Sunday, January 31, 2016

Putin's Geneva Waltz: Obama is Kneeling to Russia in Syria. It’s a Big Problem

Nearly five years ago, Syria’s civil war began. Since then, it has stolen more than 220,00o lives and sent millions of refugees into destitution. But in Geneva, peace talks are now finally underway. The diplomats are there (at least in some cases) to forge a path to peace. At least that’s the diplomatic spin. Unfortunately, there is a better likelihood that these peace talks will actually worsen the conflict.

Enter the Obama Administration’s kneeled acquiescence to Russia. John Kerry has pressured US supported rebel groups to attend Geneva or lose US support. These groups are reluctant to attend because Russia and Assad have refused a ceasefire and spent most of last week bombing them relentlessly. But it gets worse. The US has accepted the attendance at Geneva of pro-Russian make-believe opposition figures - including a Kurdish group with interests that do not concern Assad, and Qadri Jamil, a former minister in Assad’s government. Russia’s pretense - that Jamil is an opposition leader with popular legitimacy - is a middle-finger to anti-Assad rebels. But it also equates to something else: an American waltz indicating Mr. Obama has accepted Assad’s survival, and Russia’s mastery. Regardless, President Obama’s acquiescence to Russia also poses specific challenge to US interests. First, it will further encourage Saudi Arabia and Turkey (which could be a US partner in Syria) to support hard-line opposition groups outside of US influence. These groups include militarily powerful, ideologically inflexible Salafist movements opposed to consensual governance. Groups that hate the west. Second, it effectively abandons more moderate, US-mentored Free Syrian Army (FSA) aligned rebels. In recent months, FSA groups have used US training and weaponry to increasingly positive effect. But marginalized at Geneva, their political influence and morale will take a big hit. Third, President Obama's weakness (in strategic terms, that's what it is) will further fertilize the roots of terror and instability in the Middle East: the politicization of sectarianism. President Obama thinks he’s a realist, but his policies are displacing political moderates and empowering extremists.

Of course, President Putin was banking on these developments. Aware that the US President is desperate to avoid greater engagement in Syria, President Putin upped his price for peace talks by demanding the neutering of Sunni-rebels and the preservation of Assad’s regime. It was sadly predictable. In October, I warned that Russian air strikes on ISIS positions were only designed to buy hesitation from the west. And in the political space of that hesitation, the Russia-Iran/proxies-Assad alliance has been consolidating its power. That road has led to Geneva: the new citadel of Russian diplomatic power and the latest fuel depot for Middle Eastern chaos.

My other thoughts on the Middle East can be found here.
My TV links (with reference to the Middle East) can be found here.
Map of syria

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