As news spreads from Geneva this weekend that US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian foreign minister Lavrov reached an agreement to secure the regime’s chemical weapons, the terrifying implications of the shared US-Russian approach in Syria are becoming more apparent.
Rescuing Obama, Empowering Assad.
This US-Russian agreement provides Assad with a lifeline extension for the next year under the guise of Chemical Weapons disarmament. It also completes Obama’s escape plan from self-imposed “red lines” and puts to bed any thoughts that US force will be used – reportedly the agreement defers any use of force to the United Nations Security Council where Russia holds veto power.
The regime is now re-legitimized and positioned for survival at least through mid-2014. They are now shielded from any direct external threats as long as the ambiguous disarmament process continues, and probably through Assad’s previously announced “faux-elections” in 2014.
All this despite the UN investigation, HRW and VDC reports which all implicate the regime with using chemical weapons in the Ghouta area of Damascus. Of course, Assad seems to have received a broad endorsement as follows: “slaughter at will, you have time, but do so with conventional weapons please.”
Blinding False Binaries.
While Western discourse tends to impose a limiting binary pitting a regime against vengeful rebels, Syria is actually roughly divided into four competing and complex groupings – Syrian opposition (i.e. revolutionary activists, FSA and armed resistance, masses of refugees, external political opposition etc.), militarized extremist (ISIS, foreign fighters and Al-Qaeda offshoots), Syrian Kurds (Supreme Kurdish Committee, PYD, YPG) and the Assad regime (SAA, Shabeeha, National Defense militias, foreign militias from Lebanon and Iraq, Russian and Iranian “advisors”).
ISIS’s expansion in “liberated” areas generally pits them against FSA-linked brigades and Kurdish groups, not the regime. This past weekend, ISIS even declared war on FSA brigades in the Aleppo area and have already gone on the offensive elsewhere, systematically arresting activists (including Father Paolo Dall’Oglio) and anyone opposed to them. These past months have also witnessed an escalation between militarized extremists and Kurdish fighters in the northeast of Syria – a reality that is accelerating the Kurdish push for de facto separation. While still early on, the political agreement yesterday between the political opposition and a key Kurdish block could be a reflection of more rapprochement between parties at this crucial juncture.
Ensuring the Suffering Continues.
The regime continues to murder 100+ Syrians daily, let alone maim, detain, torture, rape and displace countless others. With over a third of Syrians already displaced, the US-Russian approach will only ensure an increasingly desperate population fleeing in larger numbers to escape the regime onslaught and now, militarized extremist ambitions.
Between Western emphasis on the need for FSA brigades to confront militarized extremists and ISIS’s growing aggression, a devastating and costly fight is approaching – At a time when the regime is shoring up their position (and the interests of outside powers) at the expense of the revolution and Syrian people.
Can this trajectory be shifted?
In June, Obama promised to provide much needed “direct military support” to the FSA – months later, fighters are still waiting. This is but another reminder that the Administration has done everything possible to avoid direct involvement in Syria.
Reports indicate that the US is allowing some arms to be delivered by Saudi Arabia to fighters in the south but neither in the amounts needed, nor including the type of weaponry (i.e. anti-aircraft) necessary to impact the tide of battle across the country.
So can this trajectory be shifted to ease the suffering of the Syrian people? Of course. But any real solution requires an emphasis on routing Assad and his allies on the ground – not entering into a process with a regime that is incapable of reconciliation with its millions of victims nor negotiating itself from power.