Secretary of State John Kerry got the headline he was looking for last week when the press reported that the United States and Russia agreed on a cease-fire in Syria that would allow the delivery of food and humanitarian aid.
The cease-fire agreement was the latest in a series of diplomatic initiatives by the Obama administration to make it appear that it is doing something about the Syria crisis. The agreement was in response to the stalled peace process begun by Kerry last fall that produced a vague outline for peace talks. This outline called for a peace process that would lead to “credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance, followed by a new constitution and elections” to be administered under UN supervision.” It also was agreed that formal peace talks under UN auspices would begin on January 1st.
The peace talks outline left several major issues unresolved. There was no agreement on a cease-fire or the political future of Syrian President Assad. There also were disagreements over which groups would be designated terrorists and disallowed from attending the talks.
Instead of moving toward a peaceful resolution after the November peace outline, Russia and Syria intensified hostilities. Aided by Russian bombers and Iranian fighters, the Syrian army last month began an assault on the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, causing an exodus of 50,000 refugees. The residents of several rebel towns are facing starvation because of a new Syrian army strategy called “surround and starve.”
The peace talks were delayed until February 1 because of stepped up attacks by the Russian and Syrian militaries and differences on who should participate in the talks. There were indirect talks from February 1-3 that ended when the main Syrian opposition party withdrew due to the Syrian army’s siege of Aleppo. The talks were then suspended until February 25.
Desperate to get his cease-fire, Kerry decided to accept an cease-fire compromise plan that (1) delayed a possible cease-fire for another week; (2) has not been agreed to by Syrian parties and (3) excludes Russian airstrikes.
According to the UK Daily Mail, “critics quickly dismissed the deal as ‘not worth the paper it’s printed on.'” For many reasons, this agreement is very unlikely to succeed. Syrian rebel forces will not back it for long – if at all – because it locks in the gains made by the Syrian army on the ground over the last few months. I also doubt the Syrian rebels will go along with a cease-fire plan under which the Russians continue bombing them.
The Assad regime has never fully cooperated with any cease-fire agreement and probably will not abide by this deal if it materializes. Syrian President Assad appeared to indicate his regime will not honor the cease-fire when he said on February 15 that no one is capable of organizing this agreement and ensuring that terrorists – the word Assad uses to refer to all armed groups that oppose him – adhere to it.
Meanwhile, America’s allies are openly criticizing the Obama administration’s Syria policy. The outgoing foreign minister of France this week called the U.S. policy “ambiguous.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said American inaction is responsible for a “sea of blood” in Syria.
Obama’s Syria policy also has begun to be criticized by liberal foreign policy experts and groups, including Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who described it in a February 5, 2016 Foreign Policy article as “calculated dithering.”
So how could the Obama administration be a party to this ludicrous “cessation of hostilities” agreement? I explained the reason in Fox News Opinion op-eds in May and September 2015: Mr. Obama’s Iraq-Syria strategy is a “non-strategy” to do as little about the crisis in these countries for the rest of his presidency so he can hand this mess to a future president.
This non-strategy has consisted of limited airstrikes and a handful of raids by U.S. special forces. Strict U.S. rules of engagement for airstrikes in Syria have frustrated U.S. pilots who claim they have blocked 75% of them, according to the Washington Free Beacon. This included avoiding bombing ISIS-controlled oil refineries in Syria because of possible environmental damage. The U.S. changed this policy when France began bombing these refineries after the Paris terrorist attacks in November.
Making things worse, the Financial Times reported on February 12 that Syrian rebels are so frustrated with the gains by the Syrian army and the lack of support from the United States and the international community that they are mulling joining ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria. One Syrian rebel told the Financial Times:
“They said: are you doing this for America? America left us to be killed by Russian warplanes night and day . . . there’s no reason to be a proxy for the foreign powers fighting ISIS.”
What we’re seeing in Syria is the implosion of President Obama’s Syria non-strategy. Although this approach has worsened the Syrian crisis and is severely undermining America’s global credibility and security, Secretary Kerry’s new Syria cease-fire agreement is the latest indication that Mr Obama has no intention of changing course. President Obama is stubbornly determined to be an ex-president who can claim he ended wars and did not get the United States into a new war – even if this means leaving a catastrophe in Syria that will require his successor to send a U.S. ground force.
Full article: Obama’s Syria Non-Strategy is Imploding (Family Security Matters)