Following the White House’s decision to suspend talks with Russia regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the “efforts to end Syria’s war must continue.”
Contending Russia’s approach to the Syrian civil war is “irresponsible” due to Vladimir Putin’s support for President Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. government accused Moscow of “not living up to its commitments to halt fighting and ensure aid reached besieged communities.” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., called Russia’s bombing of Aleppo an act of “barbarism.”
The decision to halt communications with Russia “on the re-institution of the cessation of the hostilities agreement,” Kerry said, did not “come lightly.” He vowed to continue “to try to find a way forward in order to end this war” some other way.
But despite the United States’ vows to continue to pursue an end to the Syrian war, it’s difficult to ignore the U.S. government’s decision to halt any bilateral talks with Moscow. This is mainly because, since 2015, the Obama administration has been calling on Assad to step down, often arguing “that the dictator serves as a magnet and recruiting aid for the jihadists of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other groups engaged in the conflict.”
Unless the United States is willing to remove itself from the conflict entirely, it might be difficult for the Obama administration to “pursue peace” without being involved in regime change - especially since the U.S. Syria campaign continues to be heavily criticized for the U.S. government’s lack of concern regarding the unintended consequences of their interference.
Furthermore, Kerry also accused Russia and Assad of “[rejecting] diplomacy in furtherance of trying to pursue a military victory over the broken bodies, the bombed-out hospitals, the traumatized children of a long-suffering land.” With these comments, Kerry seemed to sidestep the U.S. role in the suffering of the same people he professes to be concerned about, ignoring the U.S. botched military campaigns in the region — many of which targeted forces fighting terrorist groups like ISIS.
With what some might call Russia’s ongoing struggle to become less isolated at play, many believe Putin sees the support for the Syrian regime as a way to exert more power and influence in the region. But while Russia’s intentions may or may not be as honorable as its government professes, the country still has a lot to lose with the spread of Islamic terrorist forces in the region — a problem that does not impact the United States.
While the United States accuses Russia of “[bombing] civilian populations into submission,” the U.S. runs the risk of being called out for its own record of aggressive and unsuccessful military interventions in the Middle East in the past decades. But instead of admitting to its mistakes and living up to the administration’s vows to steer away from becoming more heavily involved in the Syrian civil war, the U.S. government, according to Russian officials, is pursuing a more “threatening” approach despite its promise of working for peace, using “a language of sanctions and ultimatums” and taking part in “selective cooperation with [Russia] … where this cooperation [only] benefits the United States.”
While members of U.S. military leadership push back against the U.S. government’s intrusive tactics, we’re left wondering whether President Obama will escalate the American military’s involvement in Syria during his last months in office.
Instead of pushing for more involvement, he could simply be buying the government some time until the next president takes over, as Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s own campaign admits her policy toward Syria would include regime change.
The fate of the relationship between Russia and the United States may soon be in the hands of Obama’s pick, and as many have repeatedly pointed out, that could put the two major world powers at odds, igniting a conflict that could even trigger war beyond the Syrian conflict.