Earlier today in the Philippines, Barack Obama responded to Russian and French proposals for an anti-ISIS coalition by suggesting that he’d join up — as soon as the Russians dispensed with Bashar al-Assad. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has a different deal in mind: Russia steps up to pull Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire and the US quits making demands about Assad. Consider it Moscow’s idea of a reset:
Russia said Wednesday that following the carnage in Paris it was now clear that global powers should unite without any preconditions on the fate of Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad.
“It seems to me there are no longer any doubts that it is simply unacceptable to put forward any pre-conditions for joining forces in the fight against terror,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting his counterpart from Lebanon Gebran Bassil in Moscow. …
Lavrov expressed hope that other Western powers would follow suit and would be more open to cooperating with Moscow in Syria.
“I hope that the change in position of our Western colleagues — which unfortunately came at the cost of the terrible terror attacks — will be seen on the part of our other Western partners,” Russia’s top diplomat said.
The Guardian says this is less of a reset than it is the result of a long retreat. Even Assad has that much figured out:
In recent weeks, the US, Britain and the other countries that had previously insisted on Assad’s immediate departure have been signalling he could stay on for a transition period of a few months but would eventually have to go. The Russians have seized on this as evidence that the debate about Syria is going their way.
The shifting mood was also caught by Assad himself, who said in an interview with a French magazine that Syria would only share intelligence on terrorists with France if it changes its policies in the region. Syrian officials have been making this argument to European countries for the last couple of years, but it is now being listened to as calls multiply to work with Assad as the “lesser evil” to Isis.
“If the French government is not serious in its fight against terrorism, we will not waste our time collaborating with a country, government or an institution that supports terrorism,” the Syrian president told the magazine Valeurs Actuelles on Saturday. “You have to first change policy … to be part of an alliance that joins countries only fighting terrorism and not supporting them.”
Illustrating the trend, the Spanish foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, called for an agreement with Assad “to begin a ceasefire allowing aid to reach the displaced … kickstart a political transition and above all attack our common enemy”.
France is already signaling that they are much more interested in attacking ISIS than pushing Assad out. The Spaniards seem to be pushing for that policy, and it’s almost a no-brainer that Germany would prefer to focus on ISIS after this. If the European nations go along with this — and with ISIS now a threat on their streets, it’s difficult to imagine that they’d prioritize Assad’s fate over ISIS — then Barack Obama is going to start feeling very lonely, and very soon.
On top of all this, it’s also the right call. Regardless of how terrible a despot Assad is — although not so bad that the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton refrained from describing him as a “reformer” — the actual threat to US and Western interests comes from ISIS. Until the last few weeks, Obama posited that ISIS was already declining and that removing Assad would hasten their collapse. That is clearly wrong, and now we have a quasi-state that has turned from consolidating its position to striking their enemies abroad.
The priority is obviously ISIS, not Assad. The EU will need Russia on their side, especially since Obama has made it clear that he has no interest in applying any more effort in fighting ISIS. The only one who doesn’t seem to grasp the shift, at least so far, is Obama. Smart power.