Editor's Note: Below is a complimentary research note written over the weekend by Hedgeye Potomac National Security analyst LTG Dan Christman USA Ret. To access our institutional research email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at his side, Secretary John Kerry a week ago announced a Syrian cease-fire deal that could lead to coordinated U.S.-Russian air operations against Syria-based jihadists; Kerry also posited that the deal could provide an eventual path to a negotiated political settlement to replace the Assad regime in Damascus.
- Unfortunately, based on previous efforts to secure a pause in the fighting alongside Moscow, this will likely prove to be a classic triumph of hope over experience.
- Syria is already on a long path to repeat Europe's 17th Century 30 Years War - one that laid waste to much of what is today's Germany. Syria will never again be the pre-2011 unified state it was before the onset of the current anti-Assad fighting. Sadly, this latest Kerry deal will probably do nothing to alleviate the horrific suffering of the Syrian population or even begin the process of putting the Syrian "Humpty-Dumpty" back together.
Consider the deal itself:
- In its essence, it requires a cease fire, effective last Monday, in which all parties - the Assad government as well as the opposition - stop air and ground attacks; humanitarian corridors would be opened to relieve suffering in the city of Aleppo in particular; and IF the cease fire is effective for seven continuous days, then and only then would the US and Russia work to establish a Joint Implementation Center (JIC) to coordinate air attacks against ISIS and the principal al Qaeda affiliate in the area, "Syria Conquest" (formerly al Nusra).
- But who seriously believes that the dozens of opposition groups battling Assad (many closely intertwined with Syria Conquest) or the Damascus regime will adhere to this? The "support" for the deal from Russia, Iran, Damascus, and Hezbollah is beyond cynical. Because of "facts on the ground," each now holds the military advantage; there's no incentive for them to change anything.
- Numerous cease fire violations of the accord this week have confirmed the worst; yet, so far, the deal has gotten off the ground – but barely; sadly, like the “cessation of hostilities” accord from last February, an agonizing death for this deal probably awaits.
Many have talked about what might be needed to change the "facts on the ground" in Syria. Here's one answer:
- First, because nearly all of the civilian casualties in major population centers like Aleppo, Homs, and Hama - and the refugees flows from these areas - are caused by barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and chlorine gas dropped from Syrian aircraft and helicopters, Washington needs to bluntly warn Assad, in simplest terms: "NO More!"
- Then, if Assad uses those systems, after a one hour notice to the Russians (the notice they gave us before they launched their first air combat sorties in Syria), the U.S. should send cruise missiles, drones, rockets, and stealth aircraft to target every Syrian fixed wing asset, every helicopter, and all of Assad's personal aircraft. If a restrike is necessary after a bomb damage assessment (BDA), we should execute it immediately.
- The U.S. should then say to Assad, "Don't do this again." This becomes a “no-fly” zone, but vigorously enforced from the outset.
- The Russians would howl; but Washington would have their attention, and in the end, their cooperation.
The U.S. is currently not a country that believes in changing "facts on the ground" in the Middle East, even "facts" that have produced over 400,000, largely civilian, deaths. But an action like the one outlined above may be about the only way to get the attention - and the respect - of Vladimir Putin. And it can also help move us to the ultimate goal: a political solution in this fractured country - one that is the only way to end the Syrian version of Europe's 30 Years War.