Friday, December 30, 2016

How Leading from Behind Ends

I've long said that the Syrian Kurds will not be the assault troops for a war against Assad. For all that they oppose Assad, they were never going to bleed to put the Sunni majority in charge of Syria when that majority would be more capable of suppressing Kurds than the Alawite minority fighting to keep Assad in power.

Syria's Kurds would rather have a bloodied Assad content to reign over rather than rule their northern territories:

Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies said on Thursday they approved a blueprint for a system of federal government in northern Syria, reaffirming their plans for autonomy in areas they have controlled during the civil war.

The blueprint amounts to a constitution, known as the social contract, an official told Reuters this week.

It aims to cement the autonomy of areas of northern Syria where Kurdish groups have already carved out self-governing regions since the start of the war in 2011, though Kurdish leaders say an independent state is not the goal.

This is the problem with leading from behind. Allies we back--without sharing the risks--are willing to take our support to gain their objectives rather than die for our objectives.

I was willing to consider a federal Syria that saved--but weakened--Assad in the short run if other objectives were so important that they surpassed the removal of Assad. But I wanted a follow-up effort to defeat Assad.

Have no doubt that the Russian-Iranian-Turkish proposal for a federal Syria is just the first step to a follow-up effort to regain all of Syria for Assad:

Syria would be divided into informal zones of regional power influence and Bashar al-Assad would remain president for at least a few years under an outline deal between Russia, Turkey and Iran, sources say.

Such a deal, which would allow regional autonomy within a federal structure controlled by Assad's Alawite sect, is in its infancy, subject to change and would need the buy-in of Assad and the rebels and, eventually, the Gulf states and the United States, sources familiar with Russia's thinking say.

Yeah, in a few years Assad will become indispensable. There will be no comfy exile in Crimea.

But in the short run, if Russia and Iran have firm control of northwestern Syria, they will be happy to have bases to project power into the eastern Mediterranean Sea and Lebanon, respectively, as I noted right before Russia directly intervened.

And if the new friend of Iran and Russia, Turkey, gets a free hand in northern Syria to take on the Kurds (which helps in the follow-up efforts to defeat Assad opponents), the Turks will be happy.

And remember that through all of this, we weren't even invited to the conference that divided up Syria. Because leading from behind isn't any kind of leading at all.