September 29, 2016

Kerry’s Uninspired Ultimatum

The threat to end a U.S.-Russia bilateral agreement is having limited success.

As the civil war in Syria rages on, Vladimir Putin’s decision to actively involve Russia in backing its ally Bashar al-Assad has put the U.S. in the schizophrenic position of seeking Moscow’s assistance in defeating the Islamic State, while at the same time supporting rebel factions that have been fighting to overthrow the Assad regime. After several months of negotiating, Secretary of State John Kerry had initially succeeded in brokering a cease-fire in the city of Aleppo, the economic capital of Syria. However, a mere seven days after the agreement, the cease-fire fell apart as Assad’s military backed by Russian forces began a large offensive to retake the city, much of it having been under rebel control for quite some time.

On Wednesday, Kerry issued an ultimatum to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stating that if the bombing by Russian and Syrian forces did not stop, the U.S. would “suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria.” Despite the inherent humor in a threat issued by the Obama administration, the Russians did on Thursday offer a limited 48-hour ceasefire in order to allow humanitarian aid, but no longer as to keep the rebels from being able to regroup.

Our rather feckless response to the Syrian civil war is partly due to Obama’s never having clearly defined an attainable objective. With no desire to support the terror-sponsoring Assad regime, the U.S. has only offered limited support for various rebel factions. This lack of a strategy, combined with the power vacuum caused by Barack Obama’s abandonment of Iraq, gave rise to the Islamic State, whose ambitions for the development of a caliphate have created a terror organization as significant as al-Qaida. And all this, in turn, has only magnified Obama’s foreign policy failures in the Middle East.

Now, the U.S. finds itself in the awkward position of welcoming Russian support in the fight against ISIL, while at the same time the rebel factions the U.S. supports are being attacked by Assad and his ally Russia. Moscow has strategically placed itself in the best position for achieving its objectives. As Lavrov pointed out, “Little by little, life will make everyone understand that it’s only together that you can fight terrorism.” Clearly, Vladimir Putin is now calling the shots in the Middle East.


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