Don’t expect the U.S. and Russia to sit around a campfire singing kumbaya anytime soon. Both countries are escalating the war of words over who’s to blame for there being no grand coalition to fight ISIS in the Middle East. First, President Barack Obama told reporters in Malaysia that Russia needs to accept the fact the U.S. won’t agree to any political agreement on the Syrian civil war which keeps Bashar Assad as president. Via Bloomberg.
“It is not conceivable that Mr. Assad can regain legitimacy in a country in which a large majority of that country despises Assad, and will not stop fighting so long as he’s in power…Russia has not officially committed to a transition of Assad moving out but they did agree to a political transition process. And I think we’ll find out over the next several weeks whether or not we can bring about that change in perspective with the Russians.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wasn’t a big fan of Obama’s comments and blamed the U.S. for having policies which allowed ISIS to come about. Via Sputnik.
“The strengthening of the Islamic State became possible partially due to irresponsible policies of the United States. Instead of concentrating joint efforts on fighting terrorism, the United States and its allies decided to fight against the lawfully elected president of Syria Bashar Assad…The sensible policy in the Middle Eastern countries, be it Syria, Egypt or Iraq, for all countries, including the United States, should entail support of the legitimate authorities, who are able to ensure the integrity of the state, and not destabilize the situation.”
This is obviously a blow towards French President Francois Hollande who is hoping to be the “middle man” in getting the Bear and the Eagle to sit down for a chat about fighting ISIS. But The Hill reported on Saturday it’s not just the Obama Administration which isn’t interested in working with Russia.
“The one issue that would prevent further cooperation is not getting to an agreement at some point on the future of Assad,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this week.
“If [Russia is] really committed to being full partners [against] ISIS, they have to understand that Assad is a big part of the motivation around ISIS in the first place.”
Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, [says] Putin needs to demonstrate his commitment to fighting ISIS.
“Partnering with Russia in Syria is something we should consider if, and only if, the Russians show that they are interested in truly taking on ISIL, and not using the terrorist attacks in Paris and the Russian airliner bombing as an excuse to attack the moderate opposition in the region,” Smith said in a written statement to The Hill.
“If Russia is willing to help manage and negotiate a political transition that moves aside Assad, then the international community would have an opportunity to consider cooperation with Russia.”
So basically Hollande is up a creek, even if he’s going to lobby the White House with as much la jugeote as he can muster. Of course, Assad isn’t going to step down or allow some sort of political transition to happen until “the terrorists” are defeated. ABC News has that and Obama’s reaction.
“Nothing can start before defeating the terrorists who occupy parts of Syria,” Assad recently told Italian state television. Assad considers anyone fighting him, including moderate rebels, to be terrorists.
Obama countered: “I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power. … Even if I said that was OK, I still don’t think it would actually work. You could not get the Syrian people, the majority of them, to agree to that kind of outcome. And you couldn’t get a number of their neighbors to agree to that outcome, as well.”
That’s ignoring the fact the Arab League hasn’t really been focused on Syria or ISIS recently. I’ve already written why it’s shortsighted for the Obama Administration to say, “Assad has to go or else we won’t team up with Russia to fight ISIS” because no other country seems to think this. There may also be a point to keeping Assad in power until ISIS is gone. It can certainly be argued things got worse in the Middle East after the Iraq War toppled Saddam Hussein and NATO toppled Moammar Gaddafi in Libya. This isn’t suggesting Hussein and Gaddafi were good guys, but there is something to be said about dictators being able to keep certain elements under control. This doesn’t mean the U.S. should openly (or covertly) support bad regimes through foreign aid, but the federal government should be more willing to let individual companies do business with foreign companies or businessmen in “bad countries.” Things could have gone completely different in Iraq, Syria, Libya, or Egypt if companies were able to promote free markets from within. Remember, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set off the Arab Spring in 2011 because he decided to self-immolate himself in protest of the government confiscating his fruit. If more American businesses were able to promote free markets in other countries, it would probably shift the tide from totalitarian to a more freedom-loving country. This is going to take time and it’s not something which happens overnight.
But the big question from all of this is whether those aligned with the U.S. on Syria will abandon them if they refuse to keep working with Russia. If that’s the case, then the U.S. may end up being forced to either go along with Russia or get out of Syria entirely. It’s anyone’s guess what will actually happen because Obama seems pretty adamant about Putin and Assad. Hollande’s got his work cut out for him if he really wants to get that U.S.-Russia alliance to happen. Tuesday can’t come soon enough.