As those who follow Syria’s nearly half decade-old civil war are probably aware, John Kerry, Sergei Lavrov, and their counterparts from other “interested” countries including of course Saudi Arabia recently began holding Friday meetings in Vienna in an attempt to work out a “political” solution to the conflict which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and precipitated the worst migrant crisis in Europe’s history.
Thus far, the results of the talks have been predictably underwhelming with all sides agreeing to little more than to keep talking.
The main sticking point: the fate of Bashar al-Assad. Earlier this month, Washington and Riyadh begrudgingly allowed Tehran to have a seat at the table in the negotiations which of course makes sense considering the Iranians (along with various militias backed by Tehran) are doing most of the fighting on the ground and considering that when it comes to the political future of Syria, no country is more keen on preserving its interests than Iran.
Predictably, things didn’t go so well. Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian accused Saudi Arabia of playing a “negative and unconstructive” role, while Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir accused the Iranians of being an “occupying force” in Syria. The spat culminated with Tehran telling Riyadh that is “none of Saudi Arabia’s business how Iran fights terrorism.”
A few weeks went by and Russia began to circulate a “draft” document that was a kind of “trial balloon” for a possible political solution to the conflict, but because it did not specifically call for Assad’s departure, it was promptly shot down by the Saudis and the Syrian National Coalition (which, as an aside, has fallen into virtual irrelevancy on the battlefield).
Well, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks (which themselves came on the heels of the Russian passenger jet disaster over the Sinai Peninsula and bombings in Beirut that killed 43), everyone involved apparently felt compelled to send some kind of message to the public regarding a collective desire to work towards a solution in Syria and so, the foreign ministers have now produced an amorphous “transition plan” for the country that calls for a meeting between Assad and “recognized” opposition groups followed by a cease fire within 6 months. Ultimately, there would be a new constitution and elections by the the end of 2017. Here’s Bloomberg with more:
Seventeen nations, spurred on by Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris, overcame their differences on how to end Syria’s civil war and adopted a timeline that will let opposition groups help draft a constitution and elect a new government by 2017.
As a first step, the United Nations agreed to convene Syria’s government with opposition representatives by Jan. 1, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday at a joint press conference in Vienna. A cease-fire between the government in Damascus and recognized opposition groups should be in place within six months, according to their statement.
“It is time to deprive the terrorists of any single kilometer in which to hide,” Kerry said. “There can be no doubt that this crisis is not Syria’s alone to bear.”
Assad has “cut his own deal” with Islamic State, buying oil from the group and failing to attack militants, Kerry said. Assad’s allies have conveyed that he’s prepared to be serious and engage in talks, but the “proof will be in the pudding,” he said.
Diplomats meeting in the Austrian capital also decided to place Islamic State, along with the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front terrorist group, on a list of those subject to military strikes even when a cease-fire is in place. The list, managed by the Kingdom of Jordan, may later be expanded to include other groups in Syria, Kerry and Lavrov said.
The Paris attacks “show that it doesn’t matter if you’re for Assad or against him,” said Lavrov, “ISIS is your enemy.”
Well, maybe. Unless of course you view ISIS as a valuable destabilizing element that helps not only to keep Assad off balance but also to undercut Iranian influence in Iraq, in which case ISIS wouldn’t be your enemy. “Strategic asset” gone rogue, maybe. “Frankenstein” turned on its creators, maybe. But not exactly your “enemy.”
Here are the main points:
- 1 Month, or, by Dec. 14: Diplomats will reconvene to review progress
- Jan. 1: UN will seek to convene Syrian government and opposition in formal negotiations
- 6 Months, or, by May 14, 2016: Cease-fire between Syrian government and opposition groups; process for drafting new constitution
- 18 Months, or, by May 14, 2017: Free elections administered by the UN held under the new constitution
Obviously this is just a concilliatory half measure (at best) designed to pacify a panicked public. Need proof? Just look how excited Kerry and Lavrov are:
Make no mistake, there's no real "plan" here. What will almost invariably happen is that the US will go right back to dropping ammo to "moderates", the Saudis and Qatar will go right back to providing support to who knows which Sunni extremists in Syria, while Russia and Iran will go right back to eradicating anything that even looks like a rebel.
The real question - when you really sit down and think about it - is why, if the West is so determined to wipe out ISIS, Washington hasn't simply embedded 1,000 or so spec ops with the Kurds and marched on Raqqa, the ISIS capital. Kurdish forces just retook the Iraqi city of Sinjar (where ISIS displaced and terrorized the Yazidis last year) with relative ease under cover of US airstrikes. You can drive from Sinjar to Raqqa in less than six hours:
We're no West Point graduates, but what exactly is the problem here? Look where the YPG (the Syrian Kurds with whom the US has always worked closely and who are always ready to fight) are in relation to Raqqa:
And it's not like the US has to worry about running into the Russians in the course of providing air cover. After all, Russia has for now pretty much conceded that airspace to the US while Moscow and Tehran restore Assad's power base in the West. Just take a look at the Russian airstrike map (it's not up to the minute, but you get the idea):
The point is that this is completely farcical. Russia and Iran are doing exaclty what they set out to do. That is, first they'll restore the Assad regime and stabilize the country by taking back major cities in the west, then they'll turn to ISIS in the east.
But what, may we ask, is the US doing? Look at the maps above, consider that the US and the Kurds just took back Sinjar in the space of something like 72 hours and ask yourself this: "What is The Pentagon waiting for?"
If Washington is serious about defeating ISIS, just send in 1,000 spec ops, gather up some YPG soldiers, fire up the air support (the Russians aren't even in the area), walk down to Raqqa, and just take it from them. It's almost like the US and America's regional allies don't want to the world to know what's down there. Either that, or (for the thousandth time), Washington is more interested in toppling Assad than in defeating ISIS and no amount of Friday night massacres in major Western capitals is going to change that. That of course doesn't mean the West isn't looking for excuses to put boots on the ground. It's just a question of what exactly it is that those "boots" intend to do.
So in the meantime, we get a "draft plan" that, if it does anything, just buys the US, the Saudis, and Turkey another year to see if Russia gets bogged down and thus loses some of its bargaining power.
Our sincere condolences to the French public: due to complex geopolitical wrangling and world powers' insatiable desire to essentially conquer territory by installing puppet regimes in strategic areas, the "war" or terror isn't really a "war." If it was, it would have been won in Syria long ago.
Also, our sincere condolences to Syrians: you have simply been reduced to cannon fodder and unfortunately, there are no 24-hour CNN specials or candlelight vigils when you die.