Russia’s bombing of the city of Aleppo this week sent a clear message: Vladimir Putin is now in charge of the endgame in Syria. Moscow’s plan — essentially, to restore its ally Bashar al-Assad to power — is quickly becoming a reality that the rest of the world will have to accept. America, Britain and the rest may not be comfortable with Putin’s ambitions in the Middle East, or his methods of achieving them. But the idea of backing a ‘moderate opposition’ in Syria has been proved a fantasy that leaves the field to Putin and Assad.
I've long wanted to get rid of Assad for his history of working against us with plenty of American blood on his hands from Lebanon to Iraq. I rejected the idea that unless we could simultaneously get rid of Assad and jihadis that we have to keep Assad in power.
This is why I've been in the Assad first camp even as jihadis and then ISIL arose in Syria. No matter what problems flow from the defeat of Assad, there is more of a chance to rally people to resolve the results of that outcome than there is to resolve the problem of Assad if he wins. If Assad wins, people will vote for the "stability" of his dictatorship grinding down Syrians for another generation--and providing bases for Iran and Russia, of course.
Four years ago, before Iran had more financial resources thanks to the Iran nuclear deal, before Russia developed full contempt for the Obama administration to oppose it, before Hezbollah and a Shia foreign legion could be sent to Syria while Assad's forces reeled, and before ISIL rose up in Syria to swamp non-jihadi rebels, a focus on defeating Assad (recall that President Obama said he had to leave office) would have been ugly but doable.
Now, our focus on ISIL in Syria (which should be separate from our focus on ISIL in Iraq--and elsewhere now--as I wrote early on in Iraq War 2.0, calling it a win-build-win strategy) while Russia and Iran focus on non-ISIL opposition to Assad just destroys all the forces that can oppose Assad.
We are effectively Assad's ally. He can now dream of surviving this civil war--at least in his corner of Syria in the short term. That, my friends, is smart diplomacy--by Assad, Russia, and Iran.
And please tell me this wasn't expected:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday he and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had reached a provisional agreement on terms of a cessation of hostilities in Syria and the sides were closer to a ceasefire than ever before.
Meanwhile, violence continued to rage in Syria.
Please. Lavrov will sign something that advances Russian interests (and drags along the Syrians and Iranians); and Kerry just wants something to sign. It breaks up his work week.
John Kerry can dress a pending Russian victory up any way he likes with impressive formal signing statements held in an Austrian castle, framed by snow-capped mountains, with a genuinely smiling Russian foreign minister Lavrov at his side, replete with colorful ribbons affixed with bright wax seals, but it will still be a Russian-Iranian-Assad win. And toss in Hezbollah as a winner, too.
And this will be called "Smart Diplomacy" by the clowns in Washington, D.C.
Oh, and allow me to bounce the rubble a bit:
Officials with Syrian rebel battalions that receive covert backing from one arm of the U.S. government told BuzzFeed News that they recently began fighting rival rebels supported by another arm of the U.S. government.
A little higher, please:
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday called on the United States to give unconditional support in the fight against Syrian Kurdish militants, illustrating growing tension between Ankara and Washington over policy in northern Syria.
We all of course remember how Turkey fully supported us by allowing 4th Infantry Division to invade Iraq from the north in 2003; and how they committed 20,000 troops for post-war stabilization missions.
Oh, they stiff-armed Bush 43 on those issues? Huh.
And now the country--under President Erdogan--that President Obama decided was our key ally in the region tells us we are either with them or against them? Huh.
Not that I'm mocking unaware of the very dangerous position Turkey is in, with threats all around them:
Turkey now stands completely isolated, trapped in a maze of quandaries that are partly of its own making, said Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.
“It has so alienated everyone it cannot convince anyone to do anything,” he said. “It is a country whose words no longer carry any weight. It bluffs but does not deliver. It cannot protect its vital interests, and it is at odds with everyone, including its allies.
“For a country that was until very recently seen as a consequential regional power, these facts strike me as quite disastrous,” he added.
Which is a problem for us, because under pressure and under belief that they are on their own, Turkey could do something really, really stupid.
In an interesting development, the Turkish military--long the whipping boy of Erdogan--publicly said they would not move into Syria without a UN Security Council resolution approving it.
Russia has a Security Council veto, of course.
Let's hope Erdogan isn't dusting off Turkish plans for a air-naval strike on Russia's Sevastopol base complex in Crimea, using whatever forces are loyal enough to Erdogan to move on his orders, bypassing the Turkish chain of command.
I remember when Obama fans said that his election was all about competence. Yeah. Behold your competency.
I really don't get nuance.
UPDATE: There is a ceasefire that America's Kerry and Russia's Lavrov helped put in place. Oh, which way will it go?
In the estimate of European and Israeli intelligence officials, but not the White House, the pause in fighting may have the unintended consequence of consolidating President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power over Syria for at least the next few years. Perhaps more important, if it proves successful, it may also begin to freeze in place what already amounts to an informal partition of the country, even though the stated objective of the West is to keep the country whole.
I'll guess that the unintended consequences will rule (that's the president's legacy right there) and that Lavrov also took Kerry's lunch money--and inflicted a wedgie on him just because he could.
Assad and Russia and Iran really only need to hold what they have now to get a win. Russia gets their naval and air bases (as well as taking us down a peg just by winning); Iran gets to keep their line of supply to Hezbollah and a direct front against Israel; and Assad holds on to power without having to rule a lot of Sunnis who don't seem to like him very much. Holding the western part of the country is easier than holding the entire country. Let the West worry about ISIL.
And for Russia and Iran, an Assad regime stripped of much of the country is more reliant on them--and so more pliant.
And what do we get? Well, a lovely signing ceremony is certainly something to relish, eh?