John Kerry has negotiated a Syrian cease-fire agreement with Russia. It is designed to reduce attacks on civilians by the Syrian government and Russia and to permit the delivery of humanitarian assistance into besieged Aleppo. It is a disaster for American interests.
The good news: If the cease-fire holds, the long-suffering people of Aleppo and elsewhere may attain sustenance and respite from the barrel bombs raining down — the Syrian government will, in the near term, kill fewer of its own citizens, Russia will become more discriminate in its use of military force, and international agencies will be permitted to deliver food and medicine.
The bad news: This agreement virtually ensures success by the Syrian government in destroying rebel forces fighting against it, rewards Russia’s military intervention in Syria with a decisive role in determining the course of events, makes the United States complicit in atrocities committed by both Syria and Russia, and will further damage America’s image in the region.
The agreement has not been made public, and Secretary Kerry’s description of its terms has already once been repudiated by the Obama administration and his own State Department spokesman. It would seem the basic provisions are these:
‐A cease-fire has entered into force.
‐The cease-fire does not restrict U.S. attacks on ISIS.
‐If the cease-fire holds for seven days and humanitarian assistance is permitted to be delivered into Aleppo, the United States and Russia will establish a “joint implementation center” that begins to share information and coordinate their military activity in Syria against al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda-affiliated anti-regime forces.
‐If significant breaches of the cease-fire occur, the seven-day clock is reset to day zero.
Secretary Kerry argues for the cease-fire in dire terms: “If you fail to get a cessation in place now and we cannot get to the table, then the fighting is going to increase significantly.” United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura says that “every report we have been seeing indicates a significant, significant drop in violence” with the cease-fire.
What neither the United Nations nor Secretary Kerry seems to realize is that reduction of violence is not the sole — not even the principal — objective in warfare. By making it our principal objective, we help the Syrian and Russian (and Iranian) governments achieve their objective of keeping Assad in power.
Kerry’s defense of the agreement is that only Russia can restrain Assad and that therefore we must meet Russia’s conditions. Kerry also acknowledged that moderate opposition fighters, backed by the United States and Gulf allies, had been losing ground to Russian-backed government forces. He concluded that their battlefield losses would radicalize the opposition fighters and that therefore we must work with Russia and the Syrian government against them. We are now fighting the very forces we have supported.
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is reported to have strongly opposed the agreement, objecting to sharing intelligence information with the Russians, out of concern with the image of associating ourselves with a Syrian and Russian approach reviled in the Middle East and beyond, and also out of concern that the Russians could gain insight into U.S. military and intelligence practices they could then use against us. Secretary Kerry is reported to have described that objection as “reflexive Cold War thinking.” Evidently he thinks Russia hasn’t been a problem since then.
That the Russians are purposely targeting civilians in Syria was stated flatly by the British defense minister. So is the Syrian government — that is beyond question.
#share#Whether the agreement will enter into force remains questionable. The White House has expressed skepticism that Russia will hold up its end of the bargain. Secretary Kerry, though, seems more concerned about whether the U.S. will do so. He darkly suggests that any questioning of the agreement by the Pentagon — even its civilian leadership — constitutes military insubordination to the president.
Entering into the agreement also raises liability issues, legal
Entering into the agreement raises legal issues. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Congress enacted legislative restrictions on the Obama administration’s cooperating with Russia. Compliance with the law will require Secretary Carter to sign a waiver affirming that the Syria agreement complies with the law. That gives the Defense Department enormous leverage in determining the details involved in carrying out the agreement.
The Pentagon is filling in details of the agreement in ways that minimize our political and military exposure to Syrian and Russian actions. The Associated Press reports that, according to U.S. officials, “the cooperation would be a sharply limited and carefully controlled exchange of very basic targeting information that would protect U.S. intelligence gathering and tactics, and involve detailed vetting to ensure that any proposed Russian strikes would hit Islamic State or al-Qaida-linked combatants, not the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.” CENTCOM’s air chief, Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, added another, probably insurmountable condition: Any coordination with the Russians must not undermine coalition cohesion.
#related#Entering into the agreement also raises liability issues, legal and moral. Will U.S. military forces be legally liable for attacks conducted by Syria and Russia on civilians if we provide the intelligence? Will we bear moral responsibility? These are questions that should carry grave weight for the secretary of defense — and for the secretary of state.
Secretary Kerry — and, by his acquiescence, President Obama — have chosen a policy that will make us complicit in the depravity of both Syria and Russia. The long-suffering people of Syria have feared that we are supporting Assad in his butchery and ceding to Russia the defining role in their country. We have just proved it.