The Syrian Civil War
State Department: “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria” 2015 Accomplishment

2015 saw Iran and Russia both enter the Syrian Civil War, which is still raging fiercely. Yet, citing a U.N. resolution, the U.S. Department of State has hailed “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria” as one of its accomplishments in the last year:

But Syria isn’t at peace, as the the text beneath the headline admits. It’s still very much embroiled in a bloody civil war, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the resolution to that war, whenever it comes, will not primarily be on America’s terms, unless we change something dramatically. Rather, it will be on the terms of our rivals—primarily Iran and Russia.

The President has argued that, as he put it on October 2, “An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work.” But in a lengthy report in Reuters today, U.S. Administration and intelligence officials paint a much bleaker picture of Syria—where Putin, they say, is winning, and any negotiations will increasingly be conducted on his terms:

Three months into his military intervention in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved his central goal of stabilizing the Assad government and, with the costs relatively low, could sustain military operations at this level for years, U.S. officials and military analysts say.[..]

“I think it’s indisputable that the Assad regime, with Russian military support, is probably in a safer position than it was,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity. [.  . . ]

Russia’s intervention also appears to have strengthened its hand at the negotiating table. In recent weeks, Washington has engaged more closely with Russia in seeking a settlement to the war and backed off a demand for the immediate departure of Assad as part of any political transition.

Putin’s run of success is something every newspaper reader in the U.S. is aware of. More broadly, even only mildly engaged citizens know there’s neither “peace” nor “security” to be found in Syria. Moreover, if any comes, it will not be due to the U.N. Resolution cited by the State Department, but from major shifts in either the military or political stances of the belligerent parties, including the U.S.

The gap between the State Department’s on-the-record optimism and the realism quoted in Reuters is more than just a “gotcha” moment. Time and again this Administration has mixed optimistic promises that security problems were under control with inaction on the ground. The price has been that as those problems, which really weren’t being attended to, got worse, public trust in the government’s ability to take care of them eroded.

This feeds into a broader crisis of confidence in our elites, a crisis well and truly earned by leaders of both parties. A Pew poll in November indicated that American citizens’ trust in their government is near a post-WWII record low, with only 19 percent expressing confidence that they can “trust the government always or most of the time.” And as the rise of Donald Trump and his populism shows, this is starting to affect our politics.

So instead of a releasing a year-in-review bragging about accomplishments that don’t really exist, perhaps our Administration should consider some resolutions for next year. Resolutions like: Don’t over-promise and under-deliver and don’t respond to bad news with sunny statements of the “who are you gonna trust, me or your lying eyes” variety. And try as far as possible to level with the American people, particularly in situations like Syria where there are no easy, or even good, options.

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