Can a Lebanon-Style Solution End the Syrian War?
The conflict will not come to an end until the US and Russia make their respective clients agree to an imposed settlement or else face an immediate arms embargo, says journalist Charles Glass
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Syria’s week long ceasefire is officially over according to a statement released by Syria’s military on Monday. One of the most dramatic consequences of the failed agreement thus far is that the humanitarian aid that was supposed to get to the besieged city of Aleppo never arrived. The Syrian military statement blamed rebel groups for having undermined the ceasefire. Meanwhile rebel groups blamed the Syrian government for not abiding by the agreement. US Secretary of State said it was too early to declare the ceasefire over and that he’s working with the Russians to extend it. Over the weekend US airstrikes in Eastern Syria killed over 60 Syrian soldiers in what the Pentagon described as a mistake saying the target was Islamic State forces. Here’s what the Russian military’s main operation’s command head Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy said:
SERGEI RUDSKOY: Groups belonging to the so-called “healthy opposition”, which are controlled by the United States, did not fulfill a single obligation they’ve undertaken according to the Geneva agreements framework. Most importantly the division between Syria’s moderate opposition and Jabhat al-Nusra did not take place. Furthermore, we are witnessing not a separation but a merging of groups belonging to moderate opposition and Jabhat al-Nusra.
PERIES: The five-year civil war in Syria has already cost between 250 and 400,000 deaths and over 4 million refugees. The US and Russia brokered temporary ceasefire was the second such effort this year. Joining us now to analyze what caused the temporary ceasefire to collapse is Charles Glass. His latest book is Syria Burning ISIS and the Death of Arab Spring. Thanks for joining us Charles.
CHARLES GLASS: Thank you.
PERIES: Charles let’s get to the point here. 60 Syrian soldiers’ lives lost. How difficult is it to distinguish soldiers on the ground in terms of who’s al-Nusra, who’s government soldiers, and who’s opposition?
GLASS: Well it’s very easy to distinguish the government army whose soldiers are uniformed from the rebels who don’t. Also most of the rebels who are jihadist have beards and long hair. Again the government soldiers don’t wear beards. The strike on the 60 Syrian soldiers in Eastern Syria by a UAV, a drone, is puzzling. Those UAVs have very good optics. If you read Andrew Colburn’s book The Kill Chain, where he goes–he analyzes the optics only. They can see you probably more clearly than you can see me now, they can see people on the ground. So to mistake a Syrian soldier for an ISIS rebel is–with those optics unless the weather conditions are absolutely terrible is very, very difficult. Once you’re speaking of the oppositions, can you tell one group from another, visually very difficult. You’d have to speak to them about who their commanders are and where their loyalties lie and their loyalties change regularly. We know of many young rebels who started out in one group, say the Free Syrian Army and end up in the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra or one of the or actually more than a thousand different groups are on the rebel side.
PERIES: Now Charles the agreement was never stable in the first place. Right off the bat upon signing both the opposition and government were saying things are risky at this point. So what is the prognosis for this ceasefire to now be extended and hopefully last long enough to get some aid into Aleppo?
GLASS: It’s worth remembering what happened with the ceasefire that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Secretary Lavrov last February which didn’t last very long either. It was a positive development that Russia which backs the regime and the United States that backs parts of the opposition had agreed that the war should come to an end and that the ceasefire should lead to talks in Geneva amongst the various talks in the Syrian parties. However, they have not worked out the modalities of dealing on the ground to make the ceasefire work. And this isn’t just about getting humanitarian aid in. Humanitarian aid is certainly vital for the civilians in eastern Aleppo and other sieged areas. By the way some areas are besieged by the regime and some areas are besieged by the opposition. But what’s vital is to have a stable ceasefire so that the parties can go to a conference probably at Geneva and discuss ways of ending the war once and for all.
But that seems to be an almost unattainable objective despite the fact that the two biggest powers involved in supporting the war for the last 5 years, the United States and Russia, have agreed that the war should come to an end. They need more than an agreement. They need mechanisms in place on the ground so that these people do stop shooting at each other.
PERIES: Charles there were some reports that the Pentagon basically tried to discourage Kerry from reaching an agreement with the Russians. Do you that perhaps the Pentagon intentionally sabotaged the ceasefire so that it would break apart?
GLASS: I’ll have to wait for WikiLeaks or someone similar to leak the relevant cables. It’s all a matter of guess work. It’s not, it doesn’t make sense for the Pentagon to undercut the State Department in such an obvious way but it’s not impossible. But I wouldn’t know but I suspect we will know fairly soon when a whistleblower comes forward and explains what actually happened.
PERIES: And we just saw Assad on the ground walking in areas that were regained by government forces in Aleppo. What role will the way in which the government conducts itself in these very important hours have on the ceasefire and continued conversations and negotiations?
GLASS: Well, Bashar al Assad has said repeatedly that it’s his intention to restore state sovereignty to the entire country. He has expanded the state control over certain suburbs of Damascus in the past week and in parts of eastern Aleppo which have been in rebel hands for the past couple of years. In this regard he’s being successful. He now controls most of the population centers in Syria and those areas become much safer because his people are not bombing them. The rebels don’t have the kind of firepower that he has. Also many people balk at living under the rebels, particularly under the Islamic State because they treat the civilians so badly and they’re not able to feed them or help them in any way.
PERIES: Now Charles in your analysis what needs to happen next in order for this ceasefire to hold behind convincing the Russians to enforce it along with the people that they control on the ground. But what needs to happen now?
GLASS: Both the United States and the Russians need to make clear to their clients inside Syria that the war is over and that there are going to be negotiations for the terms of a settlement. That means that the United States must tell Turkey which has been an enabler of the jihadist in Syria, must tell Saudi Arabia, must tell Qatar, that the arms are going to be cut off that violates the ceasefire and isn’t willing to participate in a peace process. The Russians must make it clear similarly to the regime and the regime supporters in Tehran that again the war is over and that arms will be cut off if the regime does not go along with it.
PERIES: And in terms of these negotiations, how serious are both parties, Russia and the US. I mean I believe that Kerry and Lavrov might have the best of intentions but there are larger forces at play here in terms of arms sales and the Russian economy and the US economy and the arms industry and so forth because while they’re trying to negotiate this they are providing; the US is providing arms to Saudi Arabia for example.
GLASS: Well I don’t think the Syria war effects the American economy much or the Russian economy much. In the case of the Russians it costs them money but they can afford that. The real problem is whether or not the Russians and the Americans are serious enough to impose a settlement on Syria. If they do that, which is what happened in Lebanon which ended 15 years of civil war in Lebanon which is the outside regional powers backed by the United States with the approval of Russia, compelled the Lebanese warlords who were not in favor of the agreement but compelled Lebanese warlords that had ties in Saudi Arabia to accept an agreement that brought an end to the war and the war did end.
PERIES: Using the Lebanese example, who do you think needs to be around the table to make this ceasefire extended and viable into the future.
GLASS: Getting around the table isn’t about the ceasefire. Having a ceasefire enables people to go around the table. And the people around the table must be the outside powers who are deeply invested which are the United States, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran. In addition, the internal players which would be the Syrian regime and the leading elements of the opposition which are not entirely unacceptable to the international community. And this means most of the rebel groups apart from the Islamic state and the former Jabhat al-Nusra.
PERIES: Alright Charles I thank you so much for joining us today and we hope to have you back very soon because I’m sure this ceasefire isn’t going to last and then we’ll have to be having this conversation again. Thank you so much for joining us.
GLASS: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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