The catastrophe in Syria is often leveled at President Obama as a horrible scar on his legacy. But what is ignored is the context, and also how Libya, which was an important achievement, was used as a weapon to attack Obama as well as Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
So it is rather remarkable that none of the news outlets are reporting a significant victory in Libya, routing out the last ISIS stronghold, in Sirte.
But to begin:
What is happening in Syria today is where Libya would have easily been, the scale of carnage that Syria turned into, if Obama had not intervened with a coalition of countries including Arab States. At the time, Republicans including Donald Trump, cheered. During the election, the action was demonized, and used in the incessant conspiracy harangue about Benghazi.
So it is really hypocritical that Obama is criticized for not intervening more strenuously in Syria, when in fact, he did all that he could do given the convoluted circumstances and inconvenient alliances and oppositions. Take Turkey, for instance, which opposed the Kurds and worked against the US support of Kurds against ISIS, but US needed access to Turkey’s bases from which to strike at ISIS and needed Turkey’s support of Syrian refugees. (These nuances go beyond Donald Trump’s comprehension.)
The red line that was crossed when Assad used chemical weapons? Recall that Obama was poised to strike, the military was on alert, but the cowardly Congress refused to give its Authorization of Military Force (progressives are still upset that Obama uses the Bush-era 9/11 authorization to go after ISIS). But still, Obama was able to get Assad to give up chemical weapons without the US firing a shot or a single troop sacrificed. How? Putin.
But what could not be anticipated was Russia assisting Assad in the massacre of the Syrian people. Putin, after all, claimed to be joining the coalition against ISIS. Instead, it was a rout of the moderate rebels fighting Assad. Would Americans have endorsed a war with Russia? Would Americans have supported sending 180,000 ground troops into Syria?
As for not providing enough aid to moderate rebels? There weren’t very many to be found – millions of dollars of supplies and only 50 “moderate rebels” identified. What would have happened if it was discovered the US thought it was supplying “moderate” rebels but actually the armaments went to ISIS fighters? Can you imagine?
“For years, we’ve worked to stop the civil war in Syria and alleviate human suffering,” President Obama said in his final press conference of 2017. “It has been one of the hardest issues that I’ve faced as president. The world as we speak is united in horror at the savage assault by the Syrian regime and its Russia and Iranian allies on the city of Aleppo. We have seen a deliberate strategy of surrounding and the seigeing and starving innocent civilians. We’ve seen relentless targeting of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and dust…
“We all know what needs to happen. There needs to be an impartial international observer force in Aleppo that can help coordinate an orderly evacuation through safe corridors. There has to be full access for humanitarian aid, even as the United States continues to be the world’s largest donor of humanitarian to the Syrian people and beyond that, there needs to be a broader ceasefire that can serve as the basis for a political, rather than a military solution. That’s what the United States is going to continue to push for, both with our partners and through multilateral institutions like the UN.
“Regretfully but unsurprisingly, Russia has repeatedly blocked the security council from taking action on these issues so we’re going to keep pressing the security council to help improve the delivery of humanitarian to those who are in such desperate need and to ensure accountability, including continuing to monitor any potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. And we’re going work in the U.N. General assembly as well, both on accountability and to advance a political settlement because it should be clear that although you may achieve tactical victories over the long term, the Assad regime cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy. That’s why we’ll continue to press for a transition to a more representative government. And that’s why the world must not avert our eyes to the terrible events that are unfolding.
“The Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are trying to confiscate the truth. The world should not be fooled and the world will not forget.”
Meanwhile, the US was not exactly not doing anything in Syria. The US operated tens of thousands of air strikes against ISIS, and has been the largest donor of aid to Syrian refugees.
And the US has not stood idly by in Libya, either, but assisted in the liberation of Sirte from ISIL. The Administration issued this statement:
Statement by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa O. Monaco on the Successful Operation to Liberate Sirte from ISIL
The United States congratulates the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan people on their successful operation to liberate Sirte from ISIL. The United States is proud to have supported the advance of the GNA-aligned forces into Sirte with precision airstrikes to eject ISIL from the only city that it controlled outside of Iraq and Syria.
We applaud the courage of the Libyan people, including the residents of Sirte, al-Bunyan al-Marsous forces, and others, who carried out this operation. We commend Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj for his leadership and dedication to the Libyan people. We also extend our sincerest and heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives fighting for this important cause.
The U.S. military conducted a carefully tailored counterterrorism operation, at the request of the GNA, to target ISIL while taking great care to minimize harm to civilians. This partnered operation has substantially reduced ISIL’s manpower in Libya, ended its brutal reign over Sirte’s population, and removed its primary base in Libya, dealing a blow to its ability to plot attacks in Libya and abroad. This progress comes as Libyans mark one year since the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement.
We know that ISIL will continue its attempts to terrorize the Libyan people and sow instability in North Africa, and that Libyan efforts against terrorism continue in other parts of Libya. We stand ready to help the GNA as it secures and rebuilds Sirte. The United States also remains committed to working with the GNA, Libyans throughout the country, and regional partners to counter ISIL and other violent extremist organizations.
Ahead of the April 19 New York State Primary, the gloves came off between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at what is being called “The Brooklyn Brawl” – the Democratic Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The confrontation was the most contentious to date, but still substantive with both candidates making strong arguments on major issues.
Here are annotated highlights from the “Brooklyn Brawl” – the debate between Democratic contenders for the nomination for president, former Secretary of State and New York State Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, based on a transcript provided by CNN, the news organization that hosted the debate, April 14.
In this section, the candidates debate national security and foreign policy:
National Security & Foreign Policy
Secretary Clinton, President Obama says the worst mistake in office that he made over these past seven and a half years was not preparing for Libya after Moammar Qadafi was removed. You were his secretary of State. Aren’t you also responsible for that?
CLINTON: Well, let me say I think we did a great deal to help the Libyan people after Qadafi’s demise. And here’s what we did.
“We helped them hold two successful elections, something that is not easy, which they did very well because they had a pent up desire to try to chart their own future after 42 years of dictatorship. I was very proud of that.
“We got rid of the chemical weapons stockpile that Qadafi had, getting it out of Libya, getting it away from militias or terrorist groups.
“We also worked to help them set up their government. We sent a lot of American experts there. We offered to help them secure their borders, to train a new military.
“They, at the end, when it came to security issues, Wolf, did not want troops from any other country, not just us, European or other countries, in Libya.
“And so we were caught in a very difficult position. They could not provide security on their own, which we could see and we told them that, but they didn’t want to have others helping to provide that security.
“And the result has been a clash between different parts of the country, terrorists taking up some locations in the country.
“And we can’t walk away from that. We need to be working with European and Arab partnerswith the United Nations in order to continue to try to support them.
“The Libyan people deserve a chance at democracy and self- government. And I, as president, will keep trying to give that to them.”
SANDERS: …For President Obama, this was a pretty tough call, like a 51-49 call, do you overthrow Qadafi, who, of course, was a horrific dictator?
“The New York Times told us it was Secretary Clinton who led the effect for that regime change. And this is the same type of mentality that supported the war in Iraq. Qadafi, Saddam Hussein are brutal, brutal murdering thugs. No debate about that.
“But what we have got to do and what the president was saying is we didn’t think thoroughly about what happens the day after you get rid of these dictators.
“Regime change often has unintended consequences in Iraq and in Libya right now, where ISIS has a very dangerous foothold. And I think if you studied the whole history of American involvement in regime change, you see that quite often.”
CLINTON: — I would just point out that there was a vote in the Senate as to whether or not the United States should support the efforts by the Libyan people to protect themselves against the threats, the genocidal threats coming from Gadhafi, and whether we should go to the United Nations to seek Security Council support.
“Senator Sanders voted for that, and that’s exactly what we did.”
SANDERS: No. (CROSSTALK)
CLINTON: We went to the United Nations — yes, he did. We went to the United Nations Security Council. We got support from the Security Council. And we then supported the efforts of our European and Arab allies and partners.
“This was a request made to our government by the Europeans and by the Arabs because of their great fear of what chaos in Syria would do to them. And if you want to know what chaos does, not just to the people inside but the people on the borders, look at Syria.
“Nobody stood up to Assad and removed him, and we have had a far greater disaster in Syria than we are currently dealing with right now in Libya.” (APPLAUSE) (CROSSTALK)
SANDERS: What you are talking about is what I think was what they call the unanimous consent, you know what that is, where basically, do we support Libya moving to democracy?
“Well, you know what, I surely have always supported Libya moving to democracy. But please do not confuse that with your active effort for regime change without contemplating what happened the day after. Totally different issue.”
CLINTON: There was also in that a reference to the Security Council, and I know you’re not shy when you oppose something, Senator. So, yes, it was unanimous. That’s exactly right, including you.
“And what we did was to try to provide support for our European and Arab allies and partners. The decision was the president’s. Did I do the due diligence? Did I talk to everybody I could talk to? Did I visit every capital and then report back to the president? Yes, I did. That’s what a secretary of state does.
“But at the end of the day, those are the decisions that are made by the president to in any way use American military power. And the president made that decision. And, yes, we did try without success because of the Libyans’ obstruction to our efforts, but we did try and we will continue to try to help the Libyan people.”
SANDERS: If you listen, you know — two points. Number one, yes, 100-0 in the Senate voted for democracy in Libya and I would vote for that again. But that is very different from getting actively involved to overthrow and bring about regime change without fully understanding what the consequence of that regime change would be.
“Second of all, I know you keep referring to Barack Obama all night here, but you in Syria, you in Syria talked about a no-fly zone, which the president certainly does not support, nor do I support because, A, it will cost an enormous sum of money, second of all, it runs the risk of getting us sucked into perpetual warfare in that region.
“Thirdly, when we talk about Syria right now, no debate, like Gadhafi, like Saddam Hussein, Assad is another brutal murdering dictator, but right now our fight is to destroy ISIS first, and to get rid of Assad second.”
CLINTON: Well, I think Senator Sanders has just reinforced my point. Yes, when I was secretary of state I did urge, along with the Department of Defense and the CIA that we seek out, vet, and train, and arm Syrian opposition figures so that they could defend themselves against Assad.
“The president said no. Now, that’s how it works. People who work for the president make recommendations and then the president makes the decision. So I think it’s only fair to look at where we are in Syria today.
“And, yes, I do still support a no-fly zone because I think we need to put in safe havens for those poor Syrians who are fleeing both Assad and ISIS and have some place that they can be safe.”
BASH: Senator Sanders, in 1997, you said this about NATO, you said, quote: “It is not the time to continue wasting tens of billions of dollars helping to defend Europe, let alone assuming more than our share of any cost associated with expanding NATO.”Do you still feel that way?
SANDERS: Well, what I believe, if my memory is correct here, we spend about 75 percent of the entire cost of the military aspect of NATO. Given the fact that France has a very good health care system and free public education, college education for their people, the U.K. has a good National Health Service and they also provide fairly reasonable higher education, you know what, yeah, I do believe that the countries of Europe should pick up more of the burden for their defense. Yes, I do. (APPLAUSE)
BASH: And just following up, Senator Sanders, Donald Trump also argues that NATO is unfair economically to the U.S. because America pays a disproportionate share. So how is what you say about NATO and your proposal different than his?
SANDERS: Well, you got to ask — you got to ask Trump. All I can tell you is, with a huge deficit, with 47 million people living in poverty, with our inner cities collapsing, yeah, I do think countries like Germany and U.K. and France and European countries whose economy, or at least its standard of living and health care and education, they’re doing pretty well.
“So I would not be embarrassed as president of the United States to stay to our European allies, you know what, the United States of America cannot just support your economies. You’ve got to put up your own fair share of the defense burden. Nothing wrong with that.” (APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: I support our continuing involvement in NATO. And it is important to ask for our NATO allies to pay more of the cost. There is a requirement that they should be doing so, and I believe that needs to be enforced.
“But there’s a larger question here. NATO has been the most successful military alliance in probably human history. It has bound together across the Atlantic countries that are democracies, that have many of the same values and interests, and now we need to modernize it and move it into the 21st century to serve as that head of our defense operations in Europe when it comes to terrorism and other threats that we face. So yes, of course they should be paying more, but that doesn’t mean if they don’t we leave, because I don’t think that’s in America’s interests.”
BASH: To that point, there are 28 countries in the alliance, and the United States gives more money to NATO’s budget than 21 of those countries combined. If they don’t agree to pay more, as you suggested, then what would you do as commander-in-chief?
CLINTON: I will stay in NATO. I will stay in NATO, and we will continue to look for missions and other kinds of programs that they will support. Remember, NATO was with us in Afghanistan. Most of the member countries also lost soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan. They came to our rallying defense after 9/11. That meant a lot.
“And, yes, we have to work out the financial aspects of it, but let’s not forget what’s really happening. With Russia being more aggressive, making all kinds of intimidating moves toward the Baltic countries, we’ve seen what they’ve done in Eastern Ukraine, we know how they want to rewrite the map of Europe, it is not in our interests. Think of how much it would cost if Russia’s aggression were not deterred because NATO was there on the front lines making it clear they could not move forward.” (APPLAUSE)
It would be a travesty if the Republicans cash in the fear they are sowing over the Paris terror attack for a ticket to the white House, in the way the Bush/Cheney Administration milked Americans’ fear after 9/11, a terror attack that incompetence made so much worse. And yet, despite their incompetence, they rode to reelection in 2004.
Brian Lehrer on NPR remarked that Jeb Bush seems to be using the Paris attacks “to claw his way back into relevance.”
On the Monday after the terror attack, AOL broadcast the headline that 72% of Americans are fearful. Well what would you expect with nonstop reports about terrorism? It’s exactly what ISIL wanted – just as Osama bin Lad3n was thrilled beyond imagination at the reaction after 9/11. In essence, thanks to Bush/Cheney reaction, 19 terrorists brought down a nation, because they let it happen.
Already, several Republican candidates have basically called for closing borders – Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say they would only admit Christians – effectively putting a religious test in violation of the Constitution. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said Congress would withhold any funding to relocate Syrian refugees. And 27 (all but one) Republican Governors are refusing to allow any resettlement in their states, again, against the Constitution – basically a redux of what they said about the children fleeing Central American violence. It is absurd to hear the Alabama Governor justifying this stance by saying that his first priority is to keep his citizens safe, when Alabama promotes wanton gun violence, a state which ranks 4th in the nation for the highest number of incidents of and where one Alabaman is killed every 11 hours.
A doctor in a hospital in Paris talked about receiving 27 of the gunshot victims that night when the ER normally gets one. One a day? he was asked. “No, one a year. We’re not like America.”
Republicans are seizing on the fact that a passport attributed to a Syrian who came through Greece with the tens of thousands of refugees in October was left at one of the terror sites. But isn’t it interesting that this is the only terrorist found with an ID? How much logic does it take to realize that it likely was purposefully left – and very probably not the passport of the attacker at all – but was left because ISIL wants Europe and the US to cut off any safe haven for the millions that are fleeing their own terror. They want a population to terrorize. They want Muslims to be marginalized in their communities, to be able to tap the disaffected to their “cause.”
Donald Trump says he would shut down mosques. And, oh yes, points out that France has some of the strongest gun control laws. You might wonder if a President Trump, faced with terror attacks in Paris, would launch attacks against Muslims here. As for the “tough guy” pose as being all it takes to stop all the bad things in the world, Putin certainly strikes the strongman pose, and yet ISIS took down a Russian airliner. His solution? Bomb them to oblivion.
Obama answered “the broader issue of my critics… when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.
“But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”
Does anyone else see the tragic irony that the terrorism is against tolerance, the terrorists can’t stand a society that is open, diverse in ethnicity, religion and thought, but Republicans want to dispatch intolerance with intolerance?
“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing,” President Obama said at a press conference after the G20 in Turkey. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both….
“When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion…
“And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.”
Every society is vulnerable to a terrorist determined to kill himself – but societal institutions should not be.
On the other hand, there is nothing stopping homegrown terrorism, and not just the jihadi kind. White racists have been responsible for more acts of terror here in the homeland than self-proclaimed jihadis. Look at the attacks on Planned Parenthood centers and black churches just in the last few months.
While the Republicans don’t actually offer any constructive proposals, they are really, really obsessively upset over semantics that President Obama does not brand the entirety of Muslims as terrorists- that’s about 1 billion people around the world, including whole nations that we need as our allies in defeating ISIL such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon. Obama, instead, uses terms like “violent extremists” as the enemy.
But these violent extremists no more embody Islam than Nazis embodied Christianity. These are sociopathic thugs – gangsters – who use terror and violence in order to secure power and control. It is a 21st century Facsist regime more similar to 20th century Nazi Germany. The new recruits might be swayed by propagandist ideology and even the idealism in toppling Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad – but they are being used and when some who came to fight for what they thought was a just cause want to leave, they are summarily killed.
Hindsight is 20/20. It’s so easy to say Obama should have been more aggressive in Syria early on (give weapons to so-called moderates who turned out to be ISIL?) but at that point, the opposition was saying Assad was only weeks away from being deposed. Then, when Assad crossed the “red line” using chemical weapons against his own people, Congress failed to give Obama authorization for military strikes inside Syria (Russia stepped up and got Assad to agree to get rid of chemical weapons, without Obama needing to fire a shot). Even now, Republicans are great at hurling accusations of ‘fecklessness” and “weakness” but the real coward is a Congress that refuses to debate a new Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) agreement. And I’m sure even the Bush/Cheney neocons never imagined that after almost a decade and billions of dollars and 4000 American lives, that the Iraqi soldiers would not just cut and run, but would hand over their weapons and territory to ISIL.
For his part, Obama faced a choice – without a crystal ball, he sided with the less deadly option. ISIL changed, and even now has changed its strategy from just torturing and tormenting and terrorizing people within the Middle East, to exporting terrorism internationally – downing the Russian airliner at Sharm el Sheik, the bombings in Izmir, in Beirut and now Paris, all in short order – and Obama is adapting to the changes – essentially intensifying all the levers that can be brought to bear, including bombing, strengthening border controls, sharing more intelligence, and stepping up efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. “And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology,” Obama said.
Obama, in a press conference in Turkey after the G20 summit, sounded just the right tone, and also took on the critics who charge that his “strategy” lacked focus, that he underestimated the Islamic State.
“The strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.
“And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those….
“This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.
“And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.”
In fact, the single-minded focus on the Paris attacks (while ignoring other terror attacks that took place in Beirut, Izmir, Kenya), seemed to swallow up the news of an attack that killed the Jihadi John, who executed James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as France’s attacks on ISIL oil distribution. Meanwhile, even France’s stepped up bombing of ISIL as retribution for the Paris attacks does not equal the 8000 bombing attacks by US planes.
But Obama added that no matter to what extent ISIL is destroyed, that there are still going to be the risks of individuals flowing into civil societies exacting mayhem on soft targets.
“There has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.
“But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.
“Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris…
“We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.
“These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.
“Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.”
But the defeat of ISIS cannot be accomplished by the US alone and as Secretary of State John Kerry noted, a coalition did not even exist a year ago, a political partnership (involving Russia and Iran) did not even exist a month ago, and now Kerry is pointing to the possibility of a cease-fire in Syria in a matter of months, and there seems to be growing acceptance of the reality that Assad has to go, and there has to be a political transition. Solving the Assad problem would rob ISIS of a key motivator to its recruitment.
“The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding,” President Obama said. “With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward – negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.”
Ever the realist, Obama added, “These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.
“What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition [Obama has mobilized 65 nations], is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.”