The Syrian Calamity: Small Progress, Huge Obstacles

It has been a week since I mentioned the international talks on Syria in Munich noting “there is a ray of hope now regarding a cease fire in Aleppo, the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands and a continuation of talks aimed at an eventual peace deal.”

As for a cease fire in Aleppo, there has been none.   Syrian governmental troops and Russian planes are still pounding that city and there seems no reason to believe that will halt.  Syrian president Assad and the Russians call any forces that fight the regime terrorists, including rebels we support, so any peace deal is hard to imagine working.  Also, Assad recently said he planned to fight on until all of Syria is brought under government control again, another nail in the coffin of peace prospects.

The most positive outcome of the Munich talks is that humanitarian relief has begun to reach thousands of people trapped and starving in various pockets of Syria.  Though those reached will be a fraction of hundreds of thousands in such situations, it is one positive outcome from the talks.

I could add that there are plans for further talks in Geneva by the various nations represented in Munich, most notably ourselves and the Russians, but ones scheduled today in Geneva have fallen through, for no clear reason and even with differing reports as to whether they have been cancelled or just postponed.

Check out this article in the Washington Post for more on that curious front.

It should be noted, however, that a number of knowledgeable observers are sharply critical of the talks, seeing them as just an ongoing excuse for the U. S. doing little while the Syrian government continues to strengthen its position aided by Russia and Iran.

A more aggressive policy by the U. S. raises the possibility of our conflicting militarily with Russia and the potential for unforeseen, world shattering consequences.  Our present course of muddling along is hard to embrace as well.

For myself, the presidential candidate I think might best serve to guide us though these troubled waters is the one I’ll likely vote for.

For casual observers as most of us are, it is difficult just to sort out the various fighting factions and where they are in Syria.  An article in the The Guardian from the UK describes the initial humanitarian efforts while showing a map of Syria useful in trying to get a grasp of this nearly incomprehensible situation fraught with international consequences.

I tried to link you to it, but cannot, so you will need to apply the cut-and-paste method.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/17/syria-humanitarian-aid-convoys-madaya-zabadani

 

 

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ALEPPO A DAY LATER: Catastrophe Avoided for Now

Channel surfing around cable news this morning, I saw tucked in amidst the incessant analyses of the campaigns, a report indicating a cease fire agreement had been reached in Munich,  aimed at starting within a week.  Since my post yesterday was grim I want to point out there is a ray of hope now regarding a cease fire in Aleppo, the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands and a continuation of talks aimed at an eventual peace deal

A report in First Post (apparently an Indian/British news site) offers a number of details as well as words of caution about the agreement.   As John Kerry is quoted as saying:  “what we have here are words on paper — what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground.” (1)

It remains hard to be optimistic, given Russia’s pattern of making and then breaking peace deals in Ukraine as well as the complicated nature of relations among the various stake holders in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  But as Kerry said, within a few days we should have a better sense, so why not be optimistic for now and at least enjoy this weekend.

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(1)   I have noticed lately that a number of sites won’t allow me to link to them, so cut and paste this:

http://www.firstpost.com/world/world-powers-agree-on-cessation-of-hostilities-in-syria-at-munich-talks-2622854.html

Foreign Affairs: Glancing About for Hints of Good News

I have been writing this blog for over two years and have never felt so overwhelmed by trying to understand international events as I have lately.   Secretary of State John Kerry is hopping around the world dealing with hot spots so frequently I wonder how he can recall what he is supposed to be doing at any given moment.   I get confused just rushing  to the next room.

John Kerry - Saving Face

John Kerry – Saving Face (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

I’m not even positive where he is right now, maybe Washington, but a couple of days ago he was in Vienna trying to finish up that nuclear deal with Iran by this Sunday deadline.   He said there are “real gaps” in the negotiations but we have  a few days to hope.

Some good news came when Kerry was in Afghanistan late last week.  He brokered a deal between presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani who had both contested election voting results to agree to abide by the results of an audit.  We’ll have to see how well the loser and his followers abide by that recount, but at least we no longer have Hamid Karzai bugging us at every call.

While Kerry is busy elsewhere, the Egyptian government has tried to broker a cease fire between Hamas and Israel, but from the hope perspective I should have written this sooner as Hamas has refused the deal and Israel seems to be ramping up its attacks on Gaza (tired as they are of Hamas lobbing hundreds of missiles at them for months).

The one positive I see here is that Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is no friend of Hamas, unlike the Muslim brotherhood who formed the government before him.   That means they have less access through Egypt for various forms of support.   On the other hand, that may be one reason Hamas did not approve their deal as they don’t think of Egypt as an “honest broker”.   Hard to find a ray of hope here.

Where I do see hope is in the Ukraine.   True, Russia and Ukraine are exchanging heated words about cross border shellings and that might get out of hand, but I still doubt Putin wants to send his troops across the border.  The Ukraine is an economic mess he doesn’t want to own.  I think he would rather deal with Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s than make war against him, but all of his bravado about protecting Russians everywhere has put him in a bind as Poroshenko’s troops have shown a willingness to fight now and they are squeezing the rebels.   A delicate situation, but my sense is this will be worked through without Russian troops pouring across the border (if I’m wrong, I’ll get back to you).

A more chaotic situation than Ukraine at the moment is Iraq, though yesterday the parliament finally elected a speaker. a Sunni moderate.   This is the first step to then finally forming a new government in six weeks (details here).   Real slow p9key I know, what with ISIS doing its best to threaten Bagdad, but there are signs of infighting between ISIS and other Sunni militants that is a plus for the government.

Also, given all the enemies ISIS has developed as mentioned in a previous post, I find it hard to believe they can actually succeed in their quest to establish a new Muslim empire.   Unless, of course, they are destined by Allah to do so.   Whatever, they can cause a hell of a havoc while trying.

Finally, while Syria remains the problem from a hell, it seems worth mentioning that the deal struck months ago between the Russians, Assad and us about the destruction of chemical weapons there has actually accomplished the destruction of most of them, at least the worst.  That achievement doesn’t get the attention it deserves because  “crises” grab more attention than solutions.

It also points to the necessarily fragmented nature of our foreign policy these days in response to an increasingly fragmented world.   Necessary because while at times we seem close to playing bullets and bombs with Russia in one spot, we are working with them in many others.   With other countries as well, as is likely happening in Iraq in quiet ways now.    In a future post I will say something about the tension between a foreign policy based on a desire for international stability, and other ways to serve self-interest as well as democratic values, a tension difficult for us to deal with which also makes policy erratic, which is not always a bad thing, yet is always lambasted as such.