National Security Desk / September 12, 2016

Syria Deal — Obama’s Trojan Horse?

Neither Assad nor Putin can be trusted.

The U.S. and Russia have finally come to terms on a deal that, at least on paper, will de-escalate the out-of-control turmoil in Syria and forge an alliance between two Cold War foes, ostensibly to destroy Islamic militant groups. You could call it Reset 2.0. In addition to a cease-fire, the New York Post reports that “the new arrangement goes further by promising a new U.S.-Russian counterterrorism alliance, only a year after President Barack Obama chastised Russia for a military intervention that U.S. officials said was mainly designed to keep Assad in power and target more moderate anti-Assad forces.”

As always, the immediate question is one of durability. The Post says, “The arrangement hinges on Moscow pressuring Assad’s government to halt all offensive operations against Syria’s armed opposition and civilian areas. Washington must persuade ‘moderate’ rebels to break ranks with the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate, and other extremist groups.” That’s been tricky in the past and promises to be tricky in the future.

The most pressing issue is that the deal is not designed by the Russians to succeed by American standards. It is what Tom Rogan, who writes in National Review, lamentably argues is a Trojan horse. “On the outside, the cease-fire offers hope,” he says. “It represents Putin’s purported belief that civilian suffering in Aleppo is now intolerable. And the Russian president promises that a week from now, assuming the ceasefire is holding, Russia will coordinate with the U.S. to destroy ISIS and Al Qaeda. As I say, the ceasefire deal looks great. But as classical literature and President Obama’s red lines have taught us, looks can be deceiving. And in this case, they are.”

The bottom line is that Putin doesn’t want what Obama wrongly thinks he does. “Putin and his allies do not seek peace,” Rogan says, adding, “Vladimir Putin uses civilian suffering as a powerful tool.” The death toll since the Syrian civil war began has now surpassed half a million. The only true victory is one in which Assad is out of the picture. Neither he nor Putin can be trusted. They are, after all, two peas in a pod.

> Update: Case in point: The New York Times reports, “[L]ess than an hour into the truce, violations were reported. Several residents in the divided northern city of Aleppo said via text message that a government helicopter had dropped explosive cylinders on a rebel-held district. And in the southern province of Dara'a, a rebel faction said in a statement that it had killed four government soldiers.”

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