Jerusalem Post on October 4, 2016, published an article on how Russia is outwitting the United States in Syria. Excerpts below:
America has been addicted to diplomacy in Syria since protests against the regime of Bashar Assad broke out in 2011. After the US refrained from bombing Syria in September 2013 and decided instead to channel negotiations regarding chemical weapons through Russia, it signaled that the US would never put a credible military threat on the table. More fortuitous for Assad was the rise of Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 and the pivoting of US policy from seeking to remove Assad to fighting ISIS.
In July 2015 the US signed the Iran deal, a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s and Secretary of State John Kerry’s “diplomacy first” agenda. The Russians correctly read the Iran deal and the decision by the US to focus a bombing campaign on ISIS as a step-down of demands that Assad leave power. The Iran deal strengthened Assad as well because Iran is a key supporter for the regime and has helped fund it, as well as sending tens of thousands of Shi’ite mercenaries, mostly from Afghanistan, to fight in Syria. The Russians saw the US addiction to diplomacy as an inherent weakness of US policy-making.
Obama has been portrayed as fearing that any action on Syria would lead to another Iraq, a slippery slope, sucking in US money and troops.
As thousands more died and millions more became refugees, with the exception of the budding relationship with Syria’s Kurds the US kept hammering down the same track.
The fact that the US telegraphed openly the fact it would never do more than negotiate made diplomacy a moot issue. The Russians correctly understood that Americans value diplomacy for diplomacy’s sake.
When there is a war and one side, such as the Syrian rebels, is slowly losing, the longer diplomacy goes on, the worse it is for them.
Yet in August Kerry was still talking to the Russians, hoping that a “political transition could begin,” according to Reuters. “It is critical, obviously, that Russia restrain both itself and the Assad regime from conducting offensive operations,” Kerry said in August. When a “cease-fire,” which was never really a ceasefire, came into affect in September, the White house press secretary Josh Earnest openly derided its chances of success. “I think we’d have some reasons to be skeptical that the Russians are able or are willing to implement the arrangement consistent with the way it’s been described,” he said, but added, “we will see.” And the world did see exactly what happened during the “cease-fire”: Assad and his allies deepened their siege of Aleppo and air-strikes continued. Yet the Americans keep talking about “easing Assad out of office.”
Meanwhile media aligned with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has openly boasted of the Russian success. Sputnik news noted that “Russia’s air campaign in Syria helped it develop ‘realistic diplomacy.’” Russia has been clear about its support for Assad since the conflict began. In 2015 it began a major air campaign, first telling the world it was “fighting ISIS,” which like so many things, led the naïve Western powers to accept the campaign with few reservations. A year on, the air campaign has rolled back Syrian rebel advances and killed thousands.
The problem again and again with US “diplomacy” is that it is not diplomacy.
Diplomacy is a policy designed to create an outcome with an opposing force that is also diplomatically trustworthy. When an enemy is massacring people and you say “we will use diplomacy,” you are merely giving the enemy time to massacre more people. It’s the difference between negotiating with a hostage taker and negotiating with a hostage taker who is killing hostages. There is no “negotiation” in the second scenario, unless one wants to let more hostages die. US diplomacy in a world where the US has nothing credible to back up its talk, where the US puts all its cards on the table and where America’s opponents openly mock the naivety of Washington policy-makers, has turned US policy into a tool of its opponents. Because the Americans can be counted upon to do everything to make “diplomacy” appear to work, countries such as Syria, Iran and Russia simply play along, while conducting the policy they always wanted all along. There is no evidence that US diplomacy has ever restrained anything in the last decade. In that sense Washington policy in the last years been geared upon doing whatever other countries want to do.
Russia read the US playbook, and plays to the US need to feel arrogant about its “successful, but frustrating, diplomacy.” So they talk and talk, and the US never gets anything, and the Russian ground game succeeds in Syria, bit by bit.
Comment: The Obama administration’s so called diplomacy in Syria is bankrupt. There is a great risk that a possible Clinton administration will follow the same bankrupt policy. The interests of the West in the Middle East are truly endangered at present and could be in the future as well.