Oct. 5, 2016 7:08 p.m. ET
Much of the city of Aleppo lies in ruins after days of airstrikes by Russian and Assad regime forces, and buried in the wreckage is whatever is left of the Obama Administration’s Syria policy. If it’s any consolation to the 275,000 souls trapped in the city, John Kerry has regrets.
That much is clear from a leaked recording of a conversation the Secretary of State had with a group of Syrian civilians engaged in humanitarian work during last month’s U.N. General Assembly. Mr. Kerry complained that “the Russians don’t care about international law, and we do.” He noted that “a lot of Americans don’t believe that we should be fighting and sending young Americans over to die in another country.”
Above all, he lamented that his diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s war were never backed by a credible threat of American military strikes. “I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the Administration who have all argued for use of force, and I lost the argument,” Mr. Kerry said.
The Secretary is right that President Obama doomed whatever chances the U.S. had of shaping a better outcome in Syria when Mr. Obama made clear that nothing, including chemical attacks against civilians, could induce him to deploy even modest force to ground Bashar Assad’s air force or establish no-fly/no-drive zones.
Then again, it’s hard to credit Mr. Kerry as the scorned voice of reason within the Administration when, until last week, he was the most vocal advocate of making common cause with Moscow in Syria.
In May 2015 Mr. Kerry first broke the informal diplomatic quarantine the U.S. had imposed on Russia after it granted Edward Snowden asylum in 2013 and invaded Ukraine the following year. Last month Mr. Kerry was pushing the Pentagon, over the objections of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, to share targeting intelligence with Russia to grease a new cease-fire deal. As with a similar cease-fire Mr. Kerry negotiated earlier this year, Russia violated it within days.
It’s also worth remembering that, until the Syrian revolt began in 2011, Assad had no better friend in Washington than then-Senator Kerry, who praised the dictator as a man of his word who had been “very generous with me.” In his conversation last month, Mr. Kerry continued to press for a plan in which Assad would participate in national elections overseen by the U.N. “under the strictest standards.” That goes further than even President Obama, whose stated policy remains that Assad must go.
Mr. Kerry also seems to doubt there’s any use in arming rebels, lest it fuel another cycle of violence. “The problem is that, you know, you get, quote, enforcers in there and then everybody ups the ante, right?” he said. “Russia puts in more; Iran puts in more; Hezbollah is there more and Nusra more; and Saudi Arabia and Turkey put all their surrogate money in, and you all are destroyed.” As for targeting Assad’s allies in Hezbollah, he insisted the U.S. had no quarrel with the terrorist group. “Hezbollah is not plotting against us.”
In other words, Mr. Kerry claims to regret not having the option of military force, not that he would ever use it against the very people who are now besieging Aleppo. Meanwhile, he rues that Russia and its friends in Syria are indifferent to international law, but he’s prepared to believe they’ll abide by the results of an election they’ll also help oversee.
Following the discussion, a Syrian who had sat in on the conversation summed up the Secretary’s position to the New York Times: “You have to fight for us, but we will not fight for you. How can this be accepted by anyone? It’s unbelievable.” Dishonorable, too.
Tags: Aleppo, Ash Carter, Assad, chemical attacks against civilians,, chemical weapons, Edward Snowden, humanitarian, international law, John Kerry, Lavrov, no credible threat of American military strikes, Obama, Obama Administration, Obama administration’s Syria policy, President Obama, Putin, Russia, Secretary of State, Syria, U. S., war crimes