In an extraordinary column, the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reports that our intrepid Secretary of State John Kerry, whose brilliant negotiating skills were responsible for the disastrous Iran Nuke Deal, is currently working on yet another cease-fire agreement in Syria with the Russians, all of his previous attempts having come to naught.
This endeavor is beyond quixotic, to say the least. President Barack Obama isn’t backing it so Kerry has no negotiating clout. There’s no carrot to dangle before President Putin and his client, Assad, for agreeing to Kerry’s terms and no stick to threaten them with, should they decline. As for Putin, what possible rationale could there be for entering into an agreement with an administration that’ll be out of power in less than two months?
This is made even more bizarre by the fact that the Trump administration is carrying on its own negotiations for a Syrian cease-fire. Since Nov. 9, Trump has twice spoken with Putin about cooperation in Syria, and only last month, Donald Trump Jr. met with pro-Russian Syrians in Paris, including Randa Kassis, who, with her husband Fabien Baussart, founder of a French think tank, has worked closely with Russia to end the Syrian conflict.
“[Syria’s] opposition got hope that [the] political process will move forward and Russia and the United States will reach accord on the issue of the Syrian crisis, because of Trump’s victory,” wrote Ms. Kassis on her Facebook page. “Such hope and belief is the result of my personal meeting with Donald Trump junior in Paris in October.”
And yet so desperate is Kerry to close his own deal with Putin that he came around to admitting to something that Putin’s been saying for years. That the so-called Syrian Free Army or “Rebels” in eastern Aleppo consists of a basket of terrorist organizations, including members of the “al-Qaeda-linked Jabbat Fatah al-Sham” and the “Syrian Conquest Front (formerly the al-Nusrah Front).” At one point, the Post identified at least five such groups, but the names are irrelevant as the members freely migrate to whichever group is offering the best salary and benefits at any given time.
The Obama administration has been fond of distinguishing between good and bad terrorists throughout the Middle East, with the good terrorists generally being identified with the Muslim Brotherhood. Along this vein, Kerry’s deal involves identifying the good Rebels in eastern Aleppo and getting the rest to agree to just go away. In return, Putin will end his siege of the terrorist stronghold so that humanitarian aid can get in. We know how well this worked when the Israelis were prevailed upon to lift their siege of Gaza for the purpose of allowing “humanitarian aid” to flow in. This was followed by a spurt in the construction of new terror tunnels with the concrete intended to build houses, schools, and hospitals for Gazan civilians.
Putin agrees with Kerry that Assad must go in order for peace to be achievable in Syria, but, according to the Carnegie Middle East Center’s Kheder Khaddour, “Russia… realises the circumstances for a transition do not yet exist, because removing Assad might unravel the whole power structure. ‘There is a problem within the regime. It is not capable of producing an alternative to itself internally.’”
And Assad has agreed that there will be elections: “As for me personally, I say once again that if my departure is the solution, I will never hesitate to do that. I, personally, have said, on more than one occasion that when the Syrian people decide that a certain individual should stay, he will stay; and when the Syrian people decide that he should go, he will go immediately.”
The sticking point between the U.S. and Russia appears to be that Putin wants Assad to lead the transition to the elections, while Obama wants him to just step aside. Obama would have to step back from his position in order for Kerry to reach a “deal,” and he has given no indication that he’s willing to do so.
For Assad to just step down at this point would leave a power vacuum to be filled by the Muslim Brotherhood, which will not be a friend to the ethnic minorities protected by Assad, including Alawites and Christians. We saw the Obama administration try to orchestrate something like this in Egypt, which resulted in the brutal rule of President Mohamed Morsi, who imposed a program of radical Islamization until the Egyptian people took to the streets and deposed him.
President-elect Donald Trump has signaled his agreement with Putin’s position on this matter. So has Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who met with Trump last week as a possible replacement for John Kerry in the Trump administration. Along with others in Congress, they believe that our support for the so-called “Rebels” in Aleppo has only prolonged that city’s misery.
It very much looks as though the only solution will come from President Trump, who will, on his inauguration, negotiate a cease-fire agreement that rescues the people of Aleppo. So what the hell does John Kerry hope to achieve by what Josh Rogin describes as his “furious if implausible” efforts in Syria? And why did he leak these efforts — which have been beneath everyone’s radar — to Rogin?
According to Rogin, who has been beating the anti-Putin drums for months, “if Trump strikes a deal with Russia and the Assad-friendly opposition, he will be able to claim success where Kerry failed.” And that’s the problem. It’s all about domestic party politics in America, not about the Syrians.
The steady demonization of Russia has turned it into a useful boogeyman, always there when Obama or Hillary need a scapegoat for their mistakes and losses. And it serves the purposes of those in Congress and the State Department who seek to deflect attention from radical Islam as America’s most serious threat.
So what are the chances that Kerry will succeed? Anyone who’s followed the Obama/Putin dance in Syria (and also in Ukraine) during Obama’s terms in office should be able to see Obama won’t agree to a peace deal unless he gets top billing and Putin assumes a subservient position. Acknowledging Vladimir Putin as a co-partner in peace is simply off the table, and the consequences to innocent civilians be damned.
Yet such an arrangement is highly implausible, for while Obama has been decimating our armed forces, Putin has been building up his. And while Obama has sniped at Putin from the sidelines, Putin has built up his positions in Syria. The Russians, says a senior NATO official, “are deploying all of the Northern fleet and much of the Baltic fleet in the largest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War.” Why should a strengthened Russia agree to be the junior partner to a weakened America?
In sum, nothing will happen until Jan. 20, other than the pointless and dangerous vilification of President Putin.