Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We Came. We Saw. We Faltered

Red lines are for Russians:

With its Syria policy in tatters and Europe alarmed at a tide of refugees, the Obama administration and its allies are contemplating a policy shift that once seemed unthinkable: A peace formula that would allow President Bashar Assad to remain in office, at least on an interim basis.

Yeah, "interim." Defined as Assad remaining president until he dies peacefully abed with a son groomed (in Moscow spy schools) to take over.

Of course, there is a real basis for US-Russian cooperation in this crisis.

Russia is so determined to keep Assad in power that Putin sent troops to Syria. While we are completely unwilling to do anything effective to defeat Assad, even though our president once famously said he had to leave office.

Obviously, we could have a lovely signing ceremony in Geneva that keeps Assad in power with some theoretical future free and fair election to give us a fig leaf to justify another Nobel Peace Prize (after his Iran nuclear triumph, of course!) for Kerry, who will continue his diplomacy to its logical conclusion.

UPDATE: The Russians launched air strikes in the Homs region:

Moscow gave Washington just an hour's notice of the strikes, which set in train Russia's biggest play in the region since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, a U.S. official said.

Targets in the Homs area appeared to have been struck, but not areas held by Islamic State, the U.S. official said.

We appear at a loss about how to respond to anything but the Dread Straw Man:

The official took Obama’s critics to task for failing to offer good alternatives.

“Is the solution to every Iraq and Syria to insert 150,000 U.S. troops? That is not something this president will do, nor is it something the American people want,” the official said.

Critics have been offering alternatives for three years. And they include options between watching Putin prop up his ally and sending 150,000 US troops.

I've mentioned this continuum, as a general notion.

And the Saudis still see the defeat of Assad as the objective, regardless of how much flexibility we want to grant Putin:

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Tuesday there is a military option in Syria that will end with the removal of President Bashar Assad if the preferred political option does not lead to his departure.

After we screwed them on the Iran nuclear deal, cutting a deal with the Russians to save Assad would make it virtually impossible for Saudi Arabia to do anything but pursue nuclear weapons as the ultimate source of protection.

UPDATE: Russia doesn't appear to want to engage in ground combat:

Ivanov, the Kremlin's Chief of Staff, said Russia's missions would be limited and not open-ended. He precluded the use of ground troops.

"As our president has already said, the use of ground troops has been ruled out," said Ivanov.

Which fits with my view. I think Russia wants to save Assad but hopes to get us to help rather than commit troops that Russia can't spare (or afford, unless Iran signs the checks).

With television reports that the Russians warned us to clear our planes out of northern Syria skies--and we refused--prior to their strikes, I'll say again that Russia will go F-22 hunting.

UPDATE: Was this hard to predict?

Already out-gunned and out-manned in Syria’s civil war, U.S.-backed rebels are facing a new and possibly even more serious threat to their survival: Russian air strikes that Washington appears reluctant to thwart.

Silly rebels! Being on the right side of history is their air defense. Have fun storming the castle!