Comment: Written by Justin Marinelli.
Hope for peace in Syria briefly showed its head in recent months with the news that the United States and Russia had reached a deal over the possibility of a ceasefire. However, with the even more recent deterioration of this ceasefire, the situation has returned to the unfortunate status quo that now looks set to continue indefinitely.
This is a moment that calls for introspection on the part of US policy-makers, and it is a moment that calls for us observers to ask two important questions, the first being whether or not the US has the capacity to bring about peace in the region, and the second being the degree to which the US wants to achieve peace given the way that things currently stand.
It is worth asking whether the US is capable of ensuring peace in Syria because so far its efforts to do so have been colossal failures. The US failed to arrest Syria’s slide into civil war. It failed to end the violence before the rise of ISIS could be prevented. It even failed to uphold the infamous “red line” of perceived chemical weapons usage so loudly proclaimed by President Obama. These failures do not bode well for those who claim the the US, as the pre-eminent power in the world today, is single-handedly capable of managing global affairs.
Yet even if the United States cannot accomplish peace on its own, it might still be possible to work with other nations to reach this end. I believe we saw the first overtures of this recently with the ceasefire agreement that was reached between the United States and Russia, the two powers that have most tried to leave their mark on the Syrian conflict.
The attempt at reaching a ceasefire agreement seemed to be a genuine attempt to admit the failure of previous policy and take the steps necessary to begin changing course. It seemed to herald the beginning of a shift towards increased cooperation and multilateralism in resolving conflicts of this scope. And yet, this approach too has now failed to bring about anything more than a very temporary peace.
It is perhaps unfair to already question whether or not even multilateral efforts can succeed in stabilizing the situation. Nonetheless, a failure of this magnitude bodes poorly for further efforts down the line. What would necessarily make them any more successful? If Russia and the United States cannot de-escalate the matter, who can?
Finally, there is one more question that must sadly be asked: do either of these powers really want to reach any kind of peace in Syria? Consider the position of the United States. Does it really desire any kind of peace in Syria that leaves Assad in power? Would it truly be willing to accept such a result? I cannot claim to know the answer, but the stated positions of the US government over the past several years have always taken a hard line on the matter of Assad’s position. Political goals tend not to shift dramatically in short time-frames, and when they do it is either because they are forced or because a new administration has taken over and is seeking to implement a very different political vision. Neither of these criteria seems to have been met so far. It is thus a disturbingly real possibility that the United States, for all its talk of peace and its attempts at ceasefires, has no interest at this current time in establishing any kind of peace agreement that leaves Assad in power.
Furthermore, there is reason to cast doubt on Russia as well. Syria is a client state, it is true, and they do wish to see Assad remain in power, but the conflict so far has shown little real threat to his position, and the longer it drags on, the greater the shame and embarrassment of the United States. Perpetuating the conflict would be a poignant way to declare to the world that the United States can no longer be trusted to ensure peace and stability across the globe. It would undercut American claims of moral authority and make other countries less likely to feel that they could entrust the protection of their own interests to the United States. I would be very surprised if Vladimir Putin had not given some thought to this possibility.
It is tragic that we are even forced to consider the possibility that two or more of the parties involved may be acting disingenuously in regard to ceasefire possibilities. One can only hope that this is an overly pessimistic view. It is, however, a view that cannot be counted out just yet, and if it is correct, it is a view that presages continued conflict in Syria for some time yet.