Obama's Syria Diplomacy is Doomed to Fail
by A.J. Caschetta
The Obama administration will spend its final year attempting "to de-escalate the conflict in Syria...through a political transition." This effort to impose adiplomatic solution on Syria will be lauded as a great success by the State Department and recognized for the failure it is destined to be by nearly everyone else. John Kerry may get his temporary cessation of killing, but not of hostilities. He may preside over grave and haughty signing ceremonies, but few of the parties will abide by the promises they make.
An admirable impulse to own the moral high ground, never "stoop to the enemy's level" and exercise all diplomatic efforts before, during, and after a war has taken hold of all levels of the US government, but the results are often counterproductive.
Diplomacy only succeeds when backed by a credible threat of force, and few believe that the U.S. will exert anything beyond the bare minimum in Syria. The president has somehow failed to learn the most important piece of advice Machiavelli gave to the prince – "it is better to be feared than loved."
In Syria the US lost its capacity to inspire fear in 2013 after Assad was allowed to cross with impunity Obama's "red line" on the use of chemical weapons. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recognized the harm that would come from failure to follow through on the threat, but his advice to bomb Damascus was rebuked, leading to his departure from the administration.
World War II was the last large-scale conflict to end in unconditional surrender. With the advent of the United Nations, conflicts have ended through diplomacy, which is to say that one side of a conflict has either agreed to compromise, pretended to compromise or was forced to compromise. Unless one side is defeated, or convinced that defeat is inevitable, the conflict persists. The UN has become a great facilitator of stalemates.
Any UN-imposed diplomatic intermission, like one in late December between Assad and rebels allowing evacuation of civilians from three towns, may offer the virtue of a temporary cessation of violence, but diplomacy alone can never create peace. On rare occasions when both sides of a dispute are willing to compromise, as in the voluntary separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, peace can be authentic and lasting. More often though, one side is unwilling to compromise, resulting in a situation like Korea, where nearly 30,000 US troops have enforced a precarious peace for half a century. Another model is Vietnam, where the Paris Peace Accords led to an agreement that was breached even before the last US helicopter left Saigon. And then there is Israel, capable but diplomatically unwilling to eliminate the threat from its belligerent neighbors. The UN is able to create the illusion of peace but unable to alter conditions that lead to war, especially as in Syria where all the combatants are intransigent. Only the U.S. wants an agreement, any agreement.
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