Syria’s ceasefire is a farce and Kerry-Lavrov plan a fantasy
If we were to take the Russian-American agreements as serious diplomatic breakthroughs, then Syria would be a different place by now
If we were to take the Russian-American agreements as serious diplomatic breakthroughs, then Syria would be a different place by now. A transitional government, a new constitution, an “independent, unified, secular” state would have transpired from Geneva I, or Geneva II, or the Vienna peace plans, and not the fragmented, war-torn, living hell unfolding in Syrian cities.
Yet, this has not stopped international gatherings -with few or no Syrians on the table- from taking place. The latest was John Kerry’s and Sergey Lavrov’s in Geneva as they announced the secret deal between US and Russia on settling Syria.
Its recipe fits perfectly with the old templates: a detached fantasy of a ceasefire lacking both the leverage to achieve it, and the mechanism to enforce it. A ceasefire that looks the other way as regular clashes continue across the country, war crimes are casually condemned and besiegement becomes only a cause of concern.
Ceasefire is dead
The deal that Kerry and Lavrov broke in Geneva on September 10th is a classic case of flawed and non-transparent diplomatic exercises. Neither the Syrian factions, nor journalists covering the agreement and not even close partners of the United States such as France received a copy of the agreement. Kerry’s own reluctance to publish the deal speaks volumes to his faith in the concessions offered, and to his confidence (or lack thereof) in the implementation. According to the New York Times, Kerry privately “has conceded to aides and friends that he believes it will not work.”
To begin with, this was “a minimalist agreement”, Tobias Schneider a defense analyst and close follower of events in Syria says of the Kerry-Lavrov deal. The violations accounting to war crimes in targeting an aid convoy, not allowing food to besieged areas, “spell the end of the current cessation of hostilities” says the expert.
With airstrikes resuming in Aleppo, bombing of aid trucks, a rebel offensive and Israeli strike in Quneitra, clashes near Hama, Jobar, and Homs, the ceasefire is not just dead, it’s six feet underJoyce Karam
Indeed, with airstrikes resuming in Aleppo, bombing of aid trucks, a rebel offensive and Israeli strike in Quneitra, clashes near Hama, Jobar, and Homs, the ceasefire is not just dead, it’s six feet under. Further dooming the deal is the Pentagon who had reservations about the agreement in the first place, pointing fingers at Russia in the aid strike, and dimming hopes for prospects of intelligence sharing with Moscow.
Even if Kerry and Lavrov had the most noble intentions, Schneider explains that “in the end, (the Assad) regime recalcitrance is proving insurmountable...and the deal illustrates the ever-widening gap between the diplomatic preferences of Moscow and DC on the one hand, and the tough realities of the Syrian civil war on the other.” The absence of an enforcement mechanism, and complete detachment from the ground events have also worked against its implementation.
What is next?
The long-term objective of the Kerry-Lavrov deal had it succeeded was starting a US-Russian joint implementation center (JIC) to target designated terrorist groups such as ISIS, Jabhat Fateh Sham (JFS formerly known as Nusra), and the newly labeled Jund al-Aqsa. In reality, counterterrorism has taken the front seat in both US and Russia’s calculus in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “needs the West and its regional allies for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, that can absolve Moscow of its military responsibilities in Syria” says Schneider. This would aid Moscow’s interest in primarily targeting JFS, which would “split the armed opposition, reduce American leverage on the ground and further secure Assad in his position.”
However, the Pentagon’s unease with the deal, and its current “mistake” in targeting Assad forces rather than ISIS in Deir Zour might have choked the JIC and partnering with Russia for now. It is not unforeseeable for the White House and Kerry to re-pitch such cooperation irrelevant of the ceasefire.
This effort “will likely be the last attempt for the current US administration to affect the wider Syrian civil war.” Schneider references Kerry’s own eagerness seen previously in his failed negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, “not to leave office without some success on the issue, while Obama would likely be fine passing the issue on to his successor.”
Kicking the can down to the next administration is an acceptable outcome for Obama. It would serve to absolve his legacy from entering the Syrian predicament while focusing on rolling back ISIS from its 2014 held territories.
In this context, it is only dishonest and contemptuous to the war victims to pretend there is a ceasefire when aerial bombardment, clashes and sieges continue. There is no end in sight for Syria’s war, and no serious effort to stop it, only brazen rhetoric and glossy photo-ops from New York to Geneva.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam