Less than 24 hours after I finished “Follyanna?”, the U.S. government, along with other Western and Russian officials, announced a ceasefire in Syria, supposedly to be discussed and detailed further in preparation for implementation next week. Does this disprove my skepticism about the futility of the Geneva process? We’ll find out fairly soon, but I very much doubt it.
The “ceasefire” is not well defined. We know it leaves out the Salafis, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, for example, so that we and others can keep bombing them. But more to the point, remember that the Syrian regime and its Russian “lawyers” insist that all rebel groups are composed of “terrorists.” There is therefore much uncertainty, to put it generously, that the regime and the Russians will cease attacking rebel groups trying to hold onto Aleppo even after a “ceasefire” goes into effect.
It may also be the case that the battle for Aleppo will be over in the main within seven days, as the demoralized opposition is rapidly hemorrhaging people escaping from encirclement and otherwise bleeding heavily. If that is so, it means that the “ceasefire” will protect recent regime/Russian gains, but prevent remaining opposition forces from trying to take back lost ground. Most likely, the regime and the Russians will use the time out to consolidate their gains and prepare for the next phase of the war, which likely will turn west toward Idlib province. They will blame the rebels for breaking the ceasefire, and that will be almost too easy.
If the battle for Aleppo is not over within a week, the Russians can always prevaricate and delay matters until it is. We do not have a date certain; all we have is “next week.” This is similar in utility to the Russian official’s comment quoted in “Follyanna?”: “Maybe March, I think so.”
Note too that which areas will be chosen to receive humanitarian assistance will be a choice made almost entirely by the regime. It is bound to be selective, and it is likely to be used to coax local forces into what amounts to surrender. We have seen this before: the regime asks local resistance fighters to lay down their arms in return for deliveries of food and medicine, and afterwards the regime flag goes up, the women and children are driven somewhere, no one knows where, and a healthy percentage of the surrendering men are lined up against the wall and shot. This is the Syrian regime’s version of a ceasefire. Sort of reminds one of Grozny, doesn’t it?
If this sort of “ceasefire” technique is applied to Aleppo after its fall, we are likely to see a huge enforced exodus of people north toward Turkey, and from there, for a good number, into Europe. In this way we can look forward to forms of ethnic cleansing in Syria working double time as agents of pressure on the European Union, with the aim of weakening the EU, pressuring its member states to oppose the continuation of sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, and ultimately to bring to power in as many EU countries as possible rightwing governments less unfriendly to Russia. The concomitant result of such a political shift would be to also weaken NATO’s capacity to act. If this happens, anyone who thinks it’s not deliberate should please get in touch with me about a bridge I have for sale in Brooklyn.
Secretary Kerry has not spoken of this ceasefire proposition in Follyannish terms. He has been circumspect. He has pointedly noted that all there is so far are words on paper. He is right to be circumspect, but he is now trapped in a situation in which he has no choice but to pursue this “ceasefire” on terms he cannot control, and which is very likely to end up being no genuine ceasefire at all—with no political follow-on even remotely likely to lead to a settlement of the civil war.
In the conclusion to “Follyanna?”, I argued that it was not a contradiction to criticize the Secretary and wish him luck at the same time. That judgment stands, but if what has happened in the past 24 hours counts as luck, then it’s the sort of bad luck I wouldn’t wish on a dog.