New US-Rus­sia mil­i­tary part­ner­ship in Syria!

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Josh Rogin

THE Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed a new agree­ment on Syria to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment that would deepen mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries against some ter­ror­ists in ex­change for Rus­sia get­ting the As­sad regime to stop bomb­ing US-sup­ported rebels. The United States trans­mit­ted the text of the pro­posed agree­ment to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment on Mon­day af­ter weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tions and in­ter­nal Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion de­lib­er­a­tions, an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told. The crux of the deal is a US prom­ise to join forces with the Rus­sian air force to share tar­get­ing and co­or­di­nate an ex­panded bomb­ing cam­paign against Jab­hat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, which is pri­mar­ily fight­ing the govt of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent As­sad.

Un­der the pro­posal, which was per­son­ally ap­proved by Pres­i­dent Obama and heav­ily sup­ported by Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry, the Amer­i­can and Rus­sian mil­i­taries would co­op­er­ate at an un­prece­dented level, some­thing the Rus­sians have sought for a long time. In ex­change, the Rus­sians would agree to pres­sure the As­sad regime to stop bomb­ing cer­tain Syr­ian rebel groups the United States does not con­sider ter­ror­ists. The United States would not give Rus­sia the ex­act lo­ca­tions of th­ese groups, un­der the pro­posal, but would spec­ify geo­graphic zones that would be safe from As­sad regime’s aerial as­saults.

De­fence Sec­re­tary Ash­ton B. Carter was op­posed to this plan, of­fi­cials said, but was ul­ti­mately com­pelled to go along with the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion. For many in­side and out­side the ad­min­is­tra­tion who are frus­trated with the White House’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing on Syria, the new plan is fa­tally flawed for sev­eral rea­sons. “One big flaw is that it’s clear that the Rus­sians have no in­tent to put heavy pres­sure on As­sad,” said for­mer US am­bas­sador to Syria Robert Ford. “And in those in­stances when the Rus­sians have put pres­sure on, they’ve got­ten min­i­mal re­sults from the Syr­i­ans.”

There’s not enough re­li­able in­tel­li­gence to dis­tin­guish Jab­hat al-Nusra tar­gets from the other rebel groups they of­ten live near, Ford said. And even if the Syr­i­ans agreed not to bomb cer­tain zones, there would be no way to stop Jab­hat al-Nusra and other groups from mov­ing around to ad­just. More­over, in­creased bomb­ing of Jab­hat al-Nusra would be likely to cause col­lat­eral dam­age in­clud­ing civil­ian deaths, which would only bol­ster the group’s lo­cal support. “It makes no sense to me,” said Ford. “If they are try­ing to de­stroy al-Qaeda in Syria, do they re­ally think bomb­ing them is the way to do it? F-16s do not solve recruitment prob­lems with ex­trem­ist groups.”

One ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial com­plained that the plan con­tains no con­se­quences for the Rus­sians or the As­sad regime if they don’t hold up their end of the bar­gain. Fifty-one US diplo­mats signed a dis­sent let­ter this month call­ing on the White House to use tar­geted mil­i­tary force against the As­sad regime as a means of in­creas­ing the pres­sure on As­sad and giv­ing the US real lever­age. Kerry has been threat­en­ing for months that if As­sad doesn’t re­spect the cur­rent cease-fire, known as the “ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties,” that there was a “Plan B” of in­creas­ing arms to the Syr­ian rebels. But the White House has now scut­tled that plan in favour of the pro­posed Rus­sia deal, which could ac­tu­ally leave the rebels in a far worse po­si­tion. For Rus­sia, the deal is not just about Syria. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin sees in­creased mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion as an ac­knowl­edg­ment of Rus­sian im­por­tance and a way to grad­u­ally un­wind Rus­sia’s iso­la­tion fol­low­ing the Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine. That’s why Carter was ini­tially op­posed to the plan, of­fi­cials said. “The Rus­sians have made it very clear that they want mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion with the US, not just to fight ter­ror­ism, but to im­prove their world stand­ing,” said Tabler. “It is a way to be welcomed back into the fold.”

CIA Di­rec­tor John Bren­nan said Wed­nes­day in re­marks at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions that Rus­sia is “try­ing to crush” anti-As­sad forces and that Moscow has not lived up to its com­mit­ments re­gard­ing the cease­fire or the po­lit­i­cal process in Syria. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­der­stand­ably try­ing to find some cre­ative way to sal­vage its Syria pol­icy in its fi­nal months. But the pro­posal that Obama of­fered Putin will have costs for the US po­si­tion vis-à-vis Rus­sia as well as for the Syr­ian cri­sis long af­ter Obama leaves of­fice. — Cour­tesy: The Wash­ing­ton Post

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