Mike Whitney writes on politics and finances and lives in Washington state. He can be reached at email@example.com
File photo of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, left, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Photo Credit: US State Department, Wikipedia Commons.
"It is remarkable that western leaders only remember the term ceasefire when their rebels on the ground are losing. Why didn’t they see the need for peace in Syria before the Russian operation started?” — Iyad Khuder, Damascus-based political analyst
Imagine if the American people elected a president who was much worse than George W. Bush or Barack Obama. A real tyrant. Would that be sufficient justification for someone like Vladimir Putin to arm and train Mexican and Canadian mercenaries to invade America, kill US civilians, destroy cities and critical infrastructure, seize vital oil refineries and pipeline corridors, behead government officials and prisoners they’d captured, declare their own independent state, and do everything in their power to overthrow the elected-government in Washington?
Of course not. The question is ridiculous. It wouldn’t matter if the US president was a tyrant or not, that doesn’t justify an invasion by armed proxies from another country. And yet, this is precisely the policy that US Secretary of State John Kerry defended at the United Nations on Friday. Behind all the political blabber about a "roadmap to peace”, Kerry was tacitly defending a policy which has led to the deaths of 250,000 Syrians and the destruction of the country.
And, keep in mind, Kerry didn’t drag his case before the UN Security Council because he’s serious about a negotiated settlement or peace. That’s baloney. What Kerry wants is a resolution that will protect the groups of US-backed jihadis on the ground from the Russian-led offensive. That’s what’s really going on. The Obama administration sees the handwriting on the wall. They know that Russia is going to win the war, so they’ve settled on a plan for protecting their agents in the field. That’s why the emphasis is on a ceasefire; it’s because Kerry wants a "Timeout” so his Sunni militants can either regroup or retreat. Just take a look at this short excerpt from the UN’s summary of last Friday’s confab and you’ll see Kerry’s really up-to:
"In its first resolution to focus on the politics of ending Syria’s five-year-long war, the Security Council today gave the United Nations an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, with a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections, all under UN auspices….
(The Security Council) acknowledged the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process, with the former to come into effect as soon as the sides have begun initial steps towards a political transition under UN auspices….
The resolution asked Mr. Ban through the offices of his Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to determine the modalities of a ceasefire and plan to support its implementation, while urging Member States, in particular members of the ISSG, to accelerate all efforts to achieve a ceasefire, including through pressing all relevant parties to adhere to one.
Emphasizing the need for a ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanism, the Council asked Mr. Ban to report back to it on options with a month, and called on Member States to provide "expertise and in-kind contributions” to support such a mechanism…”
("In first political resolution on war-torn Syria, Security Council gives UN major role in seeking peace”, UN News Centre)
See what I mean: Ceasefire, ceasefire, ceasefire. It’s all about a ceasefire. Kerry wants a ceasefire. Obama wants a ceasefire. A big part of the ruling US establishment want a ceasefire. No, not the neocons, not the liberal interventionists, and not the diehard hawks like Ash Carter at the Pentagon, but a good portion of the ruling elites who’ve been following events on the ground and who know how this thing is going to end. The smart money has already moved on to Plan B, which is why they’re now focused on cutting their losses and saving as many of "their guys” as possible. Naturally, the people who funded, armed, trained and deployed these various Sunni fighters feel responsible for their safety, so they’re going to do whatever they can to get them out. That’s where Kerry comes in. Kerry’s job was to fly to Moscow, tell Putin that Obama had changed his mind about regime change, and get the Kremlin to back Kerry’s UN resolution. The primary objective of this farce is to garner international support for designating terrorist groups as "moderates” and to move in the direction of UN-mandated ceasefire that will stop the Russian-led offensive in its tracks.
But isn’t that what everyone wants, an end to the hostilities?
Not exactly. A war against terrorists is different than a war between nation-states or a civil war. A group like Jabhat al-Nusra, for example, can’t be treated the same way as armed members of the political opposition. These are religious fanatics determined to use any means possible to achieve their goal of a fascist Islamic Caliphate. Reasoned discourse doesn’t work with people like this, they have to be killed or captured. And this is exactly what the Russian-led coalition is doing, they’re progressively mopping up the terrorist threat in Syria at great risk to themselves and their fellow-collation members Iran, Hezbollah, and the Syrian Arab Army. Kerry’s job is to throw a wrench in the anti-terror campaign to impede the coalition’s progress. And he’s willing to lie to do it. Case in point: Here’s a quote from Kerry in Moscow just last Tuesday:
"As I emphasized today, the United States and our partners are not seeking so-called "regime change,” as it is known in Syria.
Later in the day, Kerry underscored the administration’s dramatic about-face saying: "We are not trying to do a regime change. We are not engaged in a color revolution. We’re not engaged in trying to interfere in another country … We’re trying to make peace.”
Okay, so the US has given up on regime change?
Not at all. Kerry was just lying through his teeth as usual. Here’s what he said less than 24 hours later:
"Russia can’t stop the war with Assad there because Assad attracts the foreign fighters. Assad is a magnet for terrorists, because they’re coming to fight Assad. So if you want to stop the war in Syria, and we do, if you want to fight Daesh and stop the growth of terrorism, you have to deal with the problem of Assad. Now, that doesn’t mean we want to change every aspect of the government; we don’t.”
(‘US not after regime change in Syria, but Assad must go’ – Kerry to Russian TV”, RT)
Got that? So the US doesn’t support regime change, but Assad’s still got to go.
How’s that for hypocrisy? The truth is the Obama administration is just as committed to toppling Assad as ever. Kerry was just misleading Putin to get his approval for his ridiculous resolution at the UN. As a result, Assad’s name was never mentioned in the resolution which, Kerry seems to think, is a big victory for the US. But it’s not a victory, in fact, all of Russia’s demands were met in full through the passing of UN Resolution 2254 (three resolutions were passed on Friday) which reiterates all Putin’s demands dating back to the Geneva Communique’ of 2012. Assad was never mentioned in 2254 either, because naming the president wasn’t necessary to establish the conditions for 1–a transitional government, 2–outlining the terms for a new constitution and a non-Islamist Syrian state, and 3—free and fair elections to ensure the Syrian people control their own future. In 2012, the US rejected these three provisions saying that the would not agree unless Assad was excluded from participating in the transitional government. Now the US has reversed its position on Assad which means that 100 percent of Moscow’s demands have been met. UN Resolution 2254 is complete capitulation on the part of the US. It is a humiliating diplomatic defeat which no one in the media is even willing to acknowledge.
So what did Kerry gain by all his globe-trekking and backroom maneuvering?
Nothing. In fact, he gave away the farm by making a number of concessions to gain Russia’s support.
What "concessions” are we talking about?
Here’s a short list: Kerry met with Putin in Moscow on December 15. On December 16, the IMF ruled in favor of Russia in its $3 billion claim against Ukraine. Here’s the story:
"The executive board of the International Monetary Fund has recognized Ukraine’s $3 billion debt to Russia as official and sovereign – a status Kiev has been attempting to contest.
"In the case of the Eurobond, the Russian authorities have represented that this claim is official. The information available regarding the history of the claim supports this representation,” the IMF said in a statement.” ("IMF recognizes Ukraine’s contested $3bn debt to Russia as sovereign ", RT)
How many strings do you think Washington had to pull to seal that deal?
Also on December 16, the US announced that it would remove its F-15 fighters stationed in Turkey immediately. Here’s the story:
Twelve U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters sent to Incirlik airbase only last month to guard Turkish airspace and hit ISIS targets in Syria were suddenly flown back Wednesday to their home base in Britain, U.S. European Command announced….
The redeployment of the fighters came amid a flurry of diplomatic and military-to-military activity in the region and with Russia …
A day before the planes left, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of United Nations Security Council meetings in New York Friday on Syria and U.S. efforts to ease out President Bashar al-Assad.
Then there’s this: On December 17, Obama allowed a Russian-backed resolution to pass the UNSC unanimously that that will help uncover secret financing for ISIS and "strengthen legal measures against those doing business with terrorist groups.” According to RT:
"The resolution is the result of a joint effort by Russia and the US, which are both leading anti-IS campaigns in Syria….The key objective of the new resolution is the "enforcement of a framework to reveal and disrupt illegal financing of IS and groups related to it by means of trade in oil, artifacts, and other illegal sources.”…
The document, which is based on UN Charter Article VII and takes effect immediately, calls for members to "move vigorously and decisively to cut the flow of funds” to IS.”
Is that what Obama really wants, to expose the revenue streams for these extremist organizations that are clearly getting support from Washington’s main allies in the Gulf?
Probably not, but Kerry caved-in anyway hoping that his support would help him to nab the elusive ceasefire.
Finally, on December 18, Obama told Turkish President Erdogan that he wanted him to remove his troops and tanks from Iraq. Here’s the story:
"US President Barack Obama has called on his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to withdraw his country’s troops out of Iraq and respect its integrity. In a telephone call on Friday, Obama "urged President Erdogan to take additional steps to deescalate tensions with Iraq, including by continuing to withdraw Turkish military forces.”
He also "reinforced the need for Turkey to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq,” the White House said.
A 300-strong contingent of Turkish forces backed by 20 to 25 tanks was stationed on the outskirts of the city of Mosul, the capital of Iraq’s Nineveh Province, on December 4.” ("Obama to Erdogan: Withdraw Turkish troops from Iraq", Press TV)
(Turkey has since promised to remove more troops following Obama’s call.)
In other words, the Turkish occupation began on December 4, but Obama never responded until two days after Kerry talked with Putin in Moscow. Another coincidence?
Maybe or maybe not. In any event the US had to do some serious horse-trading to persuade Putin to take Kerry’s issue to the Security Council. (By the way, Obama knew beforehand that Turkey planned to invade Iraq, in fact, "an important Turkish official confirmed this claim by saying "all relevant countries” were informed about the deployment of the troops. See here for details.
Like we said earlier: Kerry gave away the farm to slam a deal that isn’t going to have the slightest impact on the outcome of the war. And that’s what’s so tragic about all this diplomatic tap-dancing, is that it doesn’t really change anything. Syria’s future is going to be decided on the battlefield not at the United Nations and not at the bargaining table. Washington decided that long ago when it elected to use force of arms to try to achieve its geopolitical ambitions. Now an organized opposition has emerged that is openly challenging US-backed proxies leaving Washington with just two options, fight or retreat.
It had to come to this, didn’t it? After all, if you push people hard enough, eventually they push back.