Jimmy Carter's 5 Nation Syria Plan Is the Least
Bad Option in Syria
The U.S. has to swallow some bitter pills, because letting the civil
war drag on is even worse.
The war needs to end.
By Karen Alter
November 05, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "US
News" - The highest priority for
America and the world should be to end Syria's civil war now. The
best of the bad choices is former President Jimmy Carter's
five-nation plan. The Obama administration has listened in part,
inviting Iran to join peace talks in Vienna. The next steps will be
even more costly, but it is both ethically and strategically
imperative that the U.S. negotiate an end to the hostilities.
Carter endorsed the blueprint
Iran presented to the United Nations Security Council. Pretty
much every civil war ends with some version of Iran's four-step
proposal: ceasefire, unity government, constitutional reforms and a
supervised election. In crediting Iran with this bland proposal,
Carter is implicitly acknowledging that Iran and Russia will get the
credit for ending the war, the "unity government" will not involve
any real power-sharing, the constitutional reform will be mostly
cosmetic and President Bashar Assad's re-election is a foregone
Carter envisions Russia and Iran forcing a deal on
Assad that is far better than he deserves, while the U.S. forces
Saudi Arabia and Turkey to end their support of extremists in the
region. The "win" for Russia and Iran, in combination with the
American arm-twisting needed to realize Carter's plan, will change
the geopolitical future of the region. It may even jeopardize
America's longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia, creating
another opportunity for China to expand its arms sales and
Given these costs, how can this plan be ethical
The heart of the problem is that even with
American training, drone attacks, logistical support, weapons and
U.S. Special Forces, the more moderate Syrian opposition cannot
win. The Obama administration has tried a "support the moderates"
strategy for three years, achieving less than the Chicago Cubs in
their effort to win the World Series. Russia's entry into the Syrian
conflict assured Assad's victory, but the rise of the Islamic State
group had already revealed the futility of the U.S. strategy.
It is neither ethical nor pragmatic to stick to a
failed strategy, especially because most of the non-Islamic State
group Syrian opposition still alive and fighting is not, in fact,
moderate, respectable or competent enough to justify American
support. (The Kurds and a few other ethnic groups are important
exceptions, and ensuring their protection must be a central focus
during any five-nation negotiations.)
There are three ethical and interest-based reasons
to support Carter's plan. First, the flow of refugees from Syria is
a destabilizing humanitarian disaster.
Half of Syria's population is seeking refuge around the world.
Europe cannot absorb Syrian refugees without fomenting a political
backlash that will destabilize European and world politics for years
to come. We must deal with the refugee crisis at its source.
Next, the Islamic State group openly endorses
slavery, genocide and sectarian conflict around the world and for
this reason it must be defeated. Ignoring it as it gains strength by
practicing its medieval vision of Islam is just plain stupid.
Lastly, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have
already taught us the cost of backing weak, inept governments that
pursue their own sectarian strategies. Does the U.S. seriously want
to prop up yet another set of questionable allies, this time in
Hans Morgenthau, the father of political realism,
warned great powers to divest their foreign policy of a crusading
spirit, not let weak allies set their agenda and be willing to
compromise all issues that are not vital to them. From the opposite
end of the political spectrum, Stanley Hoffmann, an advocate of
political liberalism, recognized that where a policy is hopeless,
restraint from action is the more ethical choice.
We need to chose the side of the people, which
means doing what it takes to end Syria's civil war and defeat the
Islamic State group. The pill will be bitter, but continuing the
civil war in Syria is even worse.
Karen J. Alter is professor
of political science and law at Northwestern University where she
teaches courses on international law and ethics in international