London–Wow, Obama and Putin. That was some ceasefire in Syria you guys signed-off on.
Forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels kept fighting each other.
Assad also kept blocking aid deliveries to the battered city of Aleppo.
Russia said that US-backed insurgents hadn’t disengaged themselves from terror groups, so the ceasefire was collapsing anyhow.
The United States mistakenly (!) bombed Assad’s soldiers.
Russia mistakenly (!) bombed a United Nations aid convoy near the besieged town of Aleppo.
Anyhow, Assad says the descefire is over, though it was supposed to enter a second phase today in which Russia and the US would join forces to bomb the Islamic State and al-Qaeda spin-off Jabhat al-Nusra.
This was not the first Grand Ceasefire Deal made by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama, through their intermediaries Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Why am I reminded of the numerous ceasefires produced in Lebanon during its civil war cum international free-for-all of the early 1980s?
This latest ceasefire fiasco means that the destruction of Syria continues, hundreds of thousands of civilians remain vulnerable to indiscriminate attack and hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes into tenuous refuge inside Syria or abroad.
Of course, it’s not like nothing changed. Russia (and its backstage ally Iran) are directing this show. Their interests in keeping Syria as an ally seem more valuable to them than whatever Obama thinks America’s interests are there. As Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post points out, Washington has accepted “Putin’s long-standing demand that the West join him in fighting ‘terrorists’ rather than Assad.”
The next step would be to accept that Assad stay in power and the rebels be defeated. That is the opposite of what Obama wanted when he launched his tepid support for the rebellion.
It is time to figure out what victory for Assad would mean for Syria. On the one hand, it would mean relief from a war which has been apocalyptic in its destruction and safety for his supporters among the urban Sunni middle class, and Christian, Alawite and Druze minorities. On the other, it would mean the deep alienation and perpetual resentment of a large and poorer part of Syria’s Sunni Muslim population, the vanguard of the revolt. To preserve the peace, either Assad will have to undertake a deep political reconciliation for which his family dynasty has long avoided or the impose a police state more strict and cruel than the one that existed before the war.
For Putin and Iran, the latter option is no problem: Putin did it in Chechnya, and the Iranians run a tight police ship at home almost four decades after taking power. Maybe together, Moscow and Tehran will pay for the billions of dollars in reconstruction.
WashPost’s Diehl on Obama’s capitulation.
A Lebanese leader calls on Obama to do something.
Carnegie Endowment asks whether a win bad news for Russia, Iran and Syria in the long run?