Reasoning from conclusions: Blind hope as the basis for U.S. foreign policy in Syria



Karen DeYoung, “U.S. calls on Russia and Syria to ground all aircraft in northwest Syria,” Washington Post, September 21, 2016 (8:28 PM).

Karen deYoung and Missy Ryan, “Pentagon grudgingly accepts Syria deal amid deep mistrust of Russia, Washington Post, September 15, 2016.

“Working through the Russians” in Syria; Generals and Defense Department oppose Obama’s proposed military cooperation,” The Trenchant Observer, September 15, 2016.

The great flaw in U.S. policy towards Syria, today and for some time now, has been the tendency to base it on blind hope that events or decisions will take place because it is necessary for them to take place for the U.S. to achieve its policy objectives, given its stipulated conditions of not using force or sanctions to oppose al-Assad or the Russians in any effective way.

As a result, U.S. policy is based on a process of reasoning from conclusions.

In Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal perfected this approach with what was called “the Sync Matrix”. If a condition was required to achieve a strategic objective, you inserted that condition into ” The Sync Matrix” and achieved the desired result.

See “REPRISE: Reasoning from Conclusions in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, August 19, 2012.

In Syria, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have no negotiating leverage with Bashar al-Assad or the Russians, because the latter both know that there will be no real consequences for not entering agreements, or even if entered into not complying with their terms.

So, here we are after the U.S.-Russian ceasefire and cooperation agreement of over a week ago. Russia has bombed a U.N. Red Crescent humanitarian aid convoy bearing relief supplies for Aleppo and other towns, in flagrant violation of the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

John Kerry’s response is to try to save the ceasefire and cooperation agreement, because reasoning from conclusions the United States has no alternative unless it changes the postulates of its policy.

An alternative approach is embodied in the draft Ceasar Syria Civilian Protectiion Act in the House of Representatives, which Obama maneuvered hard and successfully last week to keep from coming to a vote. It would actually impose sanctions on Russia and Syria for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

See “Separation of Powers in the White House: Obama works to block vote on war crimes and sanctions in Syria in House of Representatives,” The Trenchant Observer, September 20, 2016.

Kerry reasons that “There is no military solution” in Syria. He is wrong. There is a military solution dictated by al-Assad and Putin and Iran and Hesbollah and Shia militias. For the moment it may lead only to al-Assad staying in power and killing thousands of more people. But it is a solution, and probably the best possible solution for al-Assad.

From the assumption that there is no military solution possible in Syria, Kerry and the U.S. conclude that the only path to peace is through a negotiated settlement. Period. Without the use of force or sanctions to shape the playing field, that means a negotiated solution on al-Assad’s and Putin’s terms.

This is the point that Kerry and the U.S. do not get.

Instead, reasoning from conclusions, they propose solutions based on blind hope, such as the suspension of air operations by Russia and Syria. Even if Putin entered into such an agreement in the hope of helping get the U.S. and EU sanctions eased, it would take another act of blind hope to to assume that he–much less al-Assad–would comply with its provisions.

This is not rocket science. Putin just entered into a ceasefire agreement with the U.S., and then broke it almost immediately by committing the war crime of bombing the U.N. Red Crescent humanitarian aid convoy.

Yet the U.S. clings to its blind hope that, negotiating with the war criminal who committed this act, a ceasefire and cooperation agreement with the Russians will bring results in the interests of the U.S. and its allies.

So, we are left with a hopeless situation in Syria, with the U.S. proposing “castles in the sky” just like the ones they signed on to in the 6-point peace plan pushed by Kofi Annan and his successors since 2012. Stefan de Mistura’s U.N. role in the current negotiations is no more than a continuation of Kofi Annan’s failed ceasefire proposals since 2012.

Reasoning from conclusions, basing U.S. policy on blind hope, will not bring an end to the Syrian conflict.

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.