The blame game has now begun, not on the failure of the Syrian peace talks, but about their delay. We saw the signs early, and for those who were blind, we hadMr. de Mistura telling the press to expect to see parties walking out on the talks and coming back in, with lots of theatrics.
We anticipated the goal of the Western coalition would be to drag out the talks, while trying to figure out some way to revive their plan to unseat Assad and Balkanize Syria. The Saudis and Qatar want their pipeline through Northern Syria, and Erdogan wants to add one more pipeline to his current web to increase his blackmail ability as the middle man. Ruthless men to do not easily give up their ruthless ways, a try to make sure that someone else pays.
What we had leading into the talks was the standup comedy team of the US, the Saudis and Turkey. Erdogan made the warm up move with the claim of an alleged airspace incursion by a Russian bomber, but with no proof. Then the US quickly stepped in with their confirmation, but refusing to show us proof on the grounds that it was classified. I am not joking with you — this was their position. But it gets funnier, sadly so.
For the second part of the Turkish one-two punch, to make the Russians look bad, Turkey began using heavy artillery shelling against Syrian forces in support of their Turkman. A Russian advisor was killed in the latest event along with the Syrian casualties, and this was supposed to trigger retaliation attacks on the Turkish batteries just over the border.
And retaliate the Russian did, but not in the way Turkey and NATO wanted. Instead, the Russians filmed the batteries firing from a drone, and then swung the camera southward to get the shells impacting on the Syrian position — what we call a “slam dunk gotcha” move in American slang. Getting the Russians to overreact is basically impossible. We got a measured response from Moscow which served its goals, not Turkey’s and NATP, which I will cover in a minute.
When the main Saudi opposition group, with its terrorist groups blended into it, insisted that no other opposition groups be allowed into the talks, it was obvious the plan was to hold the talks hostage with the threat of walking out if their demands were not met. And those demands were basically what would have been expected for them to get at the end of the negotiations, but with one catch. They wanted them now…before the talks started, despite the UN insistence on no preconditions.
They wanted an immediate ceasefire, freeing of their prisoners (which means amnesty at this point of the game), and the ending of the siege some of their compatriots are suffering from Syrian forces. Such an up front ceasefire would have the Russian and Syrian Air Forces standing down, and then the opposition group could drag the talks out endlessly, while holding the ground inside Syria it still had. And if the Syrian coalition refused to do this, the plan was to charge that they were negotiating in bad faith.
Of course what all the military and political strategists knew was that the US coalition could not stall the talks while the Syrian coalition continued freeing Syrian held territory from the jihadis, so they had to demand a ceasefire going in. But the problem there was that an immediate ceasefire was not part of the Geneva agreement, and for good reason.
A ceasefire is a very complicated thing to negotiate, implement and enforce. Actually there have to be a long list of things settled before a ceasefire,one of which the Russians had brought up, such as having ALL the supply lines cut to those fighting in Syria to decrease the chances of new fighting.
Among those groups coming under the ceasefire, will their foreign jihadisremain inside Syria be included? Will any non-Syrians be allowed to remain? And for those who stay, will their order of battle down to the last footsoldier be ID’d, fingerprinted and issued an official ID card as part of an approved ceasefire group so the terrorist backers cannot play musical jihadis simply by using a new IDs to shuffle personnel from a banned group into one that is approved?
What is to be done when the refugees come back and charge some of these people with crimes against humanity? If Jihadis in Syria retreating to Saudi Arabia miraculously show up backthere in Saudi army uniforms as part of the “anti-coalition” campaign, who has jurisdiction over them for ceasefire violations?
If Turkish or Saudi forces attack any Syrian forces, including those fighting there with permission of the government, and the Syrian coalition engages and destroys them, will the US exercise its defense commitment to Saudi Arabia and NATO with Turkey for aggressive actions on their part? Will international law rule in such incidents, or will State powers invoke immunity to protect themselves and the acts of proxy terrorists operating via their training, arms and logistics supplies?
I don’t mean to wear you out, but that is just a short list of issues that have to be negoiated. I led you through that to impress upon you the utter silliness of anyone thinking a ceasefire can just be declared, free movement of armed combatants allowed, and PoWs released based on the honor system. Actually anyone coming to the talks that had a no preconditions entry fee, who then demanded preconditions has shown their bad faith, as does anyone who supports their actions.
And lastly, why after 260,000 deaths — many times that in wounded, millions of refugees, damage so huge that no one can even guess the cost of rebuilding — should groups supported by state sponsors of terror be allowed to make preconditions?
When the Saudi-backed High Negotiation Committee left Geneva, it said it would not return “until we see progress on the ground”. With the Syrian coalition making steady progress and the US coalition telling us they are also making progress, just where would this reversal of the ongoing defeat of the terrorists come from?
What if Turkey and Saudi Arabia sent forces into Syria under the guise of going after ISIL, and in reality they were just taking ground they did not feel that their terrorist proxies could hold? Would their allied partners endorse this naked move of aggression and intervene under the guise of defending an ally?
What if Russian forces were attacked and Moscow responded by accepting an Iraqi offer of basing rights in Iraq with secure a secure logistics supply chain coming over the Caspian Sea, Iran and into Iraq…so it could hammer the Iraqi ISIL and attack the Syrian jihadis from two separate flanks? Would NATO and the Western coalitions accept responsibility for triggering that defense escalation by Russia and its allies?
What if Iran, with permission from Iraq,responded to Saudi and Turkish troop movements into Syria by sending in a few divisions themselves? Who would believe that on the front of major peace talks, parties were demanding immediate preconditions or they might resort to “improvements on the ground”, a not too subtle threat of outside military action?
Lavrov tipped his hand not with a precondition of entering the talks, but for a ceasefire to even be feasible. That has to include Syria having control of its border so combatants and combat supplies cannot continue to flow into the ceasefire zone to be used for resumed fighting. And it would block the outside forcesfrom deploying their proxy terrorist supporters.
We know that the US was involved in the Saudis’ peacetalk departure with its support for the claim that negotiations could not continue while Damascus was still involved in combat against some of those groups in the talks. The US knows that we know that no upfront ceasefire was agreed upon as a prelude to starting the negotiations. Those were crocodile tears.
And it was not the recent breakthrough by the Syrian Army and allies in cutting the main northern supply line into Aleppo from Turkey, with the western route soon to be cut. The Damascus campaign to break the siege of Aleppo has been ongoing for those long suffering people, but is proceeding slowly to keep casualties down.
What has the Western coalition upset is that the Syrian coalition’s goal to recapture territory right up to the Turkish border is succeeding. That will block all the Turkish supply lines and make a real ceasefire defendable, and that is what the NATO and Gulf state gangsters don’t want.
The Kurds are playing a key role in this strategy by helping to cut these supply highways and defend the border areas, which has allowed the Syrians to concentrate their stretched manpower to encircle and cut off the jihadis in Aleppo, a game changer. The Kurds will expect a reward for this in the Syrian constitutional changes, which Assad has already said he would be open to accepting as part of a workable peace settlement.
Erdogan has said he would never allow the Kurds to have continuous control of the north Syrian border. The military threat was obvious, but one that would put NATO in a tough spot, as it would be hard to invoke NATO’s defense support for an invasion of Syria. On the other hand, Assad and Putin are not about to have their hands tied with a phony ceasefire.
This tightrope act will continue on, and we will have to wait to see who falls first…or if everybody goes together.
Jim W. Dean, managing editor for Veterans Today, producer/host of Heritage TV Atlanta, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.