New US-Russia military partnership in Syria!
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