Source: The Wall Street Journal (Syria’s Yellow Brick Road)
The U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed a political roadmap for Syria on Friday, and in the world of fantasy diplomacy that the Obama Administration inhabits this apparently counts as a victory. Syria is to have a comprehensive cease-fire, a negotiated political transition, “inclusive and non-sectarian” governance, free and fair elections and a new constitution—all within 18 months. As for how these goals will be achieved, those are “modalities” to be worked out.
Good luck. The U.N. spent the early years of the Syrian civil war attempting to arrange cease-fires and political settlements, all of which collapsed in the zero-sum struggle between the Assad regime and its opponents. Two rounds of talks in Geneva between the warring sides collapsed in acrimony—and that was before Islamic State (ISIS) became a major player on the Sunni side.
Today no country is volunteering ground troops to monitor and enforce a prospective cease-fire, and a U.N. peacekeeping mission would be too dangerous. No country is about to make even an indirect approach to ISIS, not that the group is amenable to a negotiated outcome. Bashar Assad is now gloating that he won’t have to leave office, and with Russia, Iran and Hezbollah fighting his battle he has every reason to believe he’ll be able to hold on to power in his rump state.
Why then the new diplomatic push? Secretary of State John Kerry boasts that the U.N. agreement was the result of three-months of diplomatic “force-feeding,” and the Administration seems especially pleased that it worked with Russia to get a unanimous resolution. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was more realistic when he said after Friday’s vote that “I’m not too optimistic about what has been achieved today.”
Mr. Lavrov can still take satisfaction in the concessions he extracted from the U.S. Mr. Kerry has effectively given up the Administration’s longstanding insistence that Mr. Assad leave office, saying after a Kremlin meeting with Vladimir Putin last week that “the United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change as it is known in Syria.”
The current U.S. position is that Mr. Assad is not a fit leader for Syria, but that’s now a political opinion more than a demand. In theory the Syrian people—including its refugees—will get to decide the matter in an election, as if the Alawite Mr. Assad would honor the result if the Sunni majority won.
Mr. Lavrov must also be pleased that Russia’s intervention in Syria is producing this noticeable thaw in relations with the West. The European Union voted last week to extend its sanctions on Russia for an additional six months for its invasion of Ukraine, but nobody should expect the sanctions to last.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is reluctant to extend the sanctions in part because of ties between Italian energy giant Eni and Russia’s Gazprom. France’s conservatives are also backing away from sanctions, with one Republican parliamentarian asking, “How can we ask help from a country against terrorism and at the same time punish it with sanctions?”
All of which means that Russia’s intervention in Syria is aiding its strategic purposes, never mind President Obama’s assurances that the Kremlin was entering a quagmire. For the U.S., the U.N. vote is another triumph of wishes over facts, much like this month’s climate deal in Paris. At best it gives Mr. Obama a talking point that lets him say the Administration is pressing for a diplomatic solution in Syria.
As for the Syrian people, the U.N. vote is another token symbol of international concern that will do nothing to end the slaughter or defeat their killers in ISIS and the Assad regime. They deserve better, but their deliverance will have to await an American President who believes that foreign policy should be something more than diplomatic misdirection and political vanity.