Reprinted from Consortium News
Despite all the ranting from armchair-warriors across Official Washington -- urging attacks on the Syrian military and even Russian warplanes inside Syria -- cooler heads may have finally prevailed with Secretary of State John Kerry agreeing to a formula that will let Iran participate in Syrian peace talks set to begin Friday in Geneva.
The point here is that Iran and Russia, as allies of the Syrian government, are in a strong position to urge concessions from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, much as Russian President Vladimir Putin did in 2013 when he pressured Assad to surrender Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. Also, in late 2013, Putin helped wrest concessions from Iran over its nuclear program.
It is way past time for sanity and realism to replace the endless "tough guy/gal" posturing that has consumed Official Washington since 2011 as a quarter million Syrians have been killed and millions have fled as refugees across the Mideast and into Europe.
The only narrative that's been allowed in the mainstream U.S. press is that Assad is responsible for nearly every bad thing that's happened, ignoring the support that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and even Israel have provided to jihadist fighters, including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front and Al Qaeda's spinoff, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh).
President Barack Obama has been part of the problem, too, as he has bent to the "regime change" demands of "liberal interventionists" and their close cousins, the neoconservatives.
To appease those political/media voices, Obama has "covertly" intervened in the Syrian conflict by arming and training some rebel forces. Though the administration insists that it has armed and trained only "moderate" rebels, the reality is that such a "moderate" force is largely mythical, with many of the CIA's recruits later joining Islamist armies and surrendering U.S.-supplied weapons to these extremists.
How U.S. officials have defined "moderate" is also in question. A source briefed on this strategy told me that the CIA supplied 500 TOW anti-tank missiles to Ahrah ash-Sham, an Islamist force founded, in part, by Al Qaeda veterans. Ahrah ash-Sham collaborates with Al Qaeda's Nusra Front as the two leading militias in the Saudi-backed Army of Conquest.
The sophisticated TOW missiles have been "credited" with enabling the Army of Conquest to make major advances around the city of Idlib and block counter-offenses by the Syrian army. In other words, U.S. support for "moderate" rebels has strengthened the military position of Al Qaeda, even if the administration can technically argue that it isn't giving weapons to Al Qaeda's Nusra Front.
A Grave Danger
The grave danger of such U.S. calibrations about ratcheting up the war pressure on the Assad government just enough for Assad to leave but not for his government to collapse is the high probability of a miscalculation that could lead to a disintegrating Syrian army and open a path for Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic State to capture Damascus, raising the black flag of Sunni terrorism over a major city in the Middle East.
As grim as the human rights situation in Syria is now, a victory by the Sunni terrorists would very possibly lead to genocide against the Alawites, Christians, Shiites and other "infidels." Millions more Syrians would flee the slaughter, destabilizing not only Turkey and other Mideast nations but Europe as well.
Then, Official Washington's "regime change" tough-talkers would surely demand a full-scale U.S. military invasion and occupation of Syria, an extraordinarily costly and likely futile attempt to restore some semblance of order in the region.
So, any sign that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have gotten down off their "Assad must go" high horses represents a glimmer of hope that a political solution may finally be possible. But a deal would also require Obama and Kerry getting tough with Sunni "allies" and aggressively clamping down on the continued flow of money and weapons to the Islamist rebels.
If a political power-sharing arrangement between Assad's side and the U.S.-backed "moderate" Sunni politicians can be arranged -- and if the borders can be sealed off to prevent resupply of the extremists -- then Syria might eventually restore enough order to conduct elections so the Syrians themselves can decide who they want as their leaders.
But Official Washington's neocons/liberal interventionists seem determined to wreck any possible peace deal. These influential opinion leaders -- bolstered by the "human rights" community -- continue to insist on "regime change" in Syria, a top neocon goal since the 1990s. The Assad family's ouster was expected to be the quick follow-on to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, except that the Iraq operation didn't turn out exactly as the neocons had drawn it up at their think tanks.