The Syrian line-up just got more complicated with the addition of the Russian Federation All-stars. Despite warnings from the White House, Russian President Vladimir Putin injected his Crimean Peninsula commandos into Syria to bolster his ally, embattled leader, Bashar al-Assad.
The news forced the US to open direct talks with the Russian Defense Minister to avoid potential battlefield confliction. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter spent 50 minutes on the phone with his Kremlin counterpart Sergi Shoigu trying to reach some sort of consensus.
According to a Pentagon statement from Press Secretary Peter Cook; “The secretary and the minister talked about areas where the United States and Russia’s perspectives overlap and areas of divergence. They agreed to further discuss mechanisms for deconfliction (a new word invented by the White House) in Syria and the counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL/ISIS) campaign. The secretary emphasized the importance of pursuing such consultations in parallel with diplomatic talks that would ensure a political transition in Syria. He noted that defeating ISIL and ensuring a political transition are objectives that need to be pursued at the same time. Both the secretary and the minister agreed to continue their dialogue.”
The overt Russian move in Syria also pushed Secretary of State John Kerry to open discussions with Russia about the best way to fight ISIS and somehow negotiate an exit strategy for Assad. Kerry said the military talks will “help define some of the different options that are available to us as we consider next steps in Syria.”
“Obviously, our focus remains on destroying ISIL,” Kerry told reporters in London. “Also on a political settlement with respect to Syria, which we believe cannot be achieved with the long-term presence of Assad. We are looking for ways in which to try and find a common ground.”
Russia claimed its move to send additional military assets was is to protect its naval port in Tartus along the Mediterranean Sea. Putin suggested the prolonged civil war threatens Moscow’s foreign policy interests and it will protect its interests.
However, US officials worry that the military escalation will only help the Assad regime that is clinging to one-third of the country, primarily the nation’s capitol of Damascus. Kerry explained; “We will stay very closely in communication (with the Russians), because that’s very important. We share the same goal. We share the goal of ridding the region of ISIL/ISIS.”
Nevertheless the Secretary of State expressed concern that Russia’s main reason for the military deployment would likely support Assad. “They allege that they also share the goal of a political transition that leads to a stable, whole, united, secular Syria,” he said. “The question always remains: Where is Assad’s place and role within that, and that’s what we need to have more conversation on.”
On Friday, Russia suggested all countries involved should “discuss the issue of precisely what will be done to de-conflict with respect to any potential risks that might be run, and have a complete and clear understanding as to the road ahead and what the intentions are.”
Secretary Kerry concurred and stated that “It is vital to avoid misunderstandings, miscalculations (and) not to put ourselves in a predicament where we are supposing something and the supposition is wrong.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest weighed in and said “We believe the thing that would do the most to advance our strategy, to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, is for Assad to leave power so that we could see the kind of political leadership inside of Syria that would restore at least some semblance of stability to that country.” Earnest did not suggest who the person or organization might be.
Nearing its fifth year of civil war, Syria has lost approximately 2/3rds of its geographic boundaries to ISIS, due in part, to the US arming of “anti-Assad” insurgents purportedly from Benghazi weapons transfers and later initiated air strikes against ISIS approximately 18 months ago. So far the battle against the “bad” terrorists by the “good” terrorists remains a stalemate.
Syria Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told RT in an interview that the international community could have stopped the bloodbath in Syria if it fulfilled its obligations to fight terrorism. “We want to ask the international community…what have you done to fulfill the UN Security Council resolutions adopted in accordance with Chapter 7 [of the UN Charter]?” he explained. “Did neighboring countries implement the Security Council resolutions on fighting terrorism? Not a single one.”
In the end, the winner may be the Assad regime, not only are they losing ground to ISIS, but the highly publicized refugee crisis has sparked renewed interest in the multi-sided war that has claims 250,000 lives and approximately 6 million refugees, many who are inundating Europe.
Looking back to statements made by the Obama administration more than a year ago illustrates the difficulty in fighting a war from the air.
In September of last year, former Pentagon Press Secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, confirmed America’s commitment to eliminating ISIS. The ultimate goal was the destruction of their ideology, but admitted it was a tough assignment. “That can’t be done just through military means alone. That has to be done through good governance, both in Iraq and in Syria … and in a responsive political process, so that the people that are falling sway to this radical ideology are no longer drawn to it.”
The lukewarm reception from Arab nations hasn’t gone unnoticed especially when it looks like the most enthusiastic US partner is Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Paradoxically the Syrian president who has been discredited by the West and who President Obama proclaimed in 2009 “must go” and has tactically pushed for the removal of the secular leader.
A year ago Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Fayssal Mekdad told reporters that the US and its allies are essentially fighting the same enemy and they wanted to work together with targeted airstrikes. “We are ready to talk,” he said. So far the Obama administration has not returned Assad’s phone calls.
But will the GOP fair any better in the region? At the second GOP debate Donald Trump was asked what he would do differently if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons on its citizens. “I wouldn’t have drawn the line, but once he drew it, he had no choice but to go across. They do bear some responsibility, but I think he probably didn’t do it, not for that reason. Somehow, [Obama] just doesn’t have courage. There is something missing from our president. Had he crossed the line and really gone in with force, done something to Assad, if he had gone in with tremendous force, you wouldn’t have millions of people displaced all over the world.”
The Republican frontrunner was light on details, but suggested Syria’s a mess. “You look at what’s going on with ISIS in there, now think of this: we’re fighting ISIS. ISIS wants to fight Syria. Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.”
While many U.S. officials describe the ISIS terrorists as an imminent threat to the homeland, others contend the radical Islamic movement isn’t all that equipped to seriously threatened America with a deadly arsenal.
“What deadly arsenal? ISIS consists of mortars, heavy machine guns and pickup trucks,” according to Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, (ret) PhD, and a decorated combat veteran and author. “They cannot effectively employ the captured tanks and armored fighting vehicles. They lack the technical skills and cultural inclination to disciplined soldiering. ISIS looks strong because the people they’ve attacked are weak and incompetent. When ISIS attacked the Kurds the 500 Kurds facing them had only AK47s. Unless ISIS receives modern 3rd or 4th generation shoulder fired air defense ISIS is toast. Shiite militias exploiting our airstrikes in the south are already taking historically Sunni villages and decapitating captured Sunni Arabs and Turkmen. ISIS is grossly inflated by the US and Western media.”
The wild card in this latest Middle East chess game is bombing Syria without Assad’s support. “If we enter Syrian air space to bomb without coordination and permission from Assad, the Ruskies could deploy truly potent Russian air defense and radar technology manned by them. This would potentially down some of our aircraft and drive the rest away. The Russians did this in Syria during the 1973 war against the Israelis with considerable effect.”
He continues to explain, “Our ‘stealthy’ aircraft designs are not invisible. Stealth delays detection. It does not prevent it. Putin, no doubt, would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that fact.