[Marxism] Russia and the United States Reach New Agreement on Syria Conflict

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Sep 9 19:59:26 MDT 2016

(An exercise in futility. The rebels understand that the whole agreement 
rests on the idea that rebels will separate themselves from al-Nusra and 
not vice versa. In other words, the idea is that the multitude of 
militias will leave East Aleppo so that the F-16s and the MIG-27s can 
fly together to bomb hospitals. That would condemn the rebels in the 
eyes of civilians who remained there and also weaken the rebel movement 
as a whole. Al Nusra is not very interested in the goals of the Syrian 
revolution but they are not ISIS.)

NY Times, Sept. 9 2016
Russia and the United States Reach New Agreement on Syria Conflict

GENEVA — Russia and the United States reached agreement early Saturday 
on a new plan to reduce violence in the Syria conflict that, if 
successful, could lead for the first time to joint military targeting by 
the two powers against Islamic jihadists in Syria.

The agreement was reached after 10 months of failed attempts to halt the 
fighting and of suspended efforts for a political settlement in a 
conflict that began more than five years ago, has left nearly a 
half-million people dead and created the largest refugee crisis since 
World War II.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. 
Lavrov, announced the agreement in Geneva after weeks of negotiations 
that were marred, in President Obama’s words, by deep “mistrust” between 
the Russians and Americans.

It came at a time when relations between the United States and Russia, 
which have worsened throughout much of the Obama administration, have 
been especially jolted by accusations of Russian hacking and subterfuge 
in American politics. The tensions have been further exacerbated by the 
effusive praise for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia by the 
Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump.

The new arrangement on Syria is supposed to begin Monday, with a 
seven-day continuous “genuine reduction of violence,” in Mr. Kerry’s 
words, and broad, unrestricted humanitarian access to the ravaged 
northern city of Aleppo and other besieged areas.

If that works for the initial period, the United States and Russia are 
supposed to then establish a Joint Implementation Center, where they 
will share targeting data, and begin to bomb militants of the Nusra 
Front and the Islamic State.

The key element is that Russia is then supposed to restrain the forces 
of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria from conducting any air operations 
over Nusra and opposition areas, which the United States hopes will 
bring an end to the dropping of barrel bombs — including chlorine gas 
attacks — that have punctuated the brutality in the conflict.

In return, the United States is supposed to persuade the opposition 
groups it has been supporting to separate themselves from Nusra forces. 
Mr. Assad has attacked many of them on the pretense of attacking Nusra 
Front fighters.

Mr. Kerry sounded extremely cautious about whether this new arrangement 
would work.

“We believe the plan, if implemented, if followed, has the ability to 
provide a turning point, a change,” he said. Sounding far more cautious 
here than he did in Munich in February when he announced an earlier 
“cessation of hostilities” that failed, he said: “No one is basing this 
on trust. We are basing it on oversight and compliance.”

The accord was reached after sharp divisions inside the Obama 
administration over the wisdom of sharing targeting information with 
Russia, and accusations that the Russians have used the negotiating 
period to help Mr. Assad regain control in Aleppo and strike at 
American-backed opposition groups.

Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter has been among the most vocal of 
the skeptics, saying this week in Britain that “Russia entered the 
Syrian tragedy saying it wanted to counter terrorism and end the civil 
war, which is the source of so much suffering, through a political 

“What it has done is very different from what it said,” Mr. Carter said. 
“Unfortunately, so far, Russia with its support for the Assad regime has 
made the situation in Syria more dangerous, more prolonged, more violent.”

For Mr. Obama, who asked Mr. Kerry to keep working on the negotiation 
after he failed to reach an accord with Mr. Putin during the Group of 20 
summit meeting in China last weekend, the new accord poses considerable 

For example, if the bombing of Nusra sites results in civilian 
casualties — which is almost inevitable given how militant extremist 
groups and civilians are closely located — there are bound to be 
accusations about who is responsible. Moreover, Pentagon officials are 
concerned that Russia will use the targeting data to learn more about 
how American forces identify and attack targets, at a moment when forces 
from the two countries are often in close proximity around Europe.

Mr. Lavrov took a few shots at the United States even while celebrating 
the arrangement, denouncing “arrogant sanctions” levied against Russia 
for its annexation of Crimea two years ago.

Earlier in the day, he suggested the United States could not decide on 
taking the deal, sending pizza and vodka to reporters to ease the wait, 
and coming by to joke about how long it took Mr. Obama and his team to 
make decisions.

But for Mr. Kerry, reaching this deal has become a personal mission, one 
that at times put him in conflict with the White House. He has pressed 
for a stronger military commitment in Syria and support for some 
opposition groups, along with a series of more aggressive covert 
actions, according to administration officials. Mr. Obama has been 
reluctant, as have others in the White House who fear that, even if they 
could engineer a transition in Syria, it could create a power vacuum 
that Iran, Russia and militant terrorist groups could exploit.

Among the Syrians, the plan was greeted with skepticism on all sides, 
particularly from armed opposition groups and their supporters, who, 
broadly speaking, have come to believe that the United States has lost 
interest in ousting Mr. Assad, and is willing to see them wiped out.

It is a measure of how little trust the Syrians have in the 
international community — especially after the short-lived cease-fire in 
February — that initial reactions were lukewarm, even though the deal 
holds out the possibility of at least a temporary calming of the violence.

Armed opposition groups read the deal as ordering them to remove 
better-armed Nusra fighters from their areas, something they lack the 
military power to do alone, or else face attack by the United States — a 
country that has provided some of the rebel groups with training and 
weapons for years.

While Mr. Kerry began his announcement by noting that Mr. Assad’s 
airstrikes were, as he put it, “the main driver of civilian casualties 
and migration flows,” the deal — as partly described — contains many 
loopholes that could allow them to continue.

And no measures were described that would hold any of the parties to 
account if they violated the terms of a deal that is being struck at a 
time when the United States has little leverage over Russia in Syria.

The deal allows Syrian government warplanes to continue to fly missions 
in some areas that are to be defined later.

And Russia and the United States will target areas where they both agree 
Nusra or Islamic State fighters are present. What that really means 
hinges on how Russia and the United States define legitimate opposition 
groups that cannot be targeted under the deal, and how they define areas 
where Nusra is present.

The deal also failed to mention anything about the presence of foreign 
Shiite militias — such as Hezbollah, which like Al Qaeda and Islamic 
State is considered a terrorist group by the United States — fighting on 
the Syrian government’s side.

It also said nothing about the tens of thousands of detainees in Syrian 
government prisons, whose release had long been touted as a possible 
measure under a deal. And while it spoke of allowing aid deliveries into 
besieged areas, it said nothing of lifting the sieges and restoring 
freedom of movement of goods and people.

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