Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

Obama’s Syria fantasy

Image Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

Image Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

If pigs had wings, perhaps they could fly. And if the US had some leverage, perhaps all the talk about a negotiated end to the Syrian crisis might amount to something.

But even if the US could develop some negotiating leverage at this late date in Syria’s ongoing tragedy, there is virtually no possibility of realizing the fantasy that President Obama outlined in his press conference appearance on Tuesday with British Prime Minister David Cameron:

“If, in fact, we can broker a peaceful political transition that leads to Assad’s departure but a state in Syria that is still intact; that accommodates the interests of all the ethnic groups, all the religious groups inside of Syria; and that ends the bloodshed, stabilizes the situation – that .. will be good for everybody. And we’re going to be very persistent in trying to make that happen. . . It’s going to be challenging, but it’s worth the effort.”

“Challenging” hardly begins to describe the near-impossibility of achieving “a state in Syria that is still [my emphasis] intact,” particularly with Tuesday’s reported claim that the death toll in Syria is likely to be as high as 120,000 (including 41,000 confirmed killed from the Alawite sect of President Bashar al-Assad).

Prime Minister Cameron, standing alongside Obama, claimed that “there is a common interest” with the Russians that “at the end of this there is a stable, democratic Syria.” But Russian President Putin has expressed no interest in a “democratic Syria.” In a press conference with Cameron in Moscow last Friday, Putin outlined a much more limited area of agreement: “We both want to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.” For the Russians, that is obviously best achieved by a victory for the Assad regime, and the idea that Putin would welcome a “democratic” outcome in Syria is laughable.

Nor is it much more likely that the Russians will support “Assad’s departure.” They’ve made it clear that they have no interest in that outcome, including most recently in their lobbying effort against a UN General Assembly Resolution that condemned the Assad regime’s “gross violations” of human rights. Although the resolution passed yesterday by a vote of 107 to 12 with 59 abstentions, Russia and other opponents succeeded in reducing the number of “yes” votes by 20% from the 133 votes for last year’s similar resolution.

That same resolution also called on all parties “to rapidly implement the roadmap for a Syrian political transition” adopted at last year’s Geneva meeting. Neither Obama nor Secretary of State Kerry has offered any explanation of why another meeting this year should produce any better result than last year’s. Particularly not when the Western powers have done nothing serious in the past twelve months to strengthen moderate forces in the opposition.

That inaction is one of the major reasons why, as the New York Times recently reported, the armed opposition fighting the regime are increasingly radicalized, “leaving few groups that both share the political vision of the United States and have the military might to push it forward.” As one rebel commander told the Times (speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation), “most of [the radical Nusra group’s] fighters joined the group for the weapons, not the ideology.”

Yet, while Western leaders talk about organizing another meeting, the Assad regime is gaining ground, thanks to Russian and Iranian arms, Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, and newly organized Alawite militias. Those Syrians who do share the president’s hope for a “Syria that is still intact; that accommodates the interests of all the ethnic groups, all the religious groups inside of Syria; and that ends the bloodshed” are receiving no serious Western support. In this position of weakness, they may find it impossible even to turn up at a June conference, thereby handing a further victory to the Assad regime.

And so, the country continues to be torn apart by the struggle between Assad’s brutal tyranny and an opposition that is increasingly dominated by perhaps equally brutal and tyrannical Islamist extremists. And the bodies continue to pile up.

Perhaps President Obama really believes that the proposed conference can produce a good outcome. More likely, he simply sees it as a way to delay for a few more months the need to make any hard decisions. By that time, US options will have narrowed even further. In either case, the president’s words are not seen as something to be taken seriously.

People may not like the positions that Russia takes, but they will think several times before opposing them. That fact has repercussions not in only Syria and the broader Middle East but even in places as far away as Azerbaijan and Georgia and the Baltic states.

An end to the slaughter in Syria is greatly to be desired. But unless the US and its allies can gain some negotiating leverage by giving serious backing to moderate forces in the opposition – something which is becoming nearly impossible the longer the US delays – even an imperfect peace will remain out of reach.

12 thoughts on “Obama’s Syria fantasy

  1. An end to the slaughter in Syria is greatly to be desired. But unless the US and its allies can gain some negotiating leverage by giving serious backing to moderate forces in the opposition – something which is becoming nearly impossible the longer the US delays – even an imperfect peace will remain out of reach.

    I cannot think of anything more disgusting than giving a fool who helped lie the country into a war that led to the deaths of so many American soldiers a forum to argue for another useless war. Mr Wolfowitz belongs in jail somewhere answering for his crimes, not being paid to tell more lies and help commit new crimes.

    • “I cannot think of anything more disgusting than giving a fool who helped lie the country into a war that led to the deaths of so many American soldiers a forum to argue for another useless war.”

      I can. It would be reading a cliche-ridden piece of meaningless invective from an armchair analyst who feels they are morally superior to a former public servant who did his best to protect the country. Now that’s disgusting!

      • I can. It would be reading a cliche-ridden piece of meaningless invective from an armchair analyst who feels they are morally superior to a former public servant who did his best to protect the country. Now that’s disgusting!

        LOL…Your prisons are full of people who are morally superior to the ‘former public servant’ who lied you into war. He has more blood on his hands than most gang leaders or petty tyrants that we keep overthrowing.

        • YOU think you’re morally superior don’t you? Since you’ve never had to take responsibility for the consequences of YOUR views, I suppose it’s easy for you to feel you’re so much better than public servants doing their best for the country.

          As for “lying us into war,” if you can’t see the difference between lying and being mistaken, then as Jack Nicholson said in The Departed, “I don’t know what to do for ya.” Except to counsel you to read some Niebuhr and work on your arrogance.

          • YOU think you’re morally superior don’t you?

            Yes. I also think that 99.9% is morally superior to Mr. Wolfowitz because he is not concerned with morality. He is the type that thinks that most people need shadows cast on walls to tell them what to think and do. While that may be true for people like you I do not believe that is really the case for a large portion of society. Since he has argued for the killing of innocents and has taken actions that have led to the deaths of innocents it is without doubt that I am morally superior to him.

            Since you’ve never had to take responsibility for the consequences of YOUR views, I suppose it’s easy for you to feel you’re so much better than public servants doing their best for the country.

            I take full responsibility for my actions. Mr. Wolfowitz does not. When liars like him start wars it is other people who die. I also do not think of him as a public servant. He is a member of the ruling elite that acts as your masters, not servants. He does not listen to the public and enact policies that the public wants; he enacts policies that the public has to follow and often opposes. And he looks mostly after his own interests while getting paid by the taxpayer.

            As for “lying us into war,” if you can’t see the difference between lying and being mistaken, then as Jack Nicholson said in The Departed, “I don’t know what to do for ya.” Except to counsel you to read some Niebuhr and work on your arrogance.

            You can choose to believe that Mr. Wolfowitz was simply incompetent and that his incompetence wound up costing a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. But all I see are transparent lies that were there for all to see if they chose to look. When Ambassador Wilson traveled to Niger and found out that the claims made against Saddam were fraudulent he and the rest of the administration should have examined the other lies. Instead they got pissed off and outed his wife as a CIA spy, probably getting some of the people that she worked with killed. It was not a small error innocently made. It was a deliberate act if deception by a group of people that exists to deceive.

  2. Not all concur with Vangel. Vangel has not displayed factual evidence to support his assertion–Vangel has not proved 1) WMD was not ever present in Iraq, 2) Hussein did not support terrorist, or 3) Hussein did not repeatedly violate UN resolutions. All three reasons were cited by the Bush administration as reasons for going into Iraq, so even if one holds, the justification remains. Sorry Vangel, it’s not personal, just factual.

    • Not all concur with Vangel. Vangel has not displayed factual evidence to support his assertion–Vangel has not proved 1) WMD was not ever present in Iraq, 2) Hussein did not support terrorist, or 3) Hussein did not repeatedly violate UN resolutions. All three reasons were cited by the Bush administration as reasons for going into Iraq, so even if one holds, the justification remains. Sorry Vangel, it’s not personal, just factual.

      I can’t prove a negative. For those that lied the country into war to prove me wrong is easy. All they had to do is provide evidence of WMDs, or Saddam’s link to al Qaeda. The fact that they can’t speaks louder than any of the shrill claims that they continue to make as they continue to make a good living promoting conflicts around the globe.

      • Vangel, you mentioned just two of the three issues, you did not address violation of multiple UN resolutions. You also do not address the repression of the Kurdis people or other groups within Iraq.
        One can concede that very few chemical warheads were found by the Coalition forces. However, one cannot deny Hussein’s history of using chemical weapons on his own people–think about the al Anfal campaign which began around 1987 which included chemical weapons use.
        One can understand there are those that doubt, as it is difficult to move from ones framework of beliefs to accept a different view. But just as one must accept that our understanding is less than complete, one must accept both that our understanding of the credence of the justification for war was also based on less than complete information. All of us make decisions based on the information available and our understanding of it, both in day-to-day decisions and life-changing decisions. As such, one must concur that the Iraq war was initiated on a belief of justification that was also incomplete, but it was based on the facts believed by those responsible to make the decision.
        If one believes that no WMD was in Hussein’s control, the one must understand a lesson learned for Hussein is that deception to show strength and lack of cooperation to support the deception may backfire. Hussein failed to anticipate the results of his successful deception, resulting in his demise.

        • Vangel, you mentioned just two of the three issues, you did not address violation of multiple UN resolutions.

          That is true. The US should not be doing the bidding of the UN.

          You also do not address the repression of the Kurdis people or other groups within Iraq.

          Also true. The US should not go to war to protect any group that is being repressed in a foreign country because if it did it would always be at war. While that might please the neocons who like nothing better than war and an all powerful state that limits individual liberty at home it is not good for taxpayers or voters.

          One can concede that very few chemical warheads were found by the Coalition forces.

          If I go and dig up the old artillery ranges I will find unexploded chemical shells that are left over from the time that you gave Saddam the very weapons that you say he should not have.

          However, one cannot deny Hussein’s history of using chemical weapons on his own people–think about the al Anfal campaign which began around 1987 which included chemical weapons use.

          I recall how Donald Rumsfeld and others helped Saddam get chemical weapons that he could use in his war against Iran. I also seem to recall that the US government did not stop there but also made sure that he had acquired anthrax, bubonic plague and other biological agents. Why was it OK for your government to arm Saddam in the 1980s only to go to war with him for having the same weapons that you made sure that he acquired.

          I also recall that the US Army War College wrote a report in which it cleared Saddam of the deaths that died due to the use of gas. The report said that the people who died were gassed when they came back into the area even though the conflict was not over. But even if Saddam was guilty the number killed, which was under 1,000 was a small fraction of the civilians who died due to the US led sanctions of Iraq. Madeline Albright actually went on TV and made clear where the US stood on the issue of dying children. When she was asked, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” she answered very clearly, “we think the price is worth it.”

          So tell me why it is less of a crime to take actions that kill 500,000 innocent children than it is to use chemical weapons during a war and kill a thousand people? I may be old fashioned but unlike Albright, Wolfowitz, Bolton, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and many others in the Bush and Clinton administrations I believe that morality matters and that nobody has the right to initiate violence. This does not make me a misguided pacifist because I have little trouble with the use of force. I just don’t believe in the use of force for non-defence purposes and think that unjust actions are likely to create far more problems than they solve. The irony, of course, is that Wolfowitz’s professors understood that invaders and aggressors always had trouble with thymos and that occupation would always create the very type of resistance that is creating so many difficulties for the military and the government.

        • But just as one must accept that our understanding is less than complete, one must accept both that our understanding of the credence of the justification for war was also based on less than complete information.

          This is false. Both the military and the intelligence services knew that Saddam never presented the threat to the US that the Bush administration was claiming. The Niger story was exposed as a fraud quite early in the game. The IEA made it clear that there were no nuclear weapons and that Iraq could not produce nuclear weapons for a decade or more. Everyone understood that any ‘chemical weapons’ would be limited to obsolete shells obtained with the help of the US to fight a war with Iran a long time before. Such weapons were not effective. We all understood that a secular government such as Saddam had little love for al Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups. Those groups are usually used by the United States to serve American interests (see Libya and Syria for perfect examples) and were not to be trusted.

          The intelligence was made up to get people to go along with the goals of the pro-war insiders in the Bush administration.

          All of us make decisions based on the information available and our understanding of it, both in day-to-day decisions and life-changing decisions. As such, one must concur that the Iraq war was initiated on a belief of justification that was also incomplete, but it was based on the facts believed by those responsible to make the decision.

          Incompetence is not an excuse. And from what I could see the facts against the case made clear that the goal was to lie the country into war, not to attack only those that were really responsible for 9/11. And let us not just blame the Bush people for this. The Clinton people wanted to do the same but never got much of a chance. But they did have their war crimes moment when they decided to bomb civilians in Serbia.

          If one believes that no WMD was in Hussein’s control, the one must understand a lesson learned for Hussein is that deception to show strength and lack of cooperation to support the deception may backfire. Hussein failed to anticipate the results of his successful deception, resulting in his demise.

          There was not much of a deception. Saddam knew that the US intelligence agencies and the IEA knew that he was incapable and impotent to do any harm to the US. He was just counting on Bush being a better and more moral man than he was. Unfortunately for him, Bush was even worse than he was.

  3. “…as high as 120,000 (including 41,000 confirmed killed from the Alawite sect…”

    The “civilian deaths” number is used to imply that the the entire body count are unarmed civilians killed by the Syrian army. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Alawites are a minority. So they’re taking casualties out of proportion to their numbers in the general population. Although no numbers are given, I assume the same is true for the Syrian Christians (who also support Assad out of desperation).

    The people running the civil war are the same kind of Moslem fanatics who killed the US ambassador in Libya. I don’t see any safe alternative to letting Assad put down the rebellion and drive out the foreign troublemakers.

    • The “civilian deaths” number is used to imply that the the entire body count are unarmed civilians killed by the Syrian army.

      These guys are very good at deception. They keep using al Qaeda to do their dirty work for them yet pretend that they want the terrorists exterminated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>