Local Syria ceasefires: The way out of a US policy dead end? by Gareth Porter + US to deploy over 400 troops to train Syria insurgents


Image by The Weekly Bull via Flickr

by Gareth Porter
Writer, Dandelion Salad
crossposted at Middle East Eye
January 17, 2015

US contradictions between the Obama administration’s policy in Syria and realities on the ground have become so acute that US officials began last November discussing a proposal calling for support of local ceasefires between opposition forces and the Assad regime in dozens of locations across Syria.

The proposal surfaced in two articles in Foreign Policy magazine and in a column by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Those indicated that it was under serious consideration by administration officials. In fact, the proposal may even have played a role in a series of four White House meetings during the week of 6-13 November, to discuss Syria policy, one of which Obama himself presided over.

Ignatius, who usually reflects the views of senior national security officials, suggested that the administration have nothing better to offer than the proposal. And Robert Ford, who served as US ambassador to Syria until last May and is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told David Kenner of Foreign Policy that he believes the White House “is likely to latch onto” the idea of local cease-fires “in the absence of any other plan they’ve been able to develop”.

The proposal also appears to parallel the thinking behind the efforts of new United Nations peace envoy, Steffan de Mistura, who has called for the creation of what he calls “freeze zones” – meaning local ceasefires that would allow humanitarian aid to reach civilian populations.

The fact that the proposal is being taken seriously is especially notable, because it does not promise to achieve the aims of existing policy. Instead, it offers a way out of a policy that could not possibly deliver on the results it promised.

But the implication of such a policy shift would be a tacit acknowledgement that the United States cannot achieve its previous stated goal of unseating the Assad regime in Syria. The Obama administration would certainly deny any such implication, at least initially, for domestic political as well as foreign policy reasons, but the policy would refocus on the immediate need of saving lives and promoting peace, rather than on unrealistic political or military ambitions.

US Syrian policy lurched from Obama’s abortive plan to launch an air war against the Assad regime in September 2013 to the idea that the US would help train thousands of “moderate” Syrian opposition fighters to resist the threat from Islamic State (IS) in September 2014.  But the “moderate” forces have no interest in fighting IS. And in any case, they have long-ceased to be a serious rival of IS and other jihadi forces in Syria.

It was no accident that the alternative policy surfaced in November, just as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had been completely routed from its bases in the north by IS forces. Post columnist Ignatius, whose writing is almost always informed by access to senior national security officials, not only mentioned that route as the context in which a proposal was presented in Washington, but quoted from three messages the desperate FSA commander under attack sent to the US military, requesting air support.

The author of the paper that appears to have struck a chord in Washington, Nir Rosen, is a journalist whose depth of knowledge of human realities on the ground in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, is unmatched. His personal encounters with the people and organisations that fought in those conflicts, recounted in his 2010 book, Aftermath, reveal nuances of motives and calculations that can be found nowhere else in the literature.

Rosen now works for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva, which was active in bringing about the local ceasefire in Homs, considered the most significant such achievement so far. Rosen gave Robert Malley, the senior National Security Council official responsible for Syria, a 55-page, single-spaced report, making the case for a policy of supporting the negotiation of local ceasefires, which also calls for “freezing the war as it is”.  The report is based on the twin premises that neither side can defeat the other militarily, and that the resulting stalemate strengthens the Islamic State and its jihadi allies in Syria, according to James Traub’s story in Foreign Policy.

Negotiating local deals under the conditions of the Syrian war is devilishly difficult, as an examination of 35 different local deals by researchers at the London School of Economics and the Syrian NGO Madani shows. Most of the deals were prompted by the Syrian regime’s strategy of besieging opposition enclaves, which meant the regime’s forces were hoping to impose terms that were nothing less than surrender. Sometimes local pro-government militias frustrated potential deals, because of a combination sectarian score-settling and because they were gaining corrupt economic advantages from the sieges they were imposing.  (In other cases, however, the pro-government NDF militias lent their supportive to local deals.)

The Syrian regime ultimately recognised that its interests lay in a successful deal in Homs, but the researchers found that the farther military commanders were from the location of fighting, the more they clung to the idea that military victory was still possible. The primary source of pressure for ceasefire, not surprisingly, was from the civilians, who suffered its consequence most heavily. The study observes that the larger the ratio of civilians to fighters in the opposition enclave the stronger the commitment to a ceasefire.

Both the LSE-Madani study and the Integrity Research paper say that international support in the form of both mediators and truce monitors would help establish both clearer arrangements and legal commitments for ceasefire, safe passage and opening routes of humanitarian assistance. Homs is an example of a deal where the UN actually plays a positive role in influencing the implementation of the truce, according to Integrity.

The small steps toward peace and reconciliation that the local truces represent are highly vulnerable unless they lead to a comprehensive process. Even though the challenge from IS is a shadow over the entire process, it is an approach that is likely to be more effective than escalating foreign military involvement. And surprising as it may seem, the LSE-Madani study reveals that even IS concluded a ceasefire deal with a civil society organisation in Aleppo.

But even if the Obama administration recognises the advantages of the proposal of the local ceasefire approach for Syria, it cannot be assumed that it will actually carry out the policy. The reason is the heavy influence of its relations with its main regional allies on Washington. Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar would all reject a policy that would allow a regime they regard as an Iranian ally to persist in Syria. Unless and until the United States can figure out a way to free its Middle East policy from its entangling regional alliances, its policy in Syria will be confused, contradictory and feckless.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com.


[DS added the video reports.]

US backs Russian bid to host Syrian peace talks in Moscow, ‘anti-ISIS campaign not working’

RT on Jan 14, 2015

Russia has offered to host a meeting between the Syrian government and opposition – in the hope of reaching a breakthrough in the long-running conflict.


[Note: replaced original video with a longer version]

US to deploy over 400 troops to train Syria insurgents

Ry Dawson on Jan 17, 2015

The Pentagon has not identified where the forces will be deployed, but has said that hundreds of support personnel will also be deployed along with them. Although the exact location of the training program has not been announced, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have offered to host the training. Under Washington’s plan, local forces will be deployed in Syria to fight against the extremist ISIL militants there. The US plans to train more than five-thousand recruits in the first year. The plan to train the Syrian insurgents comes as Washington itself along with other regional countries had supported the militants in Syria, many of whom are now part of the ISIL terrorist group.


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9 thoughts on “Local Syria ceasefires: The way out of a US policy dead end? by Gareth Porter + US to deploy over 400 troops to train Syria insurgents

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  3. Yes, DS, David stated it very well, and I’m in total agreement with him.

    It proves one thing. The United Nations hasn’t stopped one war or atrocity from happening since it’s inception. So much for that bogus phrase, “international community.”

    Creating violent conflicts is a big money-maker for the death & destruction industry. If you don’t have an enemy, there is no need to waste tax dollars on the expenditures for the military procurement companies and the huge profit they make from the government contracts.

    David, humanity hasn’t learned a thing after the first two world wars, and they continue walking on a circus tightrope on the dark and treacherous path to self and world destruction, deluding themselves into making a bad thing seem good. Propaganda Made Easy or Propaganda For Dummies. Take your pick.

  4. This is an ideological and ecological humanitarian catastrophe of “eponymous” biblical scale. And all the Washington state trailer trash can worry about is arguments about saving face, while innocent children are dying in Lebanese refugee camps from exposure, dehydration and agonising starvation!!!

    It is frankly insane, and so utterly void of moral urgency as to be surreal in the extreme. This franchised state barbarism is the most despicable and detestable horror imaginable; psychopathic morons fighting over territory that does not even support life, staking out bare rocks and barren territory with only black sludge “assets” and extraction opportunities to increase exponential climate chaos.

    It’s a globalised death gulag that has to be the stupidest, most contemptible theatre of cruelty humanly conceivable.

    “Our” neo-liberalised world is just a consumer paradise for butchery.

    How can any human being with a functioning brain or heart, with even a modicum or minimal capacity to re-visit the dwindling memory of imperialistic trench warfare, even begin to entertain any rational justification for this murderous slaughter? Is it just institutionalised racism? Uranium tipped eugenics?


      • Thanks Lo, Frank is so right. The thing is, barbaric murder doesn’t mean a thing to people who have been anaesthetised into reassuring conformity until it affects them personally.

        We are being subjected to state-engineered paralysis ~ mesmeric ideological perversity! sheer, blind, brute-force dogma based on fatuous assumptions and cosmetic blag, not coherent principles or constructive intelligent purpose.

        The American big spoon approach is to batter us with “comforting” but diminishing genetically enhanced apple pie logic ~ force-fed to the masses thro’ incessant fascist propagandist onslaughts, in perpetual loops of aggressive advertising.

        The glamorous Hollywood lens has been deployed as a tyrannical sensory massage that corrupts consciousness, dictating the only terms by which reality must be experienced. It is pornographic parasitism.

        As stephentardrew says, choking. Disgusting. The energy is so villainous, it undermines the entire international process, corrupting everything. The UN itself has been systematically infiltrated and rendered impotent. What do Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Kissinger, Netanyahu & all the rest of their tribe have in common? Vaulting male egos.

        So we may be sure, the next tyrant could be a wind-up Presidential psychopathic fembot (ha ha) ….or some virtual alien-cross-dressed mystery messiah from Tel Aviv, when Baghdadi has disappeared in his own religious excrement…

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