Monday, 17 November 2014

Syria Analysis: Obama Calls for Review of US Strategy — and Heads for a Dead End

17 skunks belonging to Nusra were killed as they tried to break the Army’s grip on the iron cordon placed around northern Aleppo. 

By Scott LucasNovember 13, 2014 14:01

“Senior US officials and diplomats” have leaked to CNN that President Obama has called for a review of US strategy towards Syria’s conflict.
That is not big news. Obama has often sought reviews of the American approach — including the discussions leading to September’s aerial intervention against both the Islamic State and the insurgent faction Jabhat al-Nusra.
The far more significant — and unanswered — question, at least as CNN reports the leaks, is: A Review to Do What?
On the surface, CNN declares that Obama has been motivation by the belated recognition 
“that the Islamic State may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad”. The President’s national security team had met four times, “driven to a large degree how our Syria strategy fits into our ISIS strategy”.
A “senior official” explained, 
“The long-running Syria problem is now compounded by the reality that to genuinely defeat ISIL, we need not only a defeat in Iraq but a defeat in Syria.”
But to defeat whom? The Assad regime as well as the Islamic State? Or to defeat the insurgents and opposition, abandoning them to accept the regime?
A “senior Administration official” offers no answer in his bureaucratic rhetoric: discussion is ongoing in a “constant process of recalibration”.
One of the officials indicates that the recalibration may be to move towards the line, strongly asserted by Turkey and France in the past month, that the fight might be against Assad as well as the Islamic State. The Administration will take on Ankara’s proposal of a no-fly zone on the border with Turkey, as well as accelerating and expanding its announced program to vet, train, and arm 5,000 fighters of the “moderate” insurgency.
A senior official bolsters that view with the acknowledgement,
 “What really tipped this into a more vigorous reassessment was hearing from our coalition partners” — probably Gulf States like Saudi Arabia as well as Turkey and France — “that they are not convinced by the Syria part and this strategy only works if there is a more coherent Syria piece.”
But the latter part of that approach offers no hope of any progress. US officials have said that the 5,000 — a small number in comparison with Assad forces, assisted by Hezbollah fighters, foreign militia, and Iranian military units — will not be ready for a year.
A senior official’s declaration indicates that the Administration is at a dead end: 
“It has been pretty clear for some time that supporting the moderate opposition in the hopes of toppling Assad, isn’t going to work.”
So the apparent salvation is the vision that a political plan can be found to convince President Assad to leave power. The sources tell CNN:
[Secretary of State John] Kerry has in recent months intensified discussions with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Russia about the possibility of a diplomatic tract to transition al-Assad and his inner circle out of power, while maintaining large parts of the regime and institutions of the state.
Which is precisely the approach that the US took between summer 2013, when it effectively accepted the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attacks near Damascus, and the Geneva conferences from January to March 2014.
Those conferences quickly ended — as almost any shrewd observer could have predicted — with the Assad regime and opposition yelling at each other, and little else. The conferences could not agree on an agenda for discussion, let alone a “transition”.
President Assad has made it clear that he will not give up power, and the Syrian regime, tightly-organized with a small group making the key decisions, will not remove him.
And, as soon as the salvation of Russia convincing Assad to go is mentioned, the US officials admit they are chasing the shadow of a solution:
American officials and Arab diplomats said that while Russia has tacitly endorsed the idea of a Syria free of al-Assad, Moscow has done little to effect change on the ground.
“The Russians are not our friend here,” one of the senior administration officials said. “They have given vague expressions of empathy but that is not exactly the same as saying we are with you and are going to rid of him. They are still arming Assad and providing him direct support.”
Similarly, the officials confirm that Secretary of State Kerry has broached the transition idea with Iran, but “[Tehran's] “The moderates are not calling the shots in Syria”, the officials admitted:
The Iranians have come up with plans like constitutional reforms and ultimately an election, and it is better than nothing, but it still doesn’t include Assad going and it is not the basis for an agreement.
So what this grand review actually mean? The answer appears to be given deep in the article:
Officials and diplomats said efforts by U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to secure a series of local ceasefires between the regime and Syrian opposition could help strengthen the administration’s efforts to speed up training of the Syrian rebels and Kerry’s diplomatic efforts to diplomacy to reach a political transition.
In other words, De Mistura’s trip to Damascus this week to meet Assad with a proposal of a “freeze” of fighting in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, was backed by Washington as the start of its way out of the crisis.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some mainstream media heralded De Mistura’s plan and Assad’s reception as a possible breakthrough.
Unsurprisingly, Assad’s formulaic thanks of the UN envoy — given by State media and the President’s website — offers no indication that Damascus will support the implementation of the plan.
Unsurprisingly, the regime has instead continued bombing throughout Syria this week.
Which means — unsurprisingly — that this vaunted US review appears to be back in a dead end.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   
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