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Misunderstandings about Syria
As per the Washington Post, 'President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out sharply competing visions Monday, 28 September, 2015, about how to tackle the ongoing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, with each blaming the other for the region's turmoil even as they signaled a willingness to address it together.

In speeches to the U.N. General Assembly less than two hours apart, each leader said he embraced a foreign policy approach that respects international norms that are essential to global stability. Later in the day, the two met privately to hash out their differences and to see whether there was room for cooperation. The closed-door session lasted more than an hour and a half.

Russia's "objectives are to go after ISIL and to support the government," a White House official told the Washington Post, using an acronym for the ISIL. Administration officials have expressed concern that new Russian deployments in Syria would bolster President Assad's fight against his opponents rather than degrade the militants.'

As per New York Times, 'Speaking at the United Nations on Monday, President Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia affirmed the need for international cooperation. But those sentiments are undermined by profound differences on the nature of the Syrian crisis - differences that provide little hope for resolving a conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people.

President Putin's increased aggressiveness in Syria could result in a new era of Russian-American competition and a larger role for Russia in the Middle East. The announcement on Sunday that President Putin had reached an understanding with Iran, Syria and Iraq to share intelligence about the ISIL was the second time in recent weeks that the Obama administration was caught off guard by a Russian initiative. Before that, President Putin had moved to bolster the weakened military forces of Mr. Assad of Syria by pouring Russian tanks and combat aircraft into the country.

Both President Obama and President Putin agree that the ISIL, which is trying to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and has by some accounts grown to tens of thousands of fighters, is a major threat. Beyond that, their two visions are radically at odds, and each used his speech to blame the other for the catastrophic war and the refugee crisis it has unleashed.'

However I find flaw in international diplomacy aimed at ending more than the four and a half year long conflict. Many people, including few elites in the West, think that the outside world has a domineering say over Syrian matters: if they all agree then settlement of the dispute is at the corner. And they are mostly wrong. In fact, in my opinion they cannot be more wrong about Syria.

The fact is that Assad government in Syria does not control a significant part of territory and those who control it with the exception of the moderate rebels and Syrian Kurds would not sit on negotiating table to discuss peace with those who keep opposing views than theirs. The only way to talk about whole of Syria is by taking full control of Syria by defeating ISIL, al-Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations through military means. And the victor could talk about only its parts or segment with other victors.

But without support at ground this does not seem to be a plausible option. None of the major international players will commit its boots on ground in Syria. At least the United States under the Obama Presidency would not do so. Syrian Kurds would be half committed and unlikely to fight beyond their territories, and moderate Sunnis mostly incompetent and ineffective. The process of raising few moderate Sunni brigades could be very costly and militarily risky as well.

Many Western and Russian security experts are pondering assigning a role to Mr. Assad in a transitional government: of Mr. Assad negotiating peace and leading the transitional government for a while and eventually exiting the scene after agreeing to go into exile. But then they may have a myopic obtuse view. The bigger question is who will succeed Mr. Assad. The Western answer would be a moderate Sunni possibly acceptable to all those who wish peace. But then at present Mr. Assad's forces control mostly Alawite Shiite dominated territory and a significant majority of Alawites will not accept a Sunni as their leader. There is no question of ISIL and al-Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations agreeing for a leader's choice outside theirs. The Syrian refugees and internally displaced Syrians may not converge for a single Sunni choice either.

Thus, the transitional government which is representative of a significant part of Syria is quite a distant dream. And working out its modalities and conditions would be waste of time. I think what President Obama and President Putin should agree is that reconciliation among the various demographic constituents, who at present are in conflict with each other, is the only way to bring out peace and stability in Syria which can come only by defeating terrorist organizations militarily. Sure, President Putin should agree to dump Mr. Assad at an appropriate time whether with the latter's consent or without it. In practice, he may not mind it much.

To be realistic, peace is far away from present and a concerted political approach is not going to solve Syrian refugee crisis. This would be just an ad-hoc fire fighting approach of not much worthiness. I think that the West should be ready to spend billions of USD more on asylum seekers from Syria but equally reluctant to accept too many of them.

But still the Russians and Americans can talk to each other as they talked on 28 September this year. They need to know each other's bottomlines. I think President Obama would minimally like President Putin to be maximally half-committed towards President Assad. Specifically, he would like President Putin not to give life-long guarantee of supporting Mr. Assad in power, should tell Mr. Assad that his family members cannot succeed him and that Russian Federation would not offer unconditional support to Syrian government-led by Mr. Assad at various international forum. President Obama could also urge lesser Russian military involvement in Syria.

I think President Putin would not agree to any of three demands in real time except the middle one about Mr. Assad's family not succeeding him. President Putin on the other hand would expect President Obama to accept Mr. Assad as legitimate leader and representative of Syria. He would also like President Obama to use his good offices in sincerely bringing moderate Syrian opposition onto the negotiating table. Russia has already clarified that if the United States accepts its conditions about Mr. Assad then it could join United States-led international coalition against the ISIL.

Meanwhile after getting the approval of Upper House of Russian Parliament, Duma, the Russian government ordered Russian airmen on 30 September, 2015, to carry out air strikes against ISIL targets near the besieged Western city of Homs. President Putin in a recent interview has said that there is no effective opposition in Syria and whatever little exists is just like ISIL militants. Thus, the Russian military will in all likelihood not treat them differently. However, Kremlin has clarified that there will be no commitment about ground troops as of now. The United States will take the air strikes very seriously.

Coming back to discussions about continuing United States-Russian Federation talks, while President Obama would favor continued talks he is very unlikely to accept Mr. Assad except a choice because of compulsion and compromise; something he cannot do anything about at this moment and neither in any foreseeable future lasting his remaining term at the White House. But under American conditions Mr. Assad will have to eventually leave Syria for good unconditionally. Accepting Mr. Assad could have political ramifications for the next Democrat Presidential candidate whosoever she or he be.

Both positions are almost irreconcilable and are unlikely to change. Thus, talks will eventually fail but despite of that the Russians and Americans need to continue to discuss Syria at various levels. Such would reduce tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation a bit and could also improve personal equations between President Obama and President Putin. But who knows they worsen them?

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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