Herbert London: Selling Out
In its emphasis on defeating ISIS, the U.S. delegation in Geneva has sold out the rebels fighting against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. A new chapter in the Middle East has unfolded as America’s perceived interests have tilted in the direction of Iran and Russia. Instead of a transitional government that would ease the Syrian dictator out of power, Secretary of State Kerry said there should be a national unity government for the foreseeable future – a euphemism for Assad stays. In fact, that is the essence of the recently signed cease-fire accord.
Last year, by contrast, when the rebels advanced across Syria seriously weakening Assad, the U.S. supported them. In fact, rebel success on the battlefield triggered Moscow’s intervention. With Russian airpower deployed in his behalf, Assad can call on Shiite troops, including Iranian Qud forces, to achieve a victory unavailable to him since the civil war began in 2011.
Despite Russian claims to the contrary, the majority of its strikes have hit non-Islamic fighters mowing down the mainstream rebellion in western Syria. Clearly Russia has achieved its short term objective: Forcing the U.S. to choose Assad or ISIS. With the virtual collapse of rebel forces in the Aleppo region thousands of dejected fighters could abandon their arms and gravitate to ISIS.
The encirclement of Aleppo is emerging as a humanitarian disaster of extraordinary magnitude, but the U.N. and world opinion are silent in the face of this tragedy. More significantly, the Obama administration, in its effort to seal ties to its “ally” in the region, has been conspicuously silent on the matter. Neither Kerry nor UN envoy Staffon de Mistura is willing to pressure Russia and Assad for fear of jeopardizing the Geneva talks. For our State Department negotiation is the answer for any crisis.
Moscow understands that without Assad, there isn’t any justification for its Middle East intervention. There may be reservations Putin shares about Assad, but he needs him as the devil needs devoted dupes. When the Russian onslaught began, U.S. officials hailed Russian intervention as the best way to check ISIS, but thus far the Russian campaign has strengthened the jihadist group in central Asia. This is seemingly the price Washington is willing to pay in order to keep the Geneva process afloat.
Moreover, the concessions to Russia have been accompanied by a weakening of the supply network to rebel groups. The result is that the rebels sense betrayal. The Saudis believe the U.S. is unreliable and the regional leaders increasingly turn to Putin as the answer to Middle East instability. Surely there is some justification for a political process, but exposing the rebels to the Assad-Russian-Iranian onslaught without contingency planning is outrageous. President Obama is intent on walking away from the Middle East, but the Middle East cannot walk away from its pathologies. It is haunted by an American position of capitulation.
Over the horizon is an American president in 2017, a condition that guarantees a year of brinkmanship and misery as the actors in Syria and Iraq try to solidify their positions. Whoever the next president may be, he or she will have to recognize Vladimir Putin as the real force in Syria. He will have ousted the West from a NATO neighboring country – which is pivotal for control of the Mediterranean. As the czar of Mare Nostrum, Putin can determine the strategic consequences for the United States. In 1973 the U.S. employed its influence to oust the Soviet Union from the Middle East; in 2016 we can observe a situation in which Putin – with the acquiescence of Obama – will oust the U.S. from the Middle East.
In this year of upheaval, the predication of AlexandrDugin that the Russian empire would be recreated has some merit. If that assessment seems dubious, just ask the rebels who have been betrayed by their American “protectors.”
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.