An Open Letter to Senator McCain

by ROBERT LAIDLEY August 4, 2016



c/o Robert Laidley

400 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022

Tel:  212 759 5116  Email:

3 August, 2016
Senator John McCain
Senate Armed Services Committee

Dear Senator McCain,

I am writing to suggest your Committee should look into  an immediate opportunity and requirement for NATO to take military action against ISIS in Syria in retaliation for their terrorist attacks in Europe and America. 

First moves would include taking control of  an existing airport in Syria, perhaps Deir ez-Zor or Paimyra, thus countering the basing problem caused by President Erdogan's threat to deny America and NATO operating use of Incirlik air base.

These two airports are distant from Assad's areas of Alawite strength which are in the North and West, and only cover about 40% of the country.

NATO's responsibilities and authority are described in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.  The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Curtis Scaporrotti, is in command and has clear authority to move forward without requiring formal consent from the members of NATO.  At the time of the formation of NATO there was an immediate threat from the Soviet Union and it was recognized that the ability for an immediate response was necessary.  The same situation exists today with fanatical terrorism from ISIS.  The opportunity is in Syria where ISIS claim Racqa as their capital and they have effective control over Mosul.

In overview the main points are:

1.  Immediate opportunity to inflict severe damage on ISIS.

2.  Stop the civil war by setting up the necessary No Fly Zones and Safe Haven Enclaves.

3.  This would largely stop the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, and impose security.

4.  In consequence this should stop the massive flow of refugees from Syria, and could cause the return of some existing refugees.  These refugees, along with lack of an effective response to massacre attacks by ISIS and other terrorist groups, are tearing apart the fabric of the European Union.

5.  The security would permit alliances to form to plan to bring down Assad in the longer term.

6.  Bringing in NATO would mean European, not American, boots on the ground.

7.  America would no longer be paying the full cost, but would only be paying its share as a member of NATO.

8.  The UN and relief organizations are encountering great difficulties in bringing in relief supplies to various locations in Syria.  This initiative would give them much improved security and access.

9.  Putin is unlikely to try to block this.  Indeed, it would be irrational for him to want to block an effective attack on ISIS.

10. This initiative does not require Obama's approval.

11. This show of strength might improve our negotiating position with Erdogan.

Now let me cover some points of detail.

In order to move effectively against ISIS, NATO must stop the civil war in Syria.  Thus NATO must implement the necessary No Fly Zones and Safe Haven enclaves.  This would be a temporary takeover of authority from the government of Syria.  It should be publicly emphasized that authority would revert to a legitimate government of Syria once ISIS has been exterminated from Syria.  Legitimate would clearly exclude Assad.  Further once various other parties obtained independence and control of land they would never give it back to any Syrian government, so some form of confederation is likely to result.  The opposition to Assad in his own country would now have the opportunity to coordinate their efforts with other parties.  With these measures in place President al-Assad can reasonably be expected to have a limited time in office, being vulnerable to enhanced pressures from other Alawites and outside interests.

The new zone for President Bashar al-Assad and the Alawites must cover their area of influence which is only about one-quarter of the country, in the West and North.  NATO should establish this enclave and impose a No Fly Zone over it.  Similarly the areas of influence of other tribal groups should be established, and largely demilitarized Safe Haven enclaves set up under NATO protection. 

It will be necessary to take military action to disable Assad's airports and destroy his aircraft, eliminating their capability to barrel bomb and otherwise attack their neighbors. 

A web search indicates that there are 21 military airports and 3 helicopter bases in Syria.  Six of the airports are also used as public airports.  In addition Russia has military airports at Bassel al-Assad and Latakia, which must be left isolated and unthreatened. 

Perhaps the first airport should be Damascus International, and the other airports attacked as necessary.  Just the military capability should be taken out at Damascus, leaving it able to continue as an international airport.

The scene would now be set to attack ISIS.  NATO has the capabilities to inflict heavy damage on ISIS, but will require Boots on the Ground to direct aerial firepower.  The Middle East is a NATO responsibility, and America's obligation is through its membership of NATO, not directly.  The Boots on the Ground must be European Boots and not American Boots.

Many Syrians have fled their country for survival, reluctantly abandoning their homes and other possessions.  Most now find themselves in a very difficult situation, without work and dependent on support, unwelcome, living in camps, and with little hope for the future.  Given security, potential refugees in Syria can be expected to stay home, and many in Europe could decide to return.  Thus this approach should  stop the refugee deluge into Europe and elsewhere.

In overview there are disturbing similarities today between the pent up pressures, hatreds and territorial ambitions which led to World War I.  All the same elements are present today, and far too many influential politicians are once again taking decisions based on political expediency.  The situation is complicated even further by the attempted involvement of the bloated bureaucracies in Brussels, where numerous ideas continually sprout forth on how to increase their influence.

Finally it should be noted that President Putin is returning Russia to the Cold War expansionist objectives, political and territorial, of the Soviet Union.  He is doing this very astutely, and he has made substantial progress without meeting effective resistance. 

It is very unlikely that Putin could prevent NATO attacking ISIS in Syria.  Further it would be irrational for him to do this since ISIS terrorism is a common threat.  Most interestingly there have been recent high level indications that Russia has difficulty in meeting the costs of involvement in Syria and is cooperating in trying to bring about the withdrawal of its forces.  Vice President Biden has also indicated this.

I believe NATO has the responsibility and opportunity to put this situation to rights through prompt direct action by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. 

I read your recent article in the Wall Street Journal where you said that, in Syria, there is no coherent strategy to destroy ISIS or negotiate an end to the civil war, which is the only way to win a lasting peace.  Perhaps all that is needed is to recognize that after NATO won the Cold War, communications and direct decisions were taken over by Washington.  This situation remains even though Putin returned to the Cold War several years ago.  The necessary coherent strategy may be simply to bring back NATO in its rightful role.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Laidley.


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