Even those of us who have long spoken out against the Obama administration’s moral and strategic negligence in Syria, and the way it handed Russia the lead in that land of suffering were astounded by recent developments. President Obama and Secretary Kerry not only succumbed to another Russian plan that handed Assad another unearned advantage; this time, they agreed to “cooperate militarily” with Russia. The fact that Russia routinely assaults mainstream rebels and civilians under the guise of fighting ISIS, and that Russia is clearly implicated in Assad’s atrocities, made the idea of joint military missions between Russia and the United States appalling.
Let this sink in: Ignoring Pentagon objections, the administration agreed that, after a one week cessation of hostilities, which Kerry defined-down as a “reduction in violence,” the U.S. would fly sorties with Russia against mutually agreed upon targets, primarily … if Russia was to be trusted … against ISIS. Even though the ceasefire quickly collapsed, the very formation of the deal highlighted America’s ensnarement in Russia’s pro-Assad schemes. In addition to giving Russia another opportunity to rescue Assad and pressure the Free Syria Army, it affirmed Russia’s rising power in the Middle East, exposed American complicity, gullibility and debility, and further alienated the United States from Sunni states and Arab moderates.
Fatal flaws in the plan were immediately apparent. As the “truce” was put into place, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stipulated that “terrorists” would continue to be targeted while Assad vowed to retake “all of Syria” from terrorists … a word Syria and Russia use against all opponents of the Syrian regime. For his part, Kerry stunningly suggested that the United States might agree to new regime airstrikes against “al Qaeda-linked militants,” a statement the State Department quickly retracted. For a moment, it seemed the U.S. secretary of state was approving airstrikes by one of the most murderous dictators the world has seen, whose methods of annihilation include chemical weapons dropped from the sky.
Previous “ceasefires” and “peace plans” hatched out by Kerry and Lavrov emboldened the Assad regime by providing it with a let-up in rebel action, and legitimized the regime by confirming its place in negotiations. This deal was only worse. It went after the anti-Assad extremist group formerly known as Nusra Front, while leaving pro-Assad extremists from Hezbollah to Iranian Quds to Iraqi militias alone. It ordered the Free Syria Army to separate from Nusra (which it had eventually, reluctantly sided with) or suffer “dire consequences”… namely US/Russian airstrikes. This mandate was sure to result in the opposition losing territory, yet territorial gains already made by Assad’s forces were not disputed. Most telling: Although there were provisions for getting aid to Syrians devastated by regime sieges, there were no requirements that the regime’s sieges, nor its massacres and systematized torture, cease.
As if to confirm that Russia was in the driver’s seat, the administration rushed to express “regret” after coalition forces mistakenly killed Syrian soldiers in anti-ISIS air assaults, while Russia rushed to condemn the United States. The Syrian regime declared the ceasefire over and resumed airstrikes, while Russian aircraft destroyed a convoy delivering aid to besieged Syrians. The one plausible excuse for the deal, that it would include desperately needed humanitarian relief, was thereby discredited. The State Department nevertheless said it would extend the truce, and urged Russia to use its influence with Syria. The thanks the United States got for this gesture was the ferocious unleashing of Russian and Syrian incendiary bombs, cluster munitions and “bunker busters” on opposition-held, civilian-inhabited parts of Aleppo. As Russia sent in more warplanes, the Syrian government initiated a massive ground assault.
The State Department response to all of this? Secretary Kerry said he was “on the verge” of suspending “talks” with Russia. A spokesman said the US-Russian diplomatic process was “on life support” but “not flat-lined yet.” When Russia and Syria only intensified the brutal bombardment, the United States, finally, formally, “suspended negotiations with Russia over the cease-fire.”
American concessions to Putin’s Russia are a continual boon to Assad, as they distance the United States from Obama’s one-time assertion that “Assad must go,” and marginalize Assad’s opponents. Russian and US “talks” always provide the Assad regime with time, often just when time is running out. Never mind the absurdity of thinking the Syrian people can “coexist” with a regime that has caused such horrors and pain.
Although we are coming to grips with how far the Obama administration has gone in order to accommodate Iran, we have yet to face how far the administration has gone in order to accommodate Russia. Iran praised the latest Russian-American agreement and Iran, like Russia, is in Syria fighting to save Assad. It is time to connect the dots.
This article was originally published at Washington Examiner on October 6, 2016. Read the full article here.