Feb 16 2016

A bad deal on Syria

Published by at 2:51 pm under Arab Issues,Articles,US-Middle East

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By Daoud Kuttab

A truce reached at the Munich Security Conference last week requires halting the fight in blood-soaked Syria within a week.

We have yet to see whether the commitment to a political solution is genuine. The Russians have shown no sign of slowing down their lethal air campaign on Aleppo.

Sceptics suspect that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not halt his military support for the Syrian regime and that US President Barack Obama will not do anything to turn things around.

Since Russia started its campaign in Syria, it has been talking about the necessity of reaching a political solution and defeating Daesh. And yet, Russia has done nothing to help defeat Daesh while it has targeted only the moderate opposition groups.

The Russian calculations could not be more obvious. For it, targeting the moderate opposition will push all forces to join Daesh and in this case, Syrian President Bashar Assad can claim that the battle is between his forces and Daesh.

The international community, according to this reasoning, will have no option then but to support Assad.

Meanwhile, the American administration is losing leverage in the crisis.

Over the past few weeks, Assad’s troops, backed by lethal Russian air strikes, made noteworthy advances against the moderate opposition backed by the United States.

I believe Obama erred when he made clear, on many occasions, that he would never involve his troops in the Syrian crisis. The language used by Obama and his aides served as an implicit invitation to the Russians to interfere militarily in Syria.

Were it not for the Russian persistent and brutal air strikes, the Assad regime would have gone some time ago.

The coming week may have grave consequences for all.

Of course, the Syrian opposition groups had no choice but to cautiously welcome the Munich agreement. But they fear that Russia will not halt its relentless bombardment of rebel-held territories and its disgraceful air strikes against civilians.

They have the right to think so. In fact, while the deal marks the first attempt to halt the fighting and has the potential of ushering the beginning of an end to the nightmarish bloody war, many important details remain unaddressed and all in all the deal is not without holes.

For instance, we do not know exactly when the truce will start and who will enforce such a deal.

“What we have here are words on paper,” US Secretary of State John Kerry warned after the agreement was hammered.

“What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground.”

Perhaps Kerry noticed the actions on the ground after the announcement of the deal. The Russians have not yet changed course.

On the other hand, Assad is in defiant mood. He said he would not stop the fight until he conquers all of Syria.

His defiance is due in part to his feeling that the fortune of his depleted army was reversed since Russian intervention began to make a difference.

But we should remember that Assad is not the one who calls the shots. Russia is!

In other words, the only player that should be checked is Russia.

Perhaps it is useful to refer to the long-standing differences between Moscow and Washington over which groups in Syria count as terrorists.

In practical terms, Russia considers anyone standing against Assad a terrorist. Therefore, the Russian air strikes have mainly focused on all opposition groups except for Daesh. The latter is being taken care of by the American-led coalition.

Unfortunately, Russia will always find excuses to pursue its clear strategy of military option.

Hence, short of placing a price tag on the Russian negative and destructive intervention, I suspect that thousands more Syrian civilians will lose their lives in this saga.

– See more at: http://www.jordantimes.com/opinion/daoud-kuttab/bad-deal-syria#sthash.Mow94ukD.dpuf

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