The Obama administration’s new proposal to Russia on Syria is more extensive than previously known. It would open the way for deep cooperation between U.S. and Russian military and intelligence agencies and coordinated air attacks by American and Russian planes on Syrian rebels deemed to be terrorists,according to the text of the proposal I obtained.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry plans to discuss the plan with top Russian officials in a visit to Moscow on Thursday. As I first reported last month, the administration is proposing joining with Russia in a ramped-up bombing campaign against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, which is also known as the Nusrah Front. What hasn’t been previously reported is that the United States is suggesting a new military command-and-control headquarters to coordinate the air campaign that would house U.S. and Russian military officers, intelligence officials and subject-matter experts.
Overall, the proposal would dramatically shift the United States’ Syria policy by directing more American military power against Jabhat al-Nusra, which unlike the Islamic State is focused on fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While this would expand the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Syria, it would also be a boon for the Assad regime, which could see the forces it is fighting dramatically weakened. The plan also represents a big change in U.S.-Russia policy. It would give Russian President Vladimir Putin something he has long wanted: closer military relations with the United States and a thawing of his international isolation. That’s why the Pentagon was initially opposed to the plan.
Yet for all this, it’s not at all clear that the plan will be accepted by Putin — or that Russia will fulfill its terms if he does. Administration officials caution that no final decisions have been made and that no formal agreement has been reached between the two countries. Negotiations over the text are ongoing ahead of Kerry’s arrival in Russia.
So what we'd really be doing is attacking the largest thorn in Assad's side and helping Russia with their favorite dictator in the Middle East, in exchange for...what, exactly?
In exchange for U.S. assistance against Jabhat al-Nusra, the Russian side would be required to limit airstrikes to targets both sides agreed on and also to ensure that the Syrian air force would stand down and not bomb targets in agreed-upon “designated areas.”
The proposal provides some large exceptions for the constraints on the Russians and the Assad regime, however. The Russian air force would still be permitted to strike Jabhat al-Nusra unilaterally if there were an “imminent threat” to their personnel. The Syrian regime would be allowed to bomb Jabhat al-Nusra if the group tried to advance beyond “designated areas” in which they already operate. Also, if Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the regime, even from the “designated areas,” the Russians could come to the aid of the regime, according to the proposal. The details of the “designated areas” are not spelled out in the document.
“All actions should be consistent with the terms of the cessation of hostilities,” the document states, referring the cease-fire. The State Department admits neither Russia nor the Assad regime are adhering to the cease-fire now.
In the second part of the proposal, called the “Approach for Practical Russian-American Cooperation against Daesh and Jabhat al Nusra and Strengthening the Cessation of Hostilities,” the administration spells out details about how it wants the United States and Russia to work together on the ground.
Within five days of establishment of the JIG, the two sides are to come up with a common map of all Jabhat al-Nusra locations and begin sharing intelligence on leadership targets, training camps, logistical depots, supply lines and headquarters. They will then set about developing targets for strikes in the “designated areas.”
Right, so Assad would totally, seriously, super promise not to keep bombing the crap out of the smoking rubble of what's left in Syria, with six million people already displaced and hundreds of thousands more fleeing each month. Except for you know the part where the exceptions to that promise allow him to do just that and gleefully continue to destroy one of the oldest civilizations on Earth because people made him feel bad about his dead father.
Sure, this seems like a great deal for the folks that are left in Syria, and something that totally isn't going to blow up and turn into an even worse problem in 2017 and beyond.
Good job, Obama foreign policy team. I feel confident that this won't be a collosal garbage fire, because we can totally trust Assad and Putin completely.
I'm going to take some Aleve for this migraine, in the meantime.