[Marxism] U.S. Support for Syria Peace Plans Demonstrates Shift in Priorities

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 19 13:56:09 MST 2015


(Interesting article but since when did Washington ever really seek 
Assad's removal? I imagine, of course, that this will make no difference 
to PeePee Escobar or Robert Parry who will be warning about an American 
invasion of Syria even when Assad gets invited to a weekend at Martha's 
Vineyard to play golf with Obama.)

NY Times, Jan. 19 2015
U.S. Support for Syria Peace Plans Demonstrates Shift in Priorities
By ANNE BARNARD and SOMINI SENGUPTA

BEIRUT, Lebanon — American support for a pair of diplomatic initiatives 
in Syria underscores the shifting views of how to end the civil war 
there and the West’s quiet retreat from its demand that the country’s 
president, Bashar al-Assad, step down immediately.

The Obama administration maintains that a lasting political solution 
requires Mr. Assad’s exit. But facing military stalemate, well-armed 
jihadists and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United States 
is going along with international diplomatic efforts that could lead to 
more gradual change in Syria.

That shift comes along with other American actions that Mr. Assad’s 
supporters and opponents take as proof Washington now believes that if 
Mr. Assad is ousted, there will be nothing to check the spreading chaos 
and extremism. American warplanes now bomb the Islamic State group’s 
militants inside Syria, sharing skies with Syrian jets. American 
officials assure Mr. Assad, through Iraqi intermediaries, that Syria’s 
military is not their target. The United States still trains and equips 
Syrian insurgents, but now mainly to fight the Islamic State, not the 
government.

Now, the United States and other Western countries have publicly 
welcomed initiatives — one from the United Nations and one from Russia — 
that postpone any revival of the United States-backed Geneva framework, 
which called for a wholesale transfer of power to a “transitional 
governing body.” The last Geneva talks failed a year ago amid vehement 
disagreement over whether that body could include Mr. Assad.

One of the new concepts is a United Nations proposal to “freeze” the 
fighting on the ground, first in the strategic crossroads city of 
Aleppo. The other is an initiative from Russia, Mr. Assad’s most 
powerful supporter, to try to spur talks between the warring sides in 
Moscow in late January. Diplomats and others briefed on the plans say 
one Russian vision is of power-sharing between Mr. Assad’s government 
and some opposition figures, and perhaps parliamentary elections that 
would precede any change in the presidency.

But the diplomatic proposals face serious challenges, relying on the 
leader of a rump state who is propped up by foreign powers and hemmed in 
by a growing and effective extremist force that wants to build a 
caliphate. Many of America’s allies in the Syrian opposition reject the 
plans, and there is little indication that Mr. Assad or his main allies, 
Russia and Iran, feel any need to compromise. The American-backed Free 
Syrian Army is on the ropes in northern Syria, once its stronghold, and 
insurgents disagree among themselves over military and political strategy.

And perhaps most of all, the Islamic State controls half of Syria’s 
territory, though mostly desert, and it has managed to strengthen its 
grip even as the United States and its allies try to oust it from 
neighboring Iraq.

Still, Secretary of State John Kerry declared last week that the United 
States welcomed both initiatives. He made no call for Mr. Assad’s 
resignation, a notable omission from Mr. Kerry, who has typically 
insisted on it in public remarks. Instead, he spoke of Mr. Assad as a 
leader who needed to change his policies.

“It is time for President Assad, the Assad regime, to put their people 
first and to think about the consequences of their actions, which are 
attracting more and more terrorists to Syria, basically because of their 
efforts to remove Assad,” Mr. Kerry said.

On Thursday in Geneva, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy for 
the crisis in Syria, also signaled a tactical shift, saying that “new 
factors” such as the growth of the Islamic State, also called ISIS and 
ISIL, must be taken into account. He said there was no point in trying 
to organize a third round of Geneva talks before building unambiguous 
support from both the Syrian government and its opponents for some kind 
of “Syrian political process.”

The urgent search for a political solution, Mr. de Mistura said, must 
“bear in mind” not only the Geneva framework, “but also the need to 
adjust aspirations without preconditions, in line with the new factors 
which have come up in the reality of the area, such as ISIS.”

The shifts reflect a longstanding view among United Nations staff 
members in Syria that the West must adapt to the reality that Syrian 
insurgents have failed to defeat Mr. Assad. Syrians on both sides have 
said frequently in interviews that they fear the growing influence of 
foreign militants, and while they mistrust all international players 
that have financed warring parties, they are willing to explore 
compromise with other Syrians.

Western diplomats who had long called for Mr. Assad’s immediate 
resignation say now that while he must not indefinitely control crucial 
institutions like the military, a more gradual transition may be worth 
considering.

One Western diplomat at the United Nations said that while a “post-Assad 
phase” must eventually come, “the exact timing of that, we can discuss,” 
as long as the solution does not “cement his position in power.”

Western leaders now openly talk about a deal allowing some current 
officials to remain to prevent Syria from disintegrating, like Iraq and 
Libya.

“The political solution will of course include some elements of the 
regime because we don’t want to see the pillars of the state fall apart. 
We would end up with a situation like Iraq,” the French foreign 
minister, Laurent Fabius, told a French radio station last Monday.

At the same time, such statements have further alienated Washington from 
ordinary anti-Assad Syrians and rank-and-file insurgents, reinforcing 
the idea that the West has decided to tolerate Mr. Assad.

The view that the United States supports Mr. Assad is spreading even 
among the groups receiving direct American financing, groups deemed 
moderate enough to receive arms and work with a United States-run 
operations center in Turkey. A fighter with Harakat Hazm, one such 
group, said Wednesday that America was “looking for loopholes to reach a 
political solution and keep al-Assad.”

Tarek Fares, a secular Syrian Army defector who long fought with the 
loose-knit nationalist groups known as the Free Syrian Army but who has 
lately quit fighting, joked bitterly about American policy one recent 
night in Antakya, Turkey.

“This is how the Americans talk,” he said. “They say, ‘We have a red 
line, we will support you, we will arm you.’ They do nothing, and then 
after four years they tell you Assad is the best option.”

The United Nations freeze proposal tries to improve on efforts over the 
last 18 months inside Syria, where the government and insurgents have 
reached local cease-fire deals to restore basic services and aid 
delivery — most recently on Thursday in the Waer neighborhood of the 
city of Homs.

But those cease-fires have never had the imprimatur of international 
bodies, and they often break down. With a few exceptions they have 
amounted to insurgents’ surrender to a government strategy of siege and 
starvation.

Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Mistura, said his plan would 
not resemble the failed cease-fires. Yet even the modest Aleppo proposal 
is on shaky ground. While Mr. Assad has said he will consider it, 
Damascus has been slow to set dates for further talks with Mr. de 
Mistura’s team.

The Moscow talks are arguably in worse shape. Several crucial opposition 
groups have refused to attend, and despite Mr. Kerry’s remarks, they say 
the United States has not pressured them to go.

That leaves American policy ambiguous, offering only modest verbal 
support to the new mediation efforts while continuing to finance some 
Syrian insurgents — yet not enough to seriously threaten Mr. Assad. Even 
a new program to train them to fight ISIS will not field fighters until May.

Critics argue that Washington is simply trying to disengage and offload 
the Syria problem to Mr. Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran, even at the 
cost of empowering them.

Still, any attempt to bring the parties to the table should be 
considered constructive, another Western diplomat said. “You can’t say 
to the Russians, ‘Go to hell.'”



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