While this is not for the first time that a ceasefire agreement has been achieved in Syria, the recent US-Russia deal has happened at a time when, on the one hand, the US president is trying his best to carve out an edge in Syria and project it as his presidential legacy ahead of the up-coming elections and, on the other, when the U.S. is increasing pressure on Russia as well. The recently thrashed fresh sanctions and the nomination of a former CENTCOM chief as military advisor to the Ukraine government speak volumes about how actually things are happening in the wider strategic gambit and the likely turn situation will see once the relatively “sane” president departs and the hawkish Clinton, who invariably represents the vast majority of opinion within the US establishment and foreign-policy elites who see Moscow as posing a systemic challenge to the US-led international order and the policy of overthrowing regimes to construct satellite states.
Clinton’s foreign policy advisors are all famous for holding ‘hawkish’ views on Russia – Jake Sullivan, Laura Rosenberger, Madeline Albright, Strobe Talbott, Leon Panetta, Michele Flournoy, Michael McFoul, Phil Gordon, Julie Smith, Jeremy Bash and so on. As such, as opposed to policy of co-operation, they demand Russia’s politico-military containment so as to create conditions to change the regime in Syria and elsewhere too.
It was not long ago when Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff for the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency and is now serving as Clinton’s adviser, had said in an interview that Clinton’s policy will be two-edged. Not only will it fight militant movements but also equally work towards regime change in Syria. To quote him: “A Clinton administration will not shrink from making clear to the world exactly what the Assad regime is,” he said. “It is a murderous regime that violates human rights; that has violated international law; used chemical weapons against his own people; has killed hundreds of thousands of people, including tens of thousands of children”, he added more.
Therefore, while the current deal itself has a lot of potential to work towards an effective treatment of militancy and towards political solution of the crisis in Syria and that it does have Syria and Iran’s support too, it is precisely for this reason that Clinton, were she to come in power, will see in it the seeds of elevating Russia to the status of a global power, equalling the U.S. itself. Hence, as the understanding goes, threatening to the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Middle East too.
And the deal does have this element in it. For instance, if the truce holds from Monday, Russia and the US will begin seven days of preparatory work to set up a “joint implementation center”, where they will share information to delineate territory controlled by ISIS, Al-Nusra and opposition groups.
Clinton and its advisers have, as their various statements reveal, read into US-Russia co-operation the US’ considerably softened stance towards Assad’s regime and believe that as America switches its focus to destroying ISIS and creating alliances with Moscow, the White House has quietly dropped its rhetoric against the Assad regime, which was always the raison d’etre of America’s and that of its allies’ military involvement in the region.
For Clinton and its team, revival of this rhetoric, therefore, is of cardinal importance to reverse the US’ weakening position in the Middle East and to reassure their Gulf allies about the US’ “unchanged” commitment to their security.
There is hardly any doubt that Hillary Clinton has its own vision of foreign policy and given her past experience as Obama’s secretary of state and the approach she followed then, it is rather difficult to ignore that she has her own plan of breaking from Obama’s policies, and one of the cardinal aspects of this plan is to start a fully-fledged ground intervention in Syria to carve it into “zones” and force other actors, especially Russia and Iran, out of it.
Therefore, the optimism being expressed in different quarters regarding a probable solution of the crisis in Syria is illusionary; for, despite the fact that both Russia and the US have underwritten the deal, there is no guarantee that it will succeed. The failure, if it happens in the coming months, would owe its existence not merely to Clinton and her team but also to the current US officials who don’t seem to agree to what has been agreed upon.
The pentagon, as is evident, views the situation markedly differently and its chief Carter has no love lost for Russia. Ironically, just two days before the US-Russia deal on Syria was announced in Geneva, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter was speaking in Oxford, England, where he listed “Russian aggression and IS barbarism” as the two “robust challenges” facing the US policymakers today. He accused the Russians of “trying to play by their own rules”, undercutting international order, “intent on undermining its cohesion, questioning its effectiveness, assailing its legitimacy”. Making an allusion to the Kerry-Lavrov negotiations regarding Syria.
Carter further said Russia indulged in doublespeak and its intervention “made the situation in Syria more dangerous, more prolonged, more violent”, and contributed to the “gaps of trust” in US-Russian relations. Carter’s speech thus underscored Washington’s hawkish elements’ grit to contain Russia, no matter what it takes, which the potential next chief is likely to follow too, and undercut Obama’s efforts at achieving a semblance of victory against terrorism which he has so often promised since 2008.
Therefore, while Russia has agreed upon the formula of de-escalating the conflict and a number of fighting groups have agreed to it and some disagreed, the potential success or the failure hardly depends upon Russia’s intentions. It depends on how the US establishment sees Syria, its ruler Assad and its allies, Iran and Russia. Therefore, were the new US leadership to follow the old policy of establishing American leadership in the world, which invariably implies imposing the US will upon the world and which has filled Clinton’s heart full of ambition, conflict will escalate and the deal would just become yet another failure in the long list of such failures to end violence.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.