The second round of inter-Syrian talks is underway in Geneva, but Syrian Kurds were not invited. It means that the future of Syria and its society is decided without Kurds. In fact, we are pushed back into a conservative, old-fashioned system which does not fit well with us. In light of this, we see only one solution which is to declare the creation of [Kurdish] federation. It will serve the interests of the Kurds, but also those of Arabs, Turks, Assyrians, Chechens and Turkomans – all parts of Syria’s multinational society. Given the complicated situation in Syria, we would become an example of a system that may resolve the Syrian crisis.
The Kurdish Plan, Kerry’s Plan B, Brzezinski’s Plan A
To find common purpose with Russia, Washington should keep in mind the Bosnia model, devised to end the fierce Balkan conflicts in the 1990s. In that 1995 agreement, a weak central government was set up to oversee three largely autonomous zones.In similar fashion, a future Syria could be a confederation of several sectors: one largely Alawite (Assad’s own sect), spread along the Mediterranean coast; another Kurdish, along the north and northeast corridors near the Turkish border; a third primarily Druse, in the southwest; a fourth largely made up of Sunni Muslims; and then a central zone of intermixed groups in the country’s main population belt from Damascus to Aleppo. The last zone would likely be difficult to stabilize, but the others might not be so tough.Under such an arrangement, Assad would ultimately have to step down from power in Damascus. As a compromise, however, he could perhaps remain leader of the Alawite sector. A weak central government would replace him. But most of the power, as well as most of the armed forces. would reside within the individual autonomous sectors — and belong to the various regional governments. In this way, ISIL could be targeted collectively by all the sectors.Once this sort of deal is reached, international peacekeepers would likely be needed to hold it together — as in Bosnia. Russian troops could help with this mission, stationed, for example, along the Alawite region’s borders.This deal is not, of course, ripe for negotiation. To make it plausible, moderate forces must first be strengthened. The West also needs to greatly expand its training and arming of various opposition forces that do not include ISIL or al-Nusra. Vetting standards might also have to be relaxed in various ways. American and other foreign trainers would need to deploy inside Syria, where the would-be recruits actually live — and must stay, if they are to protect their families.Meanwhile, regions now accessible to international forces, starting perhaps with the Kurdish and Druse sectors, could begin receiving humanitarian relief on a much expanded scale. Over time, the number of accessible regions would grow, as moderate opposition forces are strengthened.Though it could take many months, or even years, to achieve the outcome Washington wants, setting out the goals and the strategy now is crucial. Doing so could provide a basis for the West’s working together with — or at least not working against — other key outside players in the conflict, including Russia, as well as Turkey, the Gulf states and Iraq.
The end-game for these zones would not have to be determined in advance. The interim goal might be a confederal Syria, with several highly autonomous zones and a modest (eventual) national government. The confederation would likely require support from an international peacekeeping force, if this arrangement could ever be formalized by accord. But in the short term, the ambitions would be lower—to make these zones defensible and governable, to help provide relief for populations within them, and to train and equip more recruits so that the zones could be stabilized and then gradually expanded.
The Syrian “Stans”
Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.. . . .Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority — notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-government protests — may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan. Iraq’s south would effectively become Shiitestan, although separation is not likely to be that neat.The dominant political parties in the two Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq have longstanding differences, but when the border opened in August, more than 50,000 Syrian Kurds fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, creating new cross-border communities. Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, has also announced plans for the first summit meeting of 600 Kurds from some 40 parties in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran this fall.“We feel that conditions are now appropriate,” said Kamal Kirkuki, the former speaker of Iraq’s Kurdish Parliament, about trying to mobilize disparate Kurds to discuss their future.. . . .New borders may be drawn in disparate, and potentially chaotic, ways. Countries could unravel through phases of federation, soft partition or autonomy, ending in geographic divorce.. . . .Other changes may be de facto. City-states — oases of multiple identities like Baghdad, well-armed enclaves like Misurata, Libya’s third largest city, or homogeneous zones like Jabal al-Druze in southern Syria — might make a comeback, even if technically inside countries.
Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone. The Islamic State has carved out a new entity from the post-Ottoman Empire settlement, mobilizing Sunni opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Iran-dominated government of Iraq. Also emerging, after years of effort, is a de facto independent Kurdistan.If, in this context, defeating the Islamic State means restoring to power Mr. Assad in Syria and Iran’s puppets in Iraq, that outcome is neither feasible nor desirable. Rather than striving to recreate the post-World War I map, Washington should recognize the new geopolitics. The best alternative to the Islamic State in northeastern Syria and western Iraq is a new, independent Sunni state.This “Sunni-stan” has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiation with the Kurds, to be sure), and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad. The rulers of the Arab Gulf states, who should by now have learned the risk to their own security of funding Islamist extremism, could provide significant financing. And Turkey — still a NATO ally, don’t forget — would enjoy greater stability on its southern border, making the existence of a new state at least tolerable.
. . . .Make no mistake, this new Sunni state’s government is unlikely to be a Jeffersonian democracy for many years. But this is a region where alternatives to secular military or semi-authoritarian governments are scarce. Security and stability are sufficient ambitions.
. . . .This Sunni state proposal differs sharply from the vision of the Russian-Iranian axis and its proxies (Hezbollah, Mr. Assad and Tehran-backed Baghdad). Their aim of restoring Iraqi and Syrian governments to their former borders is a goal fundamentally contrary to American, Israeli and friendly Arab state interests. Notions, therefore, of an American-Russian coalition against the Islamic State are as undesirable as they are glib.