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Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo
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“This is the beginning of the end of jihadi presence in Aleppo. After 4 years of war and terror, people can finally see the end in sight.”

— Edward Dark, Twitter, Moon of Alabama

A last ditch effort to stop a Russian-led military offensive in northern Syria ended in failure on Wednesday when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) backed by the National Defense Forces (NDF) and heavy Russian air cover broke a 40-month siege on the villages of Nubl and al-Zahra in northwestern Aleppo province. The Obama administration had hoped that it could forestall the onslaught by cobbling together an eleventh-hour ceasefire agreement at the Geneva peace talks. But when the news that Syrian armored units had crashed through al Nusra’s defenses and forced the jihadists to retreat, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura suspended the negotiations tacitly acknowledging that the mission had failed.

“I have indicated from the first day that I won’t talk for the sake of talking,” the envoy told reporters, saying he needed immediate help from international backers led by the United States and Russia, which are supporting opposite sides of a war that has also drawn in regional powers.” (Reuters) De Mistura then announced a “temporary pause” in the stillborn negotiations which had only formally begun just hours earlier. Developments on the battlefield had convinced the Italian-Swedish diplomat that it was pointless to continue while government forces were effecting a solution through military means.

After months of grinding away at enemy positions across the country, the Russian strategy has begun to bear fruit. Loyalist ground forces have made great strides on the battlefield rolling back the war-weary insurgents on virtually all fronts. A broad swathe of the Turkish border is now under SAA control while the ubiquitous Russian bombers continue to inflict heavy losses on demoralized anti-regime militants. Wednesday’s lightening attack on the strategic towns of Nubl and Zahraa was just the icing on the cake. The bold maneuver severed critical supply-lines to Turkey while tightening the military noose around the country’s largest city leaving hundreds of terrorists stranded in a battered cauldron with no way out.

For the last two weeks, the Obama team has been following developments on the ground with growing concern. This is why Secretary of State John Kerry hurriedly assembled a diplomatic mission to convene emergency peace talks in Geneva despite the fact that the various participants had not even agreed to attend. A sense of urgency bordering on panic was palpable from the onset. The goal was never to achieve a negotiated settlement or an honorable peace, but (as Foreign Policy magazine noted) to implement “a broad ‘freeze’ over the whole province of Aleppo, which would then be replicated in other regions later.” This was the real objective, to stop the bleeding any way possible and prevent the inevitable encirclement of Aleppo.

The recapturing of Nubl and Zahraa leaves the jihadists with just one route for transporting weapons, food and fuel to their urban stronghold. When loyalist forces break the blockade at Bab al Hawa to the northeast, the loop will be closed, the perimeter will tighten, the cauldron will be split into smaller enclaves within the city, and the terrorists will either surrender or face certain annihilation. Wednesday’s triumph by the Russian-led coalition is a sign that that day may be approaching sooner than anyone had anticipated.

It’s worth noting, that a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Michael O’Hanlon– whose plan to “deconstruct Syria” by using “moderate elements” to “produce autonomous zones”–advised Obama and Kerry “not to pursue the failed logic of the current Syria peace talks but to explore a confederal model and seek buy-in from as many key players and allies as possible.” In other words, the main architect of the US plan to break up Syria into smaller areas, (controlled by local militias, warlords and jihadists) thought the peace talks were “doomed” from the very beginning.

According to O’Hanlon the US needs to commit “20,000 combat troops” with “the right political model for maintaining occupation”. The Brookings analyst says that “Any ceasefire that Kerry could negotiate…would be built on a foundation of sand” for the mere fact that the “moderate” forces it would support would be much weaker than either the SAA or ISIS. That means there would be no way to enforce the final settlement and no army strong enough to establish the authority of the new “unity” government.

O’Hanlon’s comments suggest western elites are deeply divided over Syria. The hawks are still pushing for more intervention, greater US, EU, and NATO involvement, and American and allied “boots on the ground” to occupy the country for an undetermined amount of time. In contrast, the Obama administration wants to minimize its commitment while trying desperately to placate its critics.

That means Syria’s troubles could resurface again in the future when Obama steps down and a new president pursues a more muscular strategy. A number of powerful people in the ruling establishment are as determined-as-ever to partition Syria and install a US puppet in Damascus. That’s not going to change. The Russian-led coalition has a small window for concluding its operations, eliminating the terrorists, and reestablishing security across the country. Ending the war as soon as possible, while creating a safe environment for Syrian refugees to return home, is the best way to reduce the threat of escalation and discourage future US adventurism. But Putin will have to move fast for the plan to work.

Excerpts from: “Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America’s most hopeless war“, Michael O’ Hanlon, Brookings Institute.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at [email protected].

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Russia, Syria 
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  1. Avery says:


    Our side needs to stop repeating Neocon code-words and propaganda.
    The derogatory euphemism “Regime” is used by the Neocon filth to delegitimize governments who will not submit to The Empire.

    Do we say the Obama “regime” ? No: it is the Obama Administration.
    And it is the Assad Administration.

    • Agree: Realist
    • Replies: @Quartermaster
  2. @Avery

    There’s nothing wrong with the word “regime.” It is accurate, however, to use the term “Obama maladministration.” Obama regime is also quite permissible.

  3. Sean says:

    Assad is not the government unless he controls the country. He abandoned the primitive sparsely populated west to ISIS, and he was driven out of the populated areas by Sunni uprisings that started in Darra after his goons arrested boys for painting slogans and told their parents “Forget about them and go make some more kids to replace them. If you don’t know how to make children we could show you.” The mothers were attacked when they staged a sit in in Damascus and then Assad’s army ( 80% Alawite officers ) opened fire on demonstrations in solidly Sunni Daraa. Assad has brought this on himself.

    It’s true that Assad , or rather his foreign legions, are attacking Aleppo (where so many have fled to from the government areas) and Darra,because they are key routes to US and Sunni countries’ support for the rebels through Aleppo(Turkey) and (Daraa) Jordan respectively. Despite a from a massive increase of refugees from Aleppo, Assad will probably let ISIS move into the Free Syrian Army rebel force areas in Aleppo and Daraa (which is near Jordan.)

    The US does want the war to end and that is why it wants Assad to leave. Israel doesn’t really want Assad to lose because it wants the war to go on forever in Syria. Israel is beginning to toy with the idea of using a possible spread of the war into Jordan as an opportunity to expel the West Bank Palestinians. Things are shaping up nicely for Israel, thanks to Assad.

  4. tbraton says:

    Thanks for the update, Mike. I wonder if Trump will try to make hay out of all the calls for deeper U.S. involvement in Syria, now that Rand Paul has withdrawn from the race and all the remaining candidates (with the possible exception of Cruz) favoring some form of “no-fly zones” over Syria. There is a debate coming up on Saturday night before next Tuesday’s NH primary, but I think Trump may want to be a little more circumspect in his remarks with the upcoming SC debate approaching (SC debate 2/16, SC primary 2/20) in light of SC’s well-deserved reputation of being a military favoring state. He may want to wait until later debates to hammer this point.

  5. bunga says:

    “According to O’Hanlon the US needs to commit “20,000 combat troops” with “the right political model for maintaining occupation”.

    And when these soldiers get maimed or killed, Israel would benefit again .Because AIPAC would , Adelson would and their favorite murder chamber noose man in white house or in senate /congress would have a better chance of getting elected again and again through ‘reconstructed Islamophoba” from the
    Deconstructing Syria”

  6. tbraton says:

    “That means Syria’s troubles could resurface again in the future when Obama steps down and a new president pursues a more muscular strategy. A number of powerful people in the ruling establishment are as determined-as-ever to partition Syria and install a US puppet in Damascus. That’s not going to change.”

    Michael O’Hanlon is calling for 20,000 U.S. combat troops to maintain an illegal (without UN Security Council approval, any such action by the US would be illegal) “occupation” of Syria, but I notice that all the candidates running for President in both the Republican and Democratic Parties are pledging that they are opposed to putting troops on the ground, even those calling for “no-fly zones.” Trump is opposed to the no-fly zone, and Cruz apparently is too. After the SC primary on February 20, I expect Trump to start hitting hard on this issue, wondering why we are involved in Syria in any way. I think the American public is fed up with our wasteful wars in the Middle East and would rather have that money spent in the U.S. rebuilding our infrastructure. If Rubio does indeed become the surviving candidate against Trump, which many in the MSM are predicting, I think Trump will have a field day beating a tattoo on Rubio for suggesting further involvement in Syria, as well as his failure to criticize Iraq and Libya, and his abandonment of his pledge in the 2010 Senate run not to grant amnesty to illegals. After he secures the Republican nomination, Trump will continue by beating a tattoo on Hillary Clinton, the most likely Democratic nominee, for voting for the disastrous Iraq War, pushing for the disastrous war against Libya and calling for a no-fly zone over Syria. Foreign policy and immigration will win Trump the Presidency. If Mike Bloomberg decides to run, which I strongly doubt, that will guarantee a landslide for Trump.

  7. edNels [AKA "geoshmoe"] says:

    …[…A number of powerful people in the ruling establishment are as determined-as-ever to partition Syria and install a US puppet in Damascus.]

    It surely must be so, but I wonder if anyone can spell out the exact logical reasons why this is.
    May I submit a few reason that I suspect play a part in this:

    1. To undo the Sikes agreements on creation of the middle east nations, ( as reportedly done on a table napkin at one of Winston’s liquid lunch sessions.) And thereby undo and thwart the development of viable sovereign states, that were never contemplated to prosper as much as they did. But they did, and became a thorn in the sides of some people!

    2. Resently having read the first half of Zbig’s book, ”Chessboard…” but mostly going on Rupperts book report about it, a motive more grand in scope, is to advance the ultimate goal of tapping Central Asia, by removing obstacles like… inconvenient sovereign states, especially large ones. That might be done through a kind of process of destabilization/chaos/domino effect, and pick up the pieces.
    3. Greater Israel, make Lebensraum through destabilization/chaos/pick up the pieces and move in settlements. Tap the Euphrates water and etc.
    4. Put a kibosh on Russian presence on the Mediteranean, and grab the coastline and Litakia That’s pretty nice real property.

    Now I wonder what particular names are most notable other than the usual PENAC signatories, that would be instructive to mention, who are driving things, and do they have better reasons than what I tentatively averred?

  8. Svigor says:

    Do we say the Obama “regime” ?

    I often refer to the DC junta as “the regime.” Thanks for reminding me, though; I’ve been slipping in this regard, of late.

  9. Renoman says:

    It’s the same old crap with a different ending. The US kicks out, or tries to in this case the terrible dictator and 4 years later they realize that the alternative is ten times worse. Just look at the mess in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc.
    Thank God we have Putin in there to shake some sense into the situation, if he can end the war and let the refugees come home he will be the biggest hero the World has ever seen. The World is catching on to the Western way, in the West we are deeply ashamed, in the East they are reviled and hated like the monsters they are.
    Go Vlad!

  10. Rob Payne says:

    As the Angry Arab ( As’ad AbuKhalil) says, there are no victories in Syria, only defeats. I’m just wondering if you even have an inkling of what he means. I would guess not.

  11. Rehmat says:

    Since Red army’s military humiliation at the hands of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Russian, like the defeated western colonialists, are afraid to fight enemies on battle grounds. They prefer to shoot the soldiers and mostly civilians from air.

    For the last four years, the people who are fighting and dying to protect Syria from becoming another Israeli colony, are Syrian, Hizbullah and Iraqi soldier. Both Russia and the US “alliance of absurd” are their to protect Israel from turning Damascus into Hizbullah-controlled regime.

    On October 26, former US president Jimmy Carter penned an Op-Ed for The Jew York Times, entitled, A Plan to end the Syrian Crisis, in which he claimed that the US, Russia and United Nations cannot bring an end to the four-year-old bloodshed in Syria without the active participation of the Islamic Republic at the negotiations going on among the world powers and the supporters (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, France, and UK) of anti-government terrorists.

    Jimmy Carter claims that he had talked to Bashar al-Assad for several hours when latter was studying in London. He said that Bashar’s father Hafiz Assad, who came into power via a military coup, was supported by people belonging to different faiths, Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Druze and even Jews.

    “The involvement of Russia and Iran is essential. Assad’s only concession in four years of war was giving up chemical weapons, and he did so only under pressure from Russia and Iran. Similarly, he will not end the war by accepting concessions imposed by the West but is likely to do so if urged by his allies,” Carter said.

    • Replies: @Simon in London
  12. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Kerry has kept harping on the ‘Assad must go’ slogan so what is there for the Syrian government to negotiate? That’s basically just a demand for them to surrender. The supposed ‘peace negotiations’ were just a trick of sorts to give the insurgents time to dig in and fortify themselves with more equipment and reinforcements before resuming hostilities. There seems to be a lot of anger and rhetoric being thrown around because the Syrians and Russians didn’t take the poisoned bait. It seems true that they have a narrow window in which to try to wrap things up and make it an accomplished fact as a new administration in Washington might be more belligerent. The American project of turning that part of the world upside down, one country after another, may have been stymied here and they can’t be happy about that. They may decide it’s best to leave the place in ruins; if they can’t have it then nobody else can. A defeat for American aggression would have a beneficial effect for most Americans in that there may be greater reluctance in the future for these foreign adventures. They may even decide to spend American taxpayer money on it’s own citizens.

    • Agree: tbraton
  13. @Rehmat

    Russia kicked Georgia’s butt pretty hard in 2008 – on the ground.

    But maybe you just mean Russia’s afraid of mighty Arab warriors, not milquetoast Caucasians.

    (Edit: I actually thought the rest of your post was good!)

  14. Rehmat says:

    In 2008, Russia kicked Israel’s butts in Georgia more than Georgians.

    Some military analysts had believed that the military conflict was brainchild of Israel to force Russia to halt its military and nuclear co-operation with Islamic Republic of Iran.

    Israel’s leading English daily, Ha’aretz had reported that not only Israel had been selling arms to Georgia, but also training its military too – long before military conflict with Russia over two Georgian breakaway provinces.

    In addition to the spy drones (UAVs), Israel also supplied Georgia with infantry weapons and electronics for artillery systems, and helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia, according to Koba Liklikadze, an independent military expert based in Tbilisi. Former Israeli generals also served as advisers to the Georgian military.

    USSR learned its lesson from MIGHTY Afghans in the 1980s, so they should think twice before tangling with Arab Islamist militias like Hizbullah of Lebanon that already defeated MIGHTY Jewish army in 2006.

    • Replies: @Simon in London
  15. @Rehmat

    “USSR learned its lesson from MIGHTY Afghans in the 1980s, so they should think twice before tangling with Arab Islamist militias like Hizbullah of Lebanon that already defeated MIGHTY Jewish army in 2006.”

    Good thing for them they’re on the same side as Hezbollah, then.
    Israel backed Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia; but so did the USA. I’m not sure Israeli support was more significant. In any case the Russians weren’t fighting Israelis or Americans.

    Obviously Chechens are very tough, Afghans are dangerous, Russians are not invincible. But I don’t think there’s any indication that Russia is scared of ground combat.

    (Is Hezbollah the only Arab force to have defeated non-Arabs in living memory? I can’t think of any others; partial exception for initial Egyptian offensive at start of Yom Kippur war – but they lost badly in the end).

    • Replies: @anonymous
  16. anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Simon in London

    (Is Hezbollah the only Arab force to have defeated non-Arabs in living memory?

    The Jordanian Arab Legion did well against the Israelis in ’48. However, it was led by Britisher John Glubb so I don’t know if that counts. They have a problem with having good leadership.

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