the same place.

Joint UN and Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan appealed to Russia and gained the explicit backing of the UN Security Council and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted Annan’s plan, at least verbally. Yet the very next day there were widespread reports of military attacks on towns and villages by the Syrian army, adding to the more than 9,000 people killed so far, and UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said detained children are being tortured; hardly the ceasefire and military drawback stipulated in Annan’s peace plan.

Yet, the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday, April 1st, has the potential to change the stalemate. If Assad does not cease attacks against civilians by that time, there will be added motivation for the Friends of Syria group to view Annan’s gambit as a failed attempt for peace. Moving on could mean the announcement of new confidence in the unity of the Syrian opposition which has already met in Turkey this week, and greater pressure for outside actors to arm the opposition. The United States and United Kingdom announced again this week that they will be stepping up nonlethal aid to the opposition, but seems a long way from providing arms. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar may not be so patient.

On the other side, Assad may very well see this danger and seek to make symbolic withdrawals of his forces. Recent attacks may be just a final push to gain ground before a ceasefire locks in those gains. This could be a continuation of Assad’s strategy to buy time and stave off growing international condemnation. Whether a calculated short-term move against international pressure or the beginnings of a longer term self-interested rapprochement, it would have the advantage of stopping the killing at least for the immediate future and create space for diplomacy.

However, that also assumes opposition forces would be willing to accept the ceasefire. This is an unlikely scenario given the lack of unity, let alone clear command and control among the opposition, and even less likely if that opposition senses a willingness for other countries to provide it with arms.

What we are left with is a dangerous balancing act in which the international community is trying to entice Assad to move toward peaceful settlement, but wary of his intentions as it seeks to support an opposition that struggles to unify, without encouraging a protracted civil war. Key to this balance will be the stances of Syria’s key remaining allies, Russia and possibly Iran, both of whom have endorsed Annan’s peace plan. The visit of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to Iran this week adds to the intrigue.

Will Russia and Iran (perhaps with self-serving incentives) be willing to increase pressure on Assad if he does not draw back, or is this stalling the very strategy they are suggesting he follow? On the other side, can the Friends of Syria help to unite the opposition and convince them to agree to a ceasefire or will they, by word or deed, encourage further fighting?

As we wait for these questions to be answered, and hope that this weekend’s Friends of Syria meeting adds some clarity, there are at least some things that can be controlled by the United States. Russia continues to provide weapons to the Syrian regime that are being used against civilians and the U.S. government continues to hold contracts with the very same Russian state-owned arms dealer that is providing those weapons. Two weeks after 17 Senators sent a letter asking for clarification from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on this issue, there are still no answers to why this is happening. Join your voice to those calls by clicking here.

Daniel P. Sullivan is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for United to End Genocide.

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