Should Trump cooperate with Putin in the future of Syria?



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This article appeared for the first time on the Atlantic Council website.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared victory in Syria.

He has welcomed his Syrian counterpart in Moscow and has spoken extensively by telephone with President Trump.

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He has preserved a Syrian family business steeped in crime and has left the "state" he claims to have firmly saved in Iran's hands.

To the extent that this grim result is a "victory," it is not a triumph of the Russian Federation. "It is personal in nature: it is Annex A in Vladimir Putin's badertion to his local constituents that he has restored Russia as a world power, that the Russians do not need to dwell on economic deficits or chronic corruption, that the days of humiliation and disgrace after the Cold War are over.

Putin now wants to politically seal the military advances that his air force and foreign fighters led by Iran have achieved on behalf of the Assad regime and its broken army. [19659003] He knows very well that Bashar al-Assad and his entourage will never share, let alone give up, power. he feels that the Trump administration, like its predecessor, is, as they say in Texas, "without a hat and without cattle": that when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says that there is no future for the murderer and n mbad Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has the same emptiness as the similar words pronounced by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Putin suspects that Washington is looking for a way out to save Syria's face, and is willing to provide one.

 GettyImages-876924678 Vladimir Putin embraces the dictator Syrian Bashar al Assad in Sochi on November 20, 2017. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV / AFP / Getty

The leader of Russia promotes Syrian constitutional reform and power sharing, as if the first has meaning and the latter is possible.

Syria, under the current administration, could write a constitution that would convert the specified powers of Assad to those of Queen Elizabeth. It would mean nothing: Assad's entourage would still choose the pockets of honest citizens and stop, torture and murder those imprudent enough to resist.

A free and fair election? The guy that Bashar al-Assad could lose? Forget about the technical obstacles of a national vote in a broken state. Does anyone believe that this man and his entourage would participate in an honest process and voluntarily give up power?

The conviction and life sentence of Ratko Mladic is instructive for Bashar al Assad. He knows that sharing power runs the risk of losing it. And losing power is climbing the slippery slope that inevitably leads to The Hague.

It's a family situation for Vladimir Putin. And if Assad is the face of a "state" presumably saved from a US-led regime-change campaign, why would Putin try to pave the way for the possibility of a real political transition in Syria?

In fact, what makes some observers think it is able to influence anything in Syria beyond the perpetuation of the Assad government?

All this is now completely known by American officials, just as it was for the Obama administration. Two consecutive secretaries of state try to cooperate with Moscow in a final game for Syria.

The difference seems to be this: John Kerry thought that his persuasive abilities and personality strength could convince Moscow to perform a totally unnatural act: to support the genuine political transition.

Rex Tillerson does not have that illusion. He seeks to help his boss free himself from Syria in a way that saves his face and even enlists Moscow in a campaign to stop Iranian hegemony.

Some officials seek to put the best possible face on what amounts to an attempt to avoid, with the least possible effort, the humiliating consequences of the foreign policy disaster of the Obama administration.

They claim to exercise the great leverage of depriving Syria of badistance for reconstruction in the absence of political change, claiming that this is an influence on Moscow. And they point to a long history of adverse relations between Tehran and Moscow, which implies that it is only a matter of time before Iran and Moscow fall on Syria.

These arguments full of hope, as sincerely believed as they can be, are demonstrably false. His tactical goal, however, may be identical to that of Barack Obama's "foolish" free warning to Vladimir Putin: kick the can with the hope that something good may appear.

However, nothing good in terms of American national security interests is likely to arise from cooperating with Vladimir Putin in Syria. Putin has remained on the sidelines when Assad's air force and artillery have resumed mbadive civilian killings in the province of Aleppo and east of Ghouta. Washington has also stayed on the sidelines, reaffirming the Obama administration's policy of speaking out loud about the depredations of the Assad regime, but without using any weapons.

What does it say to US officials who tout cooperation with Russia when Moscow, either because it supports mbad murder, or powerless to stop it, or both: do you see your Syrian client doing the worst or joining?

To establish the rights of domestic political presumption for having saved Assad and to have returned Russia to greatness, Vladimir Putin is consolidating Iran's control over Syria. The main interest of Tehran in Syria is to make the country available to Hezbollah in Lebanon: money laundering, drug trafficking and international terrorism of Iran in the Arab world.

Major-General Mohammed Ali Jafari, head of the Iranian Guard Corps Revolution, has just announced that the disarmament of Hezbollah, allegedly a Lebanese political movement is "non-negotiable".

Putin, whose air force pales in importance to the ground forces of foreign fighters gathered by Iran in Syria, seeks US cooperation to place Syria firmly in the hands of people like Jafari.

It is not necessary to rule out the possibility of cooperating with Moscow and even with Tehran in the civilized political arrangements that protect civilians throughout Syria.

Civil protection is, after all, essential to prevent the rise in Syria of political movements as violent as the Assad and Hezbollah regime. But it is a trap and a deception to try to do it without leverage, as John Kerry showed spectacularly so that everyone could see it.

Protecting Syrian civilians and securing Syria east of the Euphrates constitutes the test to eventually defeat Iran's extremism and blockade in Syria.

If these goals do not matter to the Trump administration, then you can also leave things to Putin. However, for the sake of the reputation of the United States, it should not be called cooperation.

Frederic C. Hof is director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East of the Atlantic Council.

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