U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Vienna for another round of talks over how to bring the Syrian civil war to an end. The impasse, as it has been from the earliest days of this bloody conflict, is the ultimate fate of Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad. Bloomberg:
The gains of recent months are “increasingly threatened by irresponsible and dangerous actions by those who would rather have this effort fail, who want to create problems rather than solutions, because they seek a different outcome,” Kerry said. “There are, frankly, actors on both sides who make that choice. We can’t give vetoes to bad actors.”
The “those” referred to above are not the Russians, but rather forces loyal to Assad himself. By soft-pedaling Russia’s central role in the conflict, Kerry is in effect pleading with his partner, Lavrov. There’s an apparent belief that Russia, Assad’s chief sponsor, could be persuaded by a rational argument to abandon its client for the greater good.
Lavrov, the sly old diplomat, was not moved:
“The Assad regime is the lesser evil when compared with greater chaos,” Lavrov said. “We don’t support Assad; we support the fight against terrorism.”
This far into the game, the Obama Administration still appears ideologically wedded to the idea that diplomatic engagement has some sort of virtue all its own, and considers Russia to be an honest partner whose perspective is perhaps different, but with whom we can ultimately come to an understanding.
The Obama Administration doesn’t have a monopoly on this kind of thinking. In some corners of Europe, they apparently don’t disagree with the main premise of this worldview, but instead think the issues would be better addressed if more people were put in a room and forced to talk past each other. As a frustrated European diplomat said to Reuters, “But we haven’t got anywhere near [discussing Assad’s departure] with the Syrians themselves because the U.S. and Russia have been trying to bridge the gap, and they haven’t been able to do so. So that’s why we have got to come back and multilateralize this.”
“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext”, Kerry scolded Putin as Russia was staging its slow-motion annexation of Crimea. It’s anathema to bien pensant diplomats like Kerry and enlightened leaders like President Barack Obama to admit just how wrong their read was.
Alas, we live in Putin’s Hobbesian world, and always have. Our goals can be met and our values preserved only by forcefully shoving back when lowbrow thugs start throwing their weight around. To think that a compromise over Assad will be reached without us in some way forcefully compelling the Kremlin to see the error of its ways of thinking is pure fantasy.