THE BLOG

The Eight Pillars of Wisdom (Syria, ISIS and Beyond)

1. From the bipolar order to the "bipolar disorder''

Chaos, tragedy, drama, tyranny, despotism, barbarism ...

Here are some words that are commonly used in our lexicon, while addressing the Middle Eastern - North African events and Syria, in particular.

My thesis is that present events as well as the past ones, in the Balkans for example in the 90's, are neither the outcome of fatalism nor the effects of the so called history cycles.

Less so, they were not unavoidable. Let's be frank.

They were all predictable and in fact diligently and in time predicted. For example, the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the unfolding of the potential conflicts and wars in the heart of Europe, were accurately predicted in the last US National Intelligence Estimate on Yugoslavia, drafted in October 1990, under the title '' Yugoslavia Transformed''. It was declassified and published in December 2006.

Yet, our political masters seconded by their talented diplomats, security advisers and speech writers preferred simply to close their eyes and ears. They ignored it.

Indeed all of them, from the West and the former East within the Helsinki Process, adopted in Paris, in November 1990, the "Paris Charter for a New Europe"; declaring inter alia in an self-congratulatory manner the ''end of Europe's division and wars'' as well as that ''Europe was liberating itself from its past''; and that only few months before the outbreak of hostilities, wars and war crimes in Yugoslavia.

What happens today in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Libya, in Mali, in Afghanistan since the 80's, and in other places around the world have a signature.

A human signature. It is the result of human decisions. Few were right, most of them wrong; often, they also bear the signature of decisions for no-action, called inaction.

My preference goes rather to the term inertia meaning the "resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction."

In the political decision - making and decision - taking process, this term explains the lack of good timing. In mathematics there is a special branch known as the mathematics of the ''synchronization phenomena.''

The lack of synchronization between or better before the outbreak of events, and the action is becoming the characteristic and basic problem in global political problems.

The real question is not about bipolarism, oligopolarism or multipolarism; it is mostly about the ability and the capabilities of the organized international community, our cosmos, for prognosis, gnosis and praxis; the definition of praxis being the ''opposite to theory.''

While we understand the meaning and difference between bipolar and multipolar world order, allow me to opt for its medical definition well applicable to the present chaos. ''Bipolar Disorder'' is ''a serious medical illness that causes shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function.'' No fine line between euphoria and depression.

In non medical terms, this is also a sound diagnosis for the global world disorder and in particular in specific parts of our immediate vicinity.

These are not the decisions of God.

The wrong question to ask is whether we consent or not that such decisions were taken in the name of the God.

The right question is whether some, how many remains still unknown, do.

Abraham Lincoln, was so right when he said that ''I am not concerned whether God is on my side or not, but I am concerned whether I am on God's side.''

This is the First Pillar of Wisdom

2. 100 years later - The Road to Damascus

''Damascus had not seemed a sheath for my sword, when I landed in Arabia; but its capture disclosed the exhaustion of my main springs of action... When Damascus fell, the Eastern war -probably the whole war -drew to an end... Mecca led to Damascus ; Damascus to Anatolia, and afterwards to Baghdad; and then there was Yemen...''

Colonel T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia concluded with this words his epic account the ''Seven Pillars of Wisdom'' ( Doubleday, 1938 ).

National interests mingled with personal sentiments, military plans mingled with miscalculations; last but not least unexpected events triumphed over political scenarios. Was that just a characteristic appropriate and tailored exclusively for the time of the Great War, 100 years ago?

Colonel Lawrence confesses to the reader that ''... their (some Englishmen) knowledge of the nature and power and country of the Arabic - speaking peoples made them think that the issue of such rebellion of Arabs would be happy: and indicated its character and method.

So, they allowed it to begin...Yet the rebellion of the Sherif of Mecca came to most as a surprise and found the Allies unready...''

I have no intention to further use the ''Seven Pillars of Wisdom'' as my main reference source for better understanding today's ''Arab Spring'' and the Syrian tragedy.

Yet, it could support my analysis that in the fragmented and interest-based division of the international community - United Nations Security Council, NATO and European Union included - the ''lessons not learned'' policies prevail over the '' lessons learned '' ones.

This is the Second Pillar of Wisdom.

Twenty four centuries earlier, in Sparta, few days before Spartans decision to enter into the war against its rival Athens; the Athenian envoys urge the Spartans not to take swift decisions to join the war using also the following arguments:

"...take time when in forming your resolution, as the matter is of great importance; and do not be persuaded by the opinions and complaints of others and so bring trouble on yourselves, but consider the vast influence of accident in war, before you are engaged in it.

"As it continues, it generally becomes an affair of chances, chances from which neither of us is exempt and whose event we must risk in the dark. It is common mistake in going to war and, to act first, and wait for disaster to discuss the matter...'' (Robert Strassler, ''The Landmark Thucydides,'' TOUCHSTONE, 1998).

Wars and hostilities last more than planned. The longer a war lasts, the more unforeseen tragedies happen.

This is The Third Pillar of Wisdom.

3. ''The marching to Bagdad Canard''

No one has better predicted the present course of events in Iraq and its neighborhood than a wise man of Washington, former Secretary of State James Baker III. While serving as Ambassador in Washington D.C., I read his book ''The Politics of Diplomacy'' published in 1995. I recall discussing with him this point during a meeting we had at the RICE University, in Houston.
He book is an accurate prognosis of what happened in Iraq, in 2003, as well as in relation with Iraq's neighbors.

There is a fundamental difference between the ''Desert Storm'' 1990-1991 quasi global coalition which liberated Kuwait from Iraq - and the 2003 ''Iraqi Freedom'' coalition of the willing.

The former was tasked to enforce the United Nations Security Council Chapter VII mandatory Resolutions, while the latter was based on national interest and self-legitimation principles and motivations engulfed into a foggy ideology of a holy mission.

In the chapter titled ''the March to Bagdad Canard'' Secretary Baker explains that in 1991:

A. The strategic objective was to eject Iraq from Kuwait in a manner that would destroy Saddam's military capabilities

B. Even If Saddam was kicked away, American forces would be ''confronted with the specter of military occupation of indefinite duration to pacify the country ..the ensuing urban warfare would surely result in more casualties to American G.I's than the war itself...''

C. For sure, Saddam's neighbors wanted to see him gone; but ''they feared that Iraq might fragment in unpredictable ways that would play into the hands of Iran''... contributing thus to expanding the Shia and Iran 's influence throughout the region.

This is neither an anathema nor a prophecy. There is always a causality effect between acts and their consequences.

When planning and before deciding the course of events the right question to ask is ''why'' rather than the often asked ''why not?''

This is the Fourth Pillar of Wisdom.

4. What is the Plan?

We need to apply the tactics and the methodology we use in mathematics and physics.

Before responding to the problem, we need to define it. Identifying any problem requires the gathering of appropriate information, good intelligence.

Dogmas, postures and visions, which may indeed exist, do not not necessarily constitute per se the appropriate policy enabler to perform well.

In Syria, since 2011, the target was constantly changing. Not for all? Not by all?

I agree that some of the actors and factors involved are still following the course they fixed since the outbreak of the ''Syrian Spring'.'

Yet, the division and polyphony over the ''end product'' is there, notwithstanding the heinous terrorist attacks mainly in Paris, in Beirut, earlier in Ankara as well as the criminal shooting of the Russian aircraft over Sinai.

The ''goal posts'' and rationale of the international politico - military engagement in and around Syria are on the constant move. Initially supporting the victims of Bashir el Assad 's cruelty, then regime change, then targeting the destruction of the chemical arsenal; then some deliberately ignoring ISIS and some intentionally cornering the Kurds, some targeting the Turkmans, some favoring the Free Syrian Army and some disliking it, some opting for supporting Assad and so on....

As long as the comprehensive political goal is not clear or clearly defined, any military engagement and involvement looks to be futile.

Military operations and covert action, cannot be successful as long as there in not a clear and consensual political goal followed by all involved, through political and military means.

The military elaborate and put into action the operational plans generally considered and supposed to serve the political plans. Not the other way around.

For any military commander and planner US General Eric Shinseki, well known for his early 2002 plans and troop estimate for Iraq, should be a source of inspiration.

What we have been witnessing in Syria since 2011 and forcefully since 2013, is a gap related to the political targets, reflecting thus fundamental and publicly stated differences among the main actors as well as among regional factors.

A clear political plan is the prerequisite for any military operation; in Syria and elsewhere.

This is the Fifth Pillar of Wisdom

5. '' Mission Accomplished ? ''

The successful outcome of any politico-military operation, much depends on the early definition and delimitation of its scope. I fact, what do we call ''success''?

For example, time and timing are of essence though they are not the only key parameters.

Political planning should fix and define in advance the terms of success. The ''mission accomplished'' state of affairs is the next step following the success. Yet, this is very different from any ex post self - congratulatory ''we did the job'' or ''mission accomplished'' political banner.

I have one specific issue in mind, on May 1, 2003. History 's verdict on this kind of '' success'' is tough.

Furthermore, we NATO allies and EU partners claimed ''mission accomplished'' and ''success'' in Libya.

Is Libya today a safe haven for its own citizens?

Is Libya today a security provider for its neighbors and for Europe?

Have we assessed properly and diligently the risk of ISIS controlled refugee flow from the Libyan coasts?

Is ISIS and other extremist and terrorist groups, operating in a coordinated manner, less or more powerful in Libya?

How it happens that in 2010 we were praising and shaking hands with the well known to us dictator of Tripoli and bombing him few months later?

Did our intelligence communities, political elites and business communities previously ignored his brutality and cruelty?

Or, have we learned about him only after the outbreak of ''Benghazi's and Mizurata's Spring"?
I guess that we are missing something important. We are still far from learning history's lessons.

We need a geometric definition of the ''mission accomplished'' and ''success'' before any political operation.

Policy successes are to be preferred to political U - Turns.

The ''Day After'' careful and successful planning cannot by based on evasive hypotheses nor on a political wishful thinking based normally on the good case scenario: ''we supported the good guys fighting the bad guys.''

Putting the final touch to any pol-mil Plan and Operation should also automatically contain as an integral part the terms and conditions for the ''exit strategy'' and the '' Day After.''

This is the Sixth Pillar of Wisdom.

6. ''Who is running the Show?''

The division of the international community and the regional actors on Syria so far, is not a new trend.

I recall the traumatic experience of the 2011 Libyan case; not to mention the deep and fundamental divisions here in Europe in 2003.

On Libya, our division, within the European Union and NATO, was not a behind closed doors drama. It was public and very political.

During the vote before the United Nations Security Council for the adoption of the Chapter VII Resolution 1973 (March, 17, 2011) the division was loud and clear before the eyes of the international community and Libya's dictator. France, United Kingdom, and the United States voted in favor. Federal Republic of Germany abstained ; her stance provoked a debate also at home. The Russian Federation and the P.R. China also abstained.

I have some sympathy for the German Ambassador's intervention (explanation of vote ) before the Council.

An intra EU and NATO endoscope was needed to assess the political impact of our own divisions beyond our borders.

As long as the Permanent Members of the Security Council, the P ''5,'' prefer to act individually as this has been the case in Syria and not in concert acting on behalf of the whole UN Membership, as they are entitled and tasked by the Charter, their legitimacy is jeopardized and their capabilities remain fragmented.

The use of force is an option. For some it is an option present always on the table.

But it is not a solution per se. It is a means to enforce political decisions.

I am compelled to remind you that in accordance with Article 24 of the UN ( San Francisco ) Charter ''... the UN Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf.''

The threats to international peace and security are here. There is still a long way ahead to go.

The responses will remain uneven and inadequate as long as the Permanent Members remain divided over the Principles; as long as they get closer only when they are targeted by terrorist attacks. This is precisely what we see now.

The UNSC unaninous Resolution 2249, adopted in November 20, 2015), condemning ISIL terrorist attacks and determining it as an ''unprecedented threat to international peace and security is a good step in the right direction. The question is why not earlier?

History's lessons are not learned.

The key Article 5 of NATO's Treaty should also be a source of inspiration for the P''5.'' An attack against one should be viewed as an large scale terrorist attack against the 5.

Yes, it is an audacious proposal and a far reaching approach, implying fundamental change of course and attitudes.

But the world will feel and eventually will become safer.

In fact we have two options:

The first is to remain divided before we are targeted by ISIS or by other threats to international peace and security and to be united afterwards.

The second is to be united on principles and purposes and to '' take collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace...'' as Article 1 of the UN Charter states.

This is the Seventh Pillar of Wisdom.

8. From Brussels to Brussels

We also need to do better our homework twice in Brussels. I refer of course to NATO and the EU.

The ongoing refugee drama has to a large degree undermined EU's unity, solidarity and in fact the "raison d 'etre." The problem is not new. Spain, Italy, Turkey and Greece have for some time now trying to cope with it.

What is new is that it affects now dramatically the politics and the ideologies throughout Europe. Now it has become a common problem...

Yet, there are not common remedies.

The lesson to be drawn is that from now and on, before we adopt any decision to intervene militarily in Middle East and in Africa the fundamental question to ask in advance is the following:

''could the use or force generate an internal displacement of population and /or an exodus of refugees?"

Any intervention for regime change in country A in Middle East or country B in Africa could ultimately result to government change in Europe and the strengthening of anti-European political ideologies and forces.

This is the Eighth Pillar of Wisdom.

At the beginning, I mentioned some words we often use in relation to the ongoing tragedies in several hotspots in the Greater Middle East.

I offfer you now some other Greek words such as prognosis, gnosis, metron, program.

"Μηδείς αγεωμέτρητος εισίτω μοι την θύρα'' was the inscription at Plato's Academy. It means ''those ignoring geometry, those who do not have the appropriate knowledge, do not cross this door."

We should always recall Plato's early warning when we set political targets and draft military plans.