Russia and the U.S. flying missions in Syrian airspace — Failed U.S. Policies lead to dangerous situation as Russia makes strategic military move into Syria


See Louis Imbert (avec Reuters), “Etats-Unis et Russie évoquent la présence de leurs avions respectifs dans le ciel Syrien,” Le Monde le 19 Septembre 2015 (à 06h34 • Mis à jour le 19.09.2015 à 07h36).

Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Begins Military Talks With Russia on Syria,” New York Times, September 18, 2015.

Barack Obama will go down in history as perhaps the most clueless and least successful foreign policy leader of the United States since 1933. While there are a few bright spots in his record, such as normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and, together with the other P5+1 countries, the nuclear deal with Iran, on the whole his record has been devoid of major achievements and characterized by horrendous errors.

Even the Iran nuclear deal, while a net success, was concluded without bipartisan support, and from various accounts at the cost of opposing the Russians or the Iranians in places like Syria and the Ukraine.

No failure has been greater than the U.S. failure to adopt and execute effective policies to halt Baschar al-Assad’s war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities against the Syrian people, leading to the growth of ISIS and other jihadist groups in the country and in Iraq, and a massive exodus of the population many of whom are now in or on their way to Europe.

At this moment, the Russians are moving to introduce Russian troops and aircraft into Syria, creating an extraordinarily dangerous situation in which American and Russian planes will be simultaneously operating within Syrian airspace.

Obama is utterly clueless, entirely dependent on senior military and other officials to devise “options” (not policies) for Obama’s consideration, all within a bureaucratic politics framework of jockeying for position in which most initiatives are thwarted by the president’s indecisiveness and tight control.

One of most perilous aspects of the current crisis in Syria is that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry lack any coherent policy or vision of how to proceed, as Vladimir Putin cold-bloodedly acts to ensure al-Assad’s grip on power while building out Russian bases and capabilities in the country. Given the American policy disarray, Putin is moving quickly to take advantage of the situation.

Obama and Kerry, who have never had or executed a coherent policy toward Syria, now retreat to the great illusion that “working through the Russians” they can achieve a political solution to the conflict—ignoring virtually everything that has happened or that should have been learned since Kofi Annan’s disastrous mediation efforts in 2012.

Stefan de Mistura, who followed Lakhdar Brahimi as Annan’s successor, remains without any ideas other than to assert that the formula for a peaceful settlement exists in the form of the Geneva II proposals of January 2014. But De Mistura’s illusions have no more basis in reality than did Kofi Annan’s, which Lakhdar Brahimi carried forward to Geneva II, and should be resisted by the West. They can do no more than drag out the conflict to the benefit of Russia and al-Assad, while deterring the U.S. and others from taking military action to actually move the conflict toward resolution.

Should the U.S. now give its blessing to Moscow’s military move into the heart of the Middle East?

American leaders are acting from a position of policy disarray, in purely reactive mode. They are even considering the option of making a Faustian deal with the Russians (and their client, al-Assad), throwing America’s deepest values to the wind.

The situation is extremely dangerous, and the most dangerous part about it is that Obama seems to be oblivious to the challenges that exist in Syria and how his own foreign policy failures there and in Iraq have contributed to them.

He had to be told by his own officials, in Congressional testimony this week, that his policy of training “moderate” Syrian rebels has been a “joke”, with only four or five trained moderates deployed in Syria.

The Republicans, if they can get their act together, are going to have a field day running against the foreign policy failures of President Obama and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Politics aside, the most urgent task for Democrats and Republicans alike is to decide upon and execute policies that defeat (not “degrade”) the Islamic State, and which stabilize the military situation in Syria—without caving in to the Russians’ latest strategic and military moves.

The Trenchant Observer


About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.