National Security & Defense

American Diplomacy in Syria Has Handed a Victory to Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin

Syrian rebel fighter faces regime forces near Damascus. (Amer Almohibanya/AFP/Getty)

The impetus for John Kerry’s “cessation of hostilities” deal is easy to understand: According to the United Nations, 450,000 Syrians are under siege in 15 locations, and another 4 million are in hard-to-reach areas. The administration’s humanitarian concerns do them credit. But sometimes the best humanitarian contribution is success on the battlefield.

Human suffering is not merely a by-product of warfare; it is inflicted as a means to increase the political costs of one side of continuing to fight. The welter of suffering Bashar al-Assad has imposed on his country’s citizens is designed to punish them for supporting opposition groups. Sieges are intended to break the will of the resistance and depopulate cities and towns. To Assad, the ruination of his country has proven an acceptable price for remaining in power.

It has also proven an acceptable price to President Obama. He continues to say, as he did last Thursday, that Syria’s future “cannot include Assad.” But the Syria cease-fire negotiated by Secretary Kerry will lock in the gains achieved by the Assad regime, their Russian and Iranian allies, and proxy forces from Hezbollah and Shiite militias. In return, it is supposed to permit humanitarian assistance to reach the victims of the brutal series of interlocking wars going on in Syria. Assad makes refugees of his country’s citizens and we are now relying on his cooperation to achieve our aim of reducing the terror inflicted on the Syrian people. As with the 2013 chemical-weapons agreement, the Obama administration has made us partners in preserving Assad’s government.

The Obama administration has made us partners in preserving Assad’s government.

Russia continues military operations, insisting the area affected by the cessation is only a thin slice of Syrian territory along the borders with Turkey and Jordan. U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-Moon declared that the cease fire is “largely holding,” although he acknowledged “incidents” were occurring. U.N. special representative Steffan de Misturta argues the cessation is working because attacks have been reduced from 100 per day to about eight — in effect, the United Nations is accepting a reduction in hostilities in lieu of a cessation.

#share#Syrian opposition groups claim 15 violations within the first day by both the Russians and Hezbollah in support of the Assad government. The French government asserted that attacks have continued against the moderate Syrian opposition forces, and has called the international task force of countries sponsoring the cease fire to investigate. The Russian government countered by accusing opposition groups and Turkey of nine violations within the first day.

RELATED: Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad Are Running U.S. Syria Policy

Secretary Kerry hinted in his Senate testimony this week that if his diplomatic efforts do not succeed, the White House is considering military options. But this is at least the fifth time the Obama administration has claimed it was on the verge of intervening in Syria. Kerry’s mild saber rattling is transparently intended to inject some credibility into our diplomatic efforts, but it is — unfortunately — difficult to take the Obama administration seriously when it attempts to cast an ominous pall over Russia’s success in Syria.

The quagmire President Obama and Secretary Kerry predicted for Russia in Syria has turned out to be something of a success for Russia, for the Assad government, and for Iran. Kerry brokered a reduction in hostilities that cedes Assad his principal war aims; President Putin brokered an increase in hostilities that keeps Assad in power and reveals American diplomacy to be a desperate attempt to cover our unwillingness to actually do anything in Syria.

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