Dispatch of a Shattered Ceasefire

By Christiaan Triebert — Flickr: Azaz, Syria, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30976487

Barack Obama will be attending his last U.N. gathering of global leaders as President of the United States this week. The proceedings will follow today (Monday)’s summit to help find some ground for international cooperation on the refugee crisis, which in and of itself looks like a harkening back to what the U.N. did with the Indochina conference in 1979, and then again a decade later: those conferences did manage to partially solve the refugee issue of the time. Times, however, have changed, and international cooperation will not come easy in the light of the breakdown of the Syrian ceasefire.

The United States and Russia have been locked in word fencing since the ceasefire broke down: Russia accuses the Pentagon of having ordered the infamous airstrike that killed 60 civilians, in order to sabotage the White House’s detente with Moscow. The U.S. accuse Russia of wanting the ceasefire to fail, and of distracting people from their own massacring and starving of civilians. The Syrian warring parties themselves have been hard at work in blaming each other for the collapse of the ceasefire. One would have to say, looking at the current situation, that the only real winner in this nightmare is ISIS.

Kerry remains steadfast in trying to save the deal: this is Obama’s last chance to do something good in the country. Before the Iran and Cuba deals, Obama’s presidency had yielded little positives when it came to foreign policy, and more than one blunder.

We may never know whether it was the bombing that made the ceasefire falter, or if it’s true, as the U.S. claim, that Russia is an unreliable partner and it never meant to uphold the deal in the first place. What we do know is that, regardless of the terms of the deal (that remain undisclosed for now), a prolonged ceasefire would allow the Red Cross, the U.N. and the Red Crescent to bring much needed foodstuffs to besieged towns and cities, first of all Aleppo, and then pave the way for Russo-American joint strikes against ISIS and Al-Nusra, which has to be better than the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. The fact that Kerry asked Russia to rein in Assad after a briefing with a top Saudi official will not ease suspicion on the U.S. hedging game in the region.

In my previous article for Modern Left, I outlined the prescription I believe a Leftist platform should adopt for the Middle East in general, and I won’t repeat it now. What cannot be understated however is that, after the civil war, the situation in Syria has become so complicated and messy that it will take nothing short of ugly compromises to reach a solution that stops the killing. In what was already an artificial country governed by a ruthless dictatorship, the civil war and the intermingling of Saudi intervention, Russian bombing, American bombing and French bombing, mixed with the politicization of Islam, is likely to tear society apart and remain deeply divisive for years to come. Can reconstruction be done starting from this cynical premise?

The common underpinning of all Left everywhere is social justice, although opinions on how to achieve it and what social justice means are too many to count. Any foreign policy proposal coming from the Left, regarding Syria, would have to keep in mind that the well-being of Syrians is the chief objective.

I have no doubt that this process will involve painful negotiations with Moscow. No matter their differences with our vision, they are a key player in the region and as Bismarck used to say, politics is the art of the possible. Whether the Clinton presidential ticket has the means and the advisors to carry out this difficult task remains to be seen, but Europe’s plans for a common defense may let us, at least, hope that the Mediterranean is more secure.

One main point, however, must be reiterated: it is unlikely that diplomatic efforts will achieve even an acceptable portion of the set objectives if Western ties with Saudi Arabia aren’t significantly revised, and if the current trend towards multipolarism isn’t inverted.

Think back of how we began: the U.N. summit on the migrant crisis will produce the so called New York Declaration, but it seems unlikely that it will amount to anything serious — the American government itself believes these summits to be no more than talkfests, which is why Obama has convened his own summit with American allies. And even then, European resentment showed, as the U.S. have taken in barely 10,000 refugees, compared with the one million refugees hosted by Germany alone. The cracks in the poles are beginning to show: where multilateralism entails international cooperation between blocs that go beyond bilateralism or even minilateralism, the multipolar system arising now sees Russia and its allies operating on their own, China doing the same, American foreign policy becoming less inclusive, and the foreign policy differences between Europe and America deepening.

It’s a recipe for further instability, and in the spirit of the internationalism that runs in the Left’s DNA, it should be the first trend we ought to counter, to go back to more pragmatic and less confrontational international relations.

For Syria and its future, however, it may already be too late.