Peter Rough | Putin and Assad are running U.S. Syria policy

Peter Rough, National Review:

The Obama administration should stop acting as an arbiter in the war in Syria. Instead, we should jettison the role of mediator and close ranks with our allies. Such an approach would allow us to pressure our adversaries rather than clash with our partners. For President Obama, who campaigned on a chic notion of multilateralism, such an approach should be attractive; that it hasn’t been testifies to a deep-seated moral equivalency in his foreign policy between what we and our allies do and what our enemies seek to accomplish. The upshot is an Orwellian diplomacy that celebrates a “cessation of hostilities” while Russia destroys the opposition under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

By failing to support our friends against our foes, Obama and Kerry have tilted the playing field toward Russia, Iran, and Bashar al-Assad. Steadily, one bomb at a time, Vladimir Putin has hollowed out the opposition; in the process, he has imperiled America’s relationships across the region. By overtly coordinating with Syria’s Kurds, Russia has alarmed Turkey; by exacerbating the refugee crisis, it has weakened Europe; by targeting the moderate opposition, it has angered the Sunni Arabs; and, by sparing the Islamic State (ISIS), it has endangered the Western world. In one fell swoop, Putin has sown dissension between the United States and our allies and nudged Obama toward the worst choice of all: either accept Assad or acquiesce to the Syrian civil war dragging on and on.

Naturally, Obama and Kerry are tempted to side with Assad — after Paris and San Bernardino, how couldn’t they be with the Assad regime promising to fight ISIS and other Sunni radicals? In truth, however, a restored Assad would owe his survival to Russia, Iran, and a strategy of sectarianism — all of which would only grow stronger. In southern Lebanon and Western Syria, Hezbollah would attain new levels of power and influence; in Syria, Russia would gain permanent military bases to match its growing regional clout; and along the border with Turkey, Kurdish forces would consistently aggravate Ankara. Moreover, such concessions would come without the promised trade-off — just the opposite, the prospects for defeating ISIS would actually deteriorate dramatically. Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and ISIS would attract legions of Sunnis seeking protection and revenge against Assad’s Shia sectarianism. Under pressure from the growing refugee crisis, Europe might even persuade Assad to close his borders as a condition of support. For those lucky Sunnis Arabs who manage to escape the resulting kill-zone, over-extended refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey would await. Bereft of options, Saudi Arabia and Turkey could very well intervene.


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