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The "New Cold War" Bluff: How Putin And Obama Agreed To Hang Syria Out To Dry

Rebel fighters in Aleppo on Sept. 14
Rebel fighters in Aleppo on Sept. 14
Jean-Pierre Filiu


PARIS — The Kerry-Lavrov agreement finally ends any illusion of a new “Cold War” that would have featured a showdown in Syria between friends of Washington and allies of Moscow.

With the deal inked between American Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, it has become clear that the U.S. and Russia share the common commitment to bury the Syrian revolution by validating Bashar al-Assad as the nation's only representative in the international community.

Washington and Moscow are also united in refusing to take into account the Syrian reality on the ground, preferring complex agreements that are signed thousands of miles away.

Vladimir Putin’s unconditional support of the Damascus dictatorship remains solid. Barack Obama is still far more hesitant, but by abandoning the Syrian people, he has also become more devious.

An agreement explicitly restricted to chemical weapons is as good as a license to kill issued to Bashar al-Assad — allowing him to use missiles, fighter jets and artillery against his fellow Syrians. His regime has already increased “conventional” bombings on every front since he was assured that the Western countries would not strike in the short term.

The Syrian people did not take to the streets in the spring of 2011 to ask for an international supervision of the chemical weapons. They peacefully and massively demonstrated their demand for justice and freedom. Obama’s United States has chosen to leave them alone and defenseless in front of their persecutors.

Worse still, it signed an agreement with Moscow in Geneva, in June 2012, recognizing Bashar al-Assad as the head of the Syrian state, while the possibility of a transition was pushed further away to an indefinite date.

The Syrian dictatorship has above all been looking to gain time, while it refuses to concede a single ounce of its absolute power. It can easily be feared that this second Geneva agreement will have the same result.

But for Bashar al-Assad, the essential part is that he has managed to bring to an immediate halt the international mobilization dynamic that had started after the Aug. 21 chemical massacre.

Role play

When he drew a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in August 2012, President Obama hoped that the Syrian despot would make sure, even during the worst waves of the repression, to avoid crossing the line. We know he did nothing of the sort. Smaller violations of this “red line” have increased since winter, before the large-scale offensive of Aug. 21.

At the time, Obama, who was still refusing to intervene, hid behind Congress to justify his passivity. He can be grateful to Putin for giving him the possibility of a “diplomatic” exit. Let’s be clear, Washington and Moscow are not really fighting over Syria, not even with kid gloves; they are just role-playing, and the Syrian people are paying for it dearly.

As a historian, I can only be astonished by the suffering that Syria is enduring in 2013, buried under the traumatism of the disastrous Iraqi management in 2003. With the Kerry-Lavrov agreement, we are artificially creating a hotbed for international polarization and tensions, which will generate the same recurring crises as the search for “weapons of mass destruction” did in Iraq in 2003.

Meanwhile, the Syrian people are still being massacred, and the nation is still doomed to be destroyed as hatred deepens amidst the suffering and ruins.

Bashar al-Assad will benefit in the short-term from the Kerry-Lavrov agreement. But the big winners of this new sequence of the Syrian tragedy will most likely be the jihadists. Their rhetoric about Western hypocrisy, the illusion of human rights, or even about the alliance between Washington and Moscow to fight Islam, will grow ever harder to deny. In Syria and elsewhere.

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Photograph of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol saluting troopsas part of the country’s first military parade in a decade, which showcased an arsenal of advanced weaponry in the streets of Seoul.​

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol saluting troops as part of the country’s first military parade in a decade.

Michelle Courtois, Valeria Berghinz and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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