The major news sources are all today reporting a strike against a large hospital in Aleppo that has killed at least 27, including one of the city’s last remaining pediatricians. Alongside these reports, several sources ran stories about UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura issuing increasingly desperate pronouncements in defense of the peace process—a process that looked fairly dead to us last Thursday.
For six days now, ever since a major opposition group walked away from the talks, de Mistura has continued to refuse to pronounce the effort failed and, perhaps because of some form of diplomatic inertia, is still pleading with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama to force their respective proxies back to the table:
“Hence my appeal for a U.S.-Russian urgent initiative at the highest level, because the legacy of both President Obama and President Putin is linked to the success of what has been a unique initiative which started very well. It needs to end very well,” de Mistura told a news conference.
The United States and Russia must convene a ministerial meeting of major and regional powers who compose the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), he said.
“There is no reason that both of them which have been putting so much political capital in that success story and have a common interest in not seeing Syria ending up in another cycle of war should not be able to revitalize what they have created and which is still alive but barely.”
De Mistura may not want to admit it, but early available reports point to this being another deliberate strike by either Russian or Syrian government forces. Medecins Sans Frontieres, which was providing support to the Aleppo hospital, characterized the hospital as being “hit by a direct airstrike.” Whether it was Syrian government forces or the Russians is ultimately irrelevant. Targeting hospitals has been a strategy of pro-regime forces for at least the past three months, in what our own Adam Garfinkle has termed a deliberate policy of migratory genocide. Though the Russians were as late as yesterday still paying lip service to it, the ceasefire is at this point little more than a collective fantasy entertained by diplomats in Geneva.
A side note: On Monday, President Obama announced that the U.S. would be sending an additional 250 special forces troops to Syria. Two days later, Moscow asked for clarification, even though Obama specified that the troops would be used solely in the fight against ISIS. Given what we know about President Obama’s distaste for strategic ambiguity vis-à-vis Russians, it’s quite possible the Administration is already using back channels to reassure the Kremlin. If that is in fact so, more’s the pity. The President may have finally gotten Moscow’s attention—and without even really trying. Think about what could be done if one actually had a coherent policy.