Israel controls a significant area in Syria along the border between Syria and Israel. Israel argues that they have to hold on to those Syrian lands to protect themselves from armed gangs that the Syrian government can't control. Israel also argues that they must control those lands to prevent Iran from proceeding close to the Israeli population. The country of Syria (but not the government!) has been the location of indirect conflict between Israel and Iran, neither of whom have respected Syrian borders. Syria has had an imperfect relationship with the Israeli government as a result.
However, most world leaders (including in Israel) want lasting peace for the Syrian people. They envision Syria becoming vibrant, with an enthusiastic growing population. Many governments have participated in Syrian peace talks for the region. (Probably Syria can secure substantial economic support from the largest economies when sanctions are lifted. China once indicated that they hoped to join with the United States in supporting a brighter future for the Syrian people.) There's a real possibility that foreign governments can work together with the Syrian people to create calm, tranquility and self-sufficiency there.
The Syrian government clearly wants to work with the international community to achieve this result. They have made every effort to create order within their own country, and consequently for all surrounding states. The government has shown respect for all neighboring nations. Israel's media therefore suggested Israel and Syria might improve relations. President Bashar al-Assad’s government openly hoped to gain the United States as an alliance at the start of the Trump administration. Had that outreach been accepted, there would have been more than just the possibility of friendship between the heads of state. Syria might have achieved peace with all other countries. There could have been an optimistic social and economic future for millions of Syrian people.
President Bashar al-Assad modeled Syria after European economies. His leadership was very beneficial for his capitalist country in this regard. Syria developed a free market. There is also respect for women’s, religious and minority rights in Syria. People of all faiths are appreciated and protected. Minorities and majorities share equal rights. Women can participate as fully in society and industry as men. People wear and say what they want. President Assad created a country ready for great relations with the U.K., Europe and the United States.
The leadership of Syria has also participated in close to a hundred peace talks for the Middle East over the past decade. Those peace talks perhaps didn't hold the religious importance of Israel-Palestine ones, because of the greater importance placed on the religious significance of Jerusalem to Syrian cities. (Syrian peace talks received less media coverage than they might have as a result.) But the Syrian government deserves tremendous credit for their efforts for peace with surrounding countries, because the talks largely achieved a peaceful result. They contributed tremendously to maintaining calm in the Middle East. Several countries in the region benefitted significantly, including a NATO alliance member, Turkey.
The Syrian government might have even participated in more peace talks than any other government during the same timeframe. Probably they participated in more peace talks than any government before them as well. Syria isn't well known for these efforts in the United States and Europe, because they didn't receive much media coverage there. But Syrian leadership might have even held the most peace talks of any nation in history.
Both President Obama and President Putin deserve tremendous credit for initiating and hosting them. President Vladimir Putin's extraordinary efforts for peace in the Middle East & Europe have thus far gone unrecognized in the United States. He has initiated, hosted and participated in so many peace talks that he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize he may well receive.
Syria's lack of tranquility and challenges integrating into the global community hasn't been the country's or leader's fault. It has mostly had to do with Syria's proximity to bordering Iraq, which was destabilized two decades ago by the United States and NATO involvement there.
After the United States entered Iraq in 2003, and successfully took control, an important decision had to be made by the NATO alliance of countries that would affect the stability of the entire region. The United States and NATO had to determine how to oversee the Iraqi armed forces, which had enjoyed comfortable run of the country, and perhaps could have offered the United States the same. The United States had to choose between keeping the group together in a ready state and managing them effectively, keeping the group together in a diminished capacity, or disbanding the army all together.
President George Bush’s supporters viewed him a principled leader. He was a talented strategist in some regards, and certainly stood up for what he believed in. His administration was brilliant for recognizing the importance of pattern recognition, and designing his White House decision-making room around the concept. Perhaps President Bush's speeches were persuasive as a result. He seems to follow his conscience in making controversial decisions. For instance, he sought and received unpopular but important approval from his own party for American scientists to pursue stem cell research, during his second term in office. That work is important for our understanding healthcare today. He was a president who perhaps cared deeply about peace, too. Perhaps he might not have stood up to Saddam Hussein if he hadn't felt it an important matter of conscience.
Probably President Bush and Iraq's Saddam Hussein could have evolved their relationship. Human beings have the capacity to put side their differences, and become friends. But Iraq's Saddam Hussein lacked the courage necessary to present himself as a peace maker, and cultivated a deterrent image instead. He portrayed himself as a security challenge to virtually all other countries. He convinced everyone that he possessed existential weapons that he might actually use.
September 11th was fresh in the minds of the entire world. Hussein's deterrence in that context was too much. Often no-deterrence at all is the best approach for countries. It’s a very risky persuasion technique. (Some countries aren’t thoughtful enough to pattern the responses they actually want, such as “respect,” “peace” and “love.) Hussein didn't realize that all populations already tell themselves scary things, without foreign governments adding to their already significant concerns. Even the tiniest amount of deterrence of the wrong people can create undesirable results. Hussein lacked the self-confidence and courage to realize other leaders could be at peace with him. He went way too far in frightening his neighbors, the United States, and most other countries.
A much better strategy would have been for him to embrace peace talks and even directly negotiate peace. World leaders and populations were so frightened that they might have gladly accepted his outreach and respected his country. With images of the World Trade Center and Pentagon incidents fresh in the minds of populations everywhere, he didn't have to deter anyone. Hussein could have toned down his image and invited other countries to resolve their differences with him peacefully. But he just wasn't a courageous enough leader for peace.
Saddam Hussein was so unnecessarily fear-mongering that the United States was initially applauded by nearly the entire international community for entering Iraq. Hussein had invaded several neighboring states, and behaved unforgivably towards Iran. But Hussein may have been very different from his public persona anyway. He was certainly compassionate to his devoted followers, who flourished under his lead. He could have chosen to work with other countries peacefully. But the perception leaders create with other leaders is very important, because certain types of perceptions can become reality. Hussein created an image for himself as unpredictable and unstable. He led other leaders to anticipate that he had considerable capabilities. The United States felt a sense of moral outrage after 9/11, and a preponderance of world leaders thought only prevailing over him would provide the world with real peace and calm as a result.
George Bush didn't respond to Hussein's deterrence with deterrence. He chose aggression. President Bush went into Iraq with initially overwhelming force, and took control of the country. His generals were so cautious in response to Hussein that they used overwhelming force to create an initial victory. Within a couple of years they ended the rule of Saddam Hussein.
But the victory was only fleeting. It didn't last perhaps because U.S. generals didn't adequately follow President Bush's lead in a small though incredibly consequential way. They didn't realize that President Bush planned to keep the Iraqi army together. That was an important part of his strategy. Without consulting the President, U.S. generals chose a different approach unilaterally in the field. Then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mostly let the Iraqi military go around 2005, when he ended the payroll of close to six hundred thousand people.
Clearly Defense Secretary Rumsfeld didn't anticipate how important the Iraqi army was to the stability of the entire country, and in fact entire region of countries. The Iraqi army was tough and well trained, after years of conflicts in the Middle East. The militia had machine guns and other forms of weaponry. They obviously were not trained in ethics and morality. They were trained to help Hussein rule their country. Their only obvious means of financial support was working for a government such as for the United States. Their disbandment by the United States therefore led to unpredictable results. They weren’t even allowed to work for other governments. They therefore became a source of mayhem that posed a challenge to peace for the entire region.
The United States successfully stabilized the country for a short time without utilizing an Iraqi army, through a surge of U.S. and NATO troops. But the United States ultimately fell short in creating real and lasting peace and stability there. The Iraqi armed forces simply became too unhappy about their dismissal because they were accustomed to being treated deferentially. They became a steadily growing problem within Iraq and beyond.
The Iraqi army went from being the ruling class to being an impoverished one. They went from having their families’ needs fully met, to being food insecure. They were unwilling and unable to find work. They couldn't support themselves for the first time. Unemployed and disgruntled, they splintered into a variety of rival gangs and militias that created unpredictable problems in Iraq and several neighboring states.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's strategy to neglect the supervision of the Iraqi army produced havoc. Iraqi militias became unruly, wandering unsupervised for the first time, and putting both domestic and even foreign populations at risk. They even put the natural resources of the country in jeopardy, which invited concerned foreign governments into eventual conflicts with the roaming gangs, to prevent them from becoming wealthy enough to invade other countries again.
Syria obviously had nothing to do with creating these events. Syria would have had no involvement with the matter whatsoever if it hadn't been for Syria's proximity to it. Syria shares a vast open border with Iraq, which Iraq's former militia could easily cross and even control. Syria was therefore susceptible to events in Iraq of no fault of its own. Syria was also at peace at the time of the U.S. and British involvement in the Middle East, and enjoyed stability and a modestly growing economy.
Iraq became so unstable that instability spread. Armed disputes broke out across the country, and spilled unhindered across the country's wide open borders into neighboring states, including into Syrian territory.
There was nothing the Syrian government could do. Just imagine hundreds of thousands of famished unpaid Iraqi militia members wandering Iraqi and Syrian deserts and city streets, attempting to dominate wherever they went, and an American and NATO Army doing their best to reestablish order by destroying large sections of cities as a result. They mayhem spread easily across the Iraq border into Syria and became an uncontrollable mess for both countries. Syria even lost an entire city this way, in one of the most unfair and regrettable moments in the history of warfare. Both Iraq and Syria suffered tremendously at the hands of well armed and unpaid former Iraqi militia members, and the western countries in pursuit of them.
This precipitated incomparable instability and humanitarian challenges. Twenty million people fled the mess in Iraq and Syria alone. The U.S. and U.K. had the best intentions in being in the area. They were standing up to their perception of an existential threat, and wanted peace and economic prosperity for the region. They had visions of creating an upstanding democracy in Iraq. They clearly weren't intending for their Middle Eastern adventure to become a source of instability and humanitarian challenges. They hoped they could create a burgeoning democracy in Iraq that would integrate effectively into the global economy, and become a symbol of freedom for the entire region. But the instability that resulted and extraordinary scale of departing refugees from the Middle East created one of the most significant humanitarian challenges in history for countries receiving migrants. Dissolving the Iraqi army created a cascading problem that reached from Iraq all the way through Europe to the U.K..
All countries want peace and stability for Iraq. Syria may well achieve the country's long sought after sense of calm and tranquility, as foreign direct investment returns. However, the challenges challenges dealing with Iraq's militias seemed insurmountable at that time.
As Iraq and then consequently Syria destabilized, residents in the Middle East started preferring to reside in safe countries. They left in sufficient numbers that stable recipient countries couldn't easily accommodate the overwhelming demand. Twenty plus million people gave up their homes in Iraq and Syria for squalor in the streets elsewhere. There was no way for recipient countries to clothes, feed and shelter everyone. As affluent countries started filling with struggling foreigners, their cities began appearing impoverished because of the public squalor that developed. They had to design approaches to house everyone and slow immigration as a result.
Some believe that the United States and the U.K. could have responded successfully simply by easing economic pressure on departure countries. They could have lifted sanctions on Middle Eastern countries, and increased investment there. Certainly if they had responded by encouraging more financial resources to flow into the region, fewer refugees would have departed. However, they didn't seem to realize the scale of the need.
The entire situation was especially unfair to Syria. Syria was both burdened with the instability in Iraq, of no fault of their own, and then with the subsequent economic challenges of U.S. and European sanctions. They were also burdened with the consequent exodus of both their wealthy citizens and impoverished population. No country could have been successful under these circumstances. The economic pressure prevented the Syrian government from meeting their population's security and humanitarian needs. It precipitated a continuous departure of people. So many people fled the region for a more optimistic future that we may never really learn the full extent of the migration.
Nearly the population of an entire country departed the Middle East for the hope, safety, security and opportunity of cities such as London. Most of the twenty plus million people went in the direction of Europe and especially the wealthy U.K.. Some Middle Eastern refugees also left for India and China.
According to the United Nations, four million Syrians departed from the comfort of their homes for what they hoped would be a more peaceful and enjoyable future, even though for many it meant initially accepting the squalor of Turkish streets, a few hundred miles away.
Turkey is Syria’s most affluent bordering state, and was therefore a natural safe haven for Syrian refugees. The country is a traditionally close ally of the U.S. and U.K. with a democracy and economy that Europe considers sufficiently advanced to be considered for E.U. membership, which Turkey may well eventually receive. Turkey also participates in the NATO alliance of countries, guaranteeing their defense by the U.S. and U.K.. Turkey was understandably appealing to refugees, and gave safety and comfort to many of them.
Syrians were pleased to settle in Turkey in such numbers that the Turkish government started building temporary shelters and permanent structures to house them for free. Turkey started providing socialist welfare excellently. Turkey had to embark on one of the greatest humanitarian efforts of this past century. But the homelessness still became overwhelming at times. Roaming mobs even created very temporary concerns about the stability of the Turkish government.
The Turkish government was very smart. They realized that Syria hadn't intended Turkey to burden any of the challenges, and responded completely peacefully. The Turkish government made a great decision to participate in very successful peace talks for the region that resulted in peace between all countries involved. They also met the humanitarian needs of arriving people to the best of their abilities. This was a very successful strategy that more than just kept the peace between Turkey and Syria. It created great relations for Turkey with a number of other countries.
Turkey therefore held together and even succeeded under tremendously talented existing leadership. The country secured international economic support to build more new homes faster than perhaps any country in history. The Turkish government was also very persuasive with both the Syrian government and with entering Syrian refugees to keep everyone calm. The Turkish government handled an impossible-seeming situation remarkably well, and enjoys real peace and tranquility as a result.