Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry described Russian action in Syria as a potential “opportunity” for the United States, suggesting the Russians ought to follow President Obama’s agenda in Syria.
Now that bombs are actually dropping, Kerry’s rhetoric has hardened a bit, but he still does not seem to fully comprehend what is happening.
In a Tuesday interview with CNN, before the Russian bombs began falling, Kerry tried to talk the Russians out of supporting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. “If he’s going to side with Assad and with Iran and Hezbollah, he’s going to have a very serious problem with the Sunni countries in the region. That means he… could very well become a target for those Sunni jihadists,” said the Secretary of State, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“It’s an opportunity for us to force this question of how you actually resolve the question of Syria,” Kerry continued. “And the bottom line is, you cannot resolve it without including the Sunni(s) in a political solution, a political agreement ultimately, and that will mean that you’re going to have to have some kind of transition, some kind of timing. Because as long as Assad is there, you simply can’t make peace. Period.”
He went on to insist that Assad must go – in a gradual and “orderly” transition, rather than a swift departure that could cause a political “implosion,” and actually cited the Syrian refugee crisis as an example of people “voting with their feet” against the dictator.
The following morning, Russia would tersely inform the Obama Administration that American aircraft should stay out of its way while it began hammering the Syrian opposition, and its targets most certainly were not limited to ISIS and al-Qaeda. The BBC notes that the attacks began after a mere hour’s warning to the United States, and while Russian defense officials talked about targeting the Islamic State, a U.S. official said that “so far, they did not appear to be targeting IS-held territory.” Sources within the Syrian opposition confirmed this assessment.
On Wednesday, Kerry reportedly changed his welcoming tune and told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the U.S. “will not be altering our operations and that this announcement by the Russians runs counter to their stated efforts of deconfliction and is not helpful to that effort, and again made clear that the deconfliction discussions need to begin immediately,” according to a senior American official.
At a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Kerry mixed this carping about Russia being unhelpful with wishful thinking about how they could be so, if they felt so inclined. “If Russia’s recent actions and those now ongoing reflect a genuine commitment to defeat [the Islamic State], we are prepared to welcome those efforts and find a way to deconflict and therefore multiple our efforts,” said Kerry, as reported by the Washington Post.
However, Kerry added that the United States has “grave concerns” about the possibility that Russian bombs could “strike targets where ISIL and affiliated targets are not operating,” which is exactly what happened this morning, according to sources on the ground.
“My colleague has said we must support Assad to defeat ISIL,” Kerry said, with what the Washington Post describes as a sidelong glance at Lavrov while he was speaking. “The reality is that Assad himself has rarely chosen himself to fight ISIL… Instead, it has focused all of its military power on moderate opposition groups who are fighting for a voice in Syria.”
For years, President Obama and Kerry have claimed to have a subtle, slow-moving strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, which has been seizing cities, bringing in fresh recruits, and racking up battlefield victories the whole time. If Russian power resolves the Islamic State crisis, the damage to American credibility across the region will be catastrophic. Our Secretary of State gives no sign he even understands the danger, let alone has a plan for dealing with it.