John Kerry’s Syria “cease fire” agreement was a farce from its inception. Even optimists of ordinary intelligence realized it was dead when a Russian (or conceivably a Syrian) jet attacked a U.N. convoy near Aleppo earlier this week and Syria declared the agreement over.
But John Kerry insisted otherwise. He declared that the agreement is “not dead,” and called for more talks with Russia.
Kerry got more talks; Aleppo got bombarded. Not just ordinary bombardment, but attacks that residents called the worst they have seen in the five years of fighting.
According to the Washington Post, “wave upon wave of planes relentlessly struck neighborhoods in the rebel-held east of the city on the first day of a new offensive announced by the government.” “Bombs,” said the Post, “rained down like never before.”
I have called John Kerry “the village idiot,” but that’s too kind. The village idiot might negotiate a cease fire agreement destined not to hold. Only a world class idiot negotiates a cease fire agreement that is followed within two weeks by the worst bombing in five years.
After Kerry proposed the deal, I wrote that it is based on “a profound misreading of Russian intentions in Syria.” “Russia’s interest,” I argued, is “in enabling the Syrian regime to conquer key parts of the country that ISIS does not control.” A lasting cease fire is antithetical to that interest
This was no great insight on my part. It was obvious to anyone willing to see the world as it is.
With the cease fire in tatters, Washington Post reporter Liz Sly acknowledges that pursuing it was a fool’s errand all along. In an article with the understated headline “A ferocious assault on Aleppo suggests the U.S. may be wrong on Syria,” she writes:
[T]he launch of the offensive called into question the entire premise of the agreement painstakingly negotiated by Kerry and Lavrov over the past eight months: that Russia shares the Obama administration’s view that there is no military solution to the conflict. On that basis, U.S. officials have explained, Moscow would be willing to pursue a negotiated settlement in return for a cease-fire and the prestige of eventually conducting joint military operations in Syria alongside the United States against terrorist groups.
At a news conference in New York, Lavrov offered a starkly different point of view. He said it is the United States that needs to come around to the idea that President Bashar al-Assad is the only viable partner in the fight against terrorism, calling his army “the single most efficient force fighting terror in Syria.”. . .
His comments, alongside the events of the past week, suggest that Russia and Syria still believe the war can be won outright, without recourse to negotiations that the United States has said offer the only way out of the Syrian tragedy.
Like I said, Kerry’s approach is based “a profound misreading of Russian intentions in Syria.”
For purposes of assessing the “cease fire,” it doesn’t matter whether Russia is justified in believing that the war can be won. Even if Kerry is right that it can’t be, there will be no true cease fire as long as Russia thinks otherwise.
But Kerry isn’t right. It’s true that the regime is very unlikely ever to control all of Syria again. However, as the Post’s Sly points out, the main goal of Assad and Russia is to gain control of what they call “the useful Syria” — the parts where most of the population lives.
The regime is slowly succeeding in this effort. Sly reports: “communities that had held out for years have been gradually surrendering, most recently al-Waer, the last neighborhood of the once-rebellious city of Homs to give up the fight.”
Aleppo, a city of massive significance, has continued to hold out. Now, it may fall. If so, says Sly (quoting diplomatic sources), “the revolt against Assad’s rule becomes a rural insurgency contained within the country’s border provinces.”
That sounds like Assad winning, no?