Obama’s Syrian policy bending to foes

November 18, 2015
Published 6:24 pm, Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How can there be a political solution in Syria that aligns with our interests when our adversaries have a seat at the negotiating table but our friends do not?

Secretary of State John Kerry recently participated in a second round of talks aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian civil war. The discussions included representatives from 17 countries, including the U.K., France, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, despite U.S. opposition to Iranian participation until now.

Even more concerning is that the Syrian opposition — the faction we have supported throughout the conflict — was not invited to participate in the Vienna II talks. The Obama administration is allowing Russia’s military intervention into Syria to twist its arm into reneging on important principles to which the United States must stand committed.

The United States’ position since the conflict in Syria began has been that Bashar Assad must go. I call upon Kerry to uphold that stance unequivocally. According to the Syrian Network of Human Rights, the Assad regime has killed more than 175,000 Syrian civilians over the course of the four-year conflict. Any negotiated political solution to this conflict must not include Assad or any of his regime cronies.

I fear the talks in Vienna have begun to pave the way for Assad to maintain some hold on his power. Russia and Iran are committed to a political agreement that involves a “transitional” government that includes Assad, after which the country will hold elections to determine the future of Syria’s government. This is merely a ploy to provide Assad with legal justification to maintain his hold on the Syrian government.

I worry about the recent rhetorical wavering in the U.S. commitment to a future Syria free of the Assad regime. PresidentBarack Obama acknowledged in his speech to the U.N. on Sept. 28 that Assad and his allies will not be able to “pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombings” and that a “managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader” is required.

Kerry’s remarks to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Oct. 28 indicated the United States’ vision for Syria’s future is one in which Assad is “sidelined.” Sidelining Assad is not the same as removing him completely from the picture. What changed?

Russia launched its air campaign against alleged ISIS targets in Syria two days after the president delivered his speech to the United Nations. Moscow’s objectives are clear: to prop up its historic Middle East ally while sticking it to the United States. Russia has blocked U.N. Security Council action against the Assad regime at every turn. Meanwhile, Russian airstrikes have hit more Western-backed moderate Syrian rebel forces positions than Islamic State positions.

Even more concerning is the unholy Russian-Iranian alliance that appears to be growing bolder each and every day. It is no secret Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, operatives have been participating in the Syrian conflict for years. We cannot overlook the fact that these operatives function under the leadership of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani — a U.S.-designated terrorist whose activities in Iraq contributed to Shiite militia efforts that killed hundreds of U.S. troops between 2003 and 2011.

This Syrian-Iranian-Russian “troika” will prevent the U.S. from achieving its objective of a free and democratic Syria if we continue on the same course. Russia invited Iran to the Vienna II talks, and the Obama administration did nothing to oppose it. Unsurprisingly, Iran accepted and, yet again, the administration demurred. As a result, we have effectively handed the reigns of Syria’s future to two of our greatest adversaries.

Many have referred to these talks as a “test” to see whether Russia and Iran are serious about finding a peaceful political solution to the Syrian civil war, but their recent actions are good indicators of their intentions. I hope Kerry uses this as a test for a new U.S. negotiating strategy, and I hope he is ready to start being tough with tough guys and nice to nice guys.

San Antonio Republican Will Hurd represents the 23rd Congressional District of Texas.